18 June 2009

Persian democracy: the legacy of a despised US President?

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Persians have seen their Iraqi and Lebanese neighbours get democracy. Now they want it too.

So who has dared to point out the elephant in the room about the current upheaval in Iran over its disputed election result ? Of all people its, Thomas Friedman in, of all places, the New York Times. Here's what he let slip:



"... for real politics to happen you need space. There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”

So even this feckless sanctimonious leftist from the New York Times echo chamber has been unable to deny that one of the central tenets of the despised "neo-conservative" (or should that read "neo-liberal", the new way that this outlook seems to be labelled) world view: that creating the conditions for democracy and freedom around the world was the West's best strategy for peace and continuing prosperity - is in fact playing out in Iran. Who'da thunk it eh?

There are any number of delicious ironies and contradictions at work here too. It is after all the Middle East. Obama and his information machine are currently confused by this and are not yet appropriating the ideological prizes. Not before they see the outcome anyway. That will happen soon enough. You only have to see the knots that his enablers are currently twisting themselves into as they try to parse this unexpected development to their advantage, without knowing what the immediate outcome will be. This is happening even as they try desperately to not be seen to be influencing the outcome. Oh the back sliding and somersaults we will see soon from the Obama administration if the Opposition forces in Iran achieve a new election or a re-count. Obama will then need to claim any such victory, as the fruit of his own actions: no doubt that speech of his in totalitarian Cairo.

I also should say early what the NYT's Middle East expert above forgot to say in his piece at all: Persians are not Arabs. Notwithstanding this, the larger geographic and aspirational points still hold about the force of the spontaneous march of freedom and democracy, once people are given realistic role models and the opportunity (in this instance the "social media").

I have previously not had much regard for Thomas Friedman. I first saw him interviewed by Tony Jones on the ABC's Lateline a few years ago. On the show, whilst being held out by Jones as some kind strategic policy wonk on the Middle East, he honestly proffered in public, when being asked his view about possible solutions to the Iranian nuclear threat to Europe and the West, the opinion something along the lines of: "Get America's best negotiators and stick them in a room with the Iranian Government's leaders, and not let them go home 'til they have struck a deal."

I was gobsmacked at the feckless naivety of this view, and even more amazed at the sycophantic praise that Jones ladled out to Friedman after he had expressed this piece of bar-stool bore bullshit as credible commentary on world affairs on national free-to-air television.

I am happy to to re-assess my view of Friedman , now that he has shown that he is at least honest and enquiring enough to acknowledge Bush's strategic contribution to the way things are currently unfolding in the Middle East.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not suggesting that this is all going to turn out rosy and nice anytime soon. But, as I heard the current heir of the former Shah say on tele the other night, the "genie is now out of the bottle". And it can't be put back, no matter how brutal the repressive crackdown by the mullahs supporting Ahmad-nedinejad may be.

My current ill-informed view is that the Iranian Mullahs will do a Tianamin Square job on the Iranian populace. That might keep 'em bottled up for a little while, but we now know the flame of freedom can stay alight even under the most extreme duress (Gulags anyone). Iran has tasted western decadence and freedom before, so this is a fire that is very unlikely to be snuffed out completely.

Am I also beginning to see here the first very tentative signs of a shift in attitude away from George W. Bush's vilification? I can remember the evolution in the attitude to Ronald Reagan in my life time. He went from being universally ridiculed by the world's media, and all self respecting undergraduates of my generation, as a bumbling dementia riddled former Hollywood actor, during and immediately after his Presidency, to being hailed in the nineties as the great and far-sighted architect of the West's victory over the USSR in the Cold War. Is this unlikely evolution in attitude soon due to start happening for W? Clearly not if the world's press has anything to do with it. Except that the early indications today are that their love affair with Obama may be starting to end. This could be a necessary precursor to the commencement of this evolution. It will be fascinating to see the how this does evolve over the next 10 years.

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