Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Condemned To Repeat

ISN'T IT REASSURING to see Republicans refrain from politicizing President Obama's response to 10 days of mass demonstrations in Iran over the rigged June 12th election? While rightly celebrating the Iranians' bravery in the face of repression, they crossed the line by making it a personal referendum on Obama's willingness to meddle in another country's affairs -- a nation whose relationship to the U.S. is complicated because of a sordid history of meddling going back to the CIA's part in a 1953 coup (OPERATION AJAX) that overthrew a democratically elected government and ushered in the reign of the Shah's brutal dictatorship. That's just one event in a long string of American interventions in the region. And while the average American may be unaware that the Reagan administration sold arms to Iraq to use against Iran in that savage conflict, any Iranian can tell you all about the circumstances behind the infamous 1984 photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein -- giving at least tacit approval to the use of chemical weapons in that war.

Of course, just 11 days ago these same right-wing human rights advocates criticizing Obama for turning his back on the protesters wanted to bomb the hell out of Iran because of its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. The face of the reformers, one of at least 17 people killed in Iran since protests against the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began, is Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old shot and killed over the weekend by security forces. More than one conservative website went so far as to juxtapose a photo of the young woman bleeding to death on the sidewalk with one of Obama eating ice cream with his daughters on Father's Day -- as if the president's so-called lukewarm or lackluster public endorsement of the protest had somehow caused her to be shot. Only in the current unhinged right-wing blogosphere could such a disgusting connection be made -- which in fairness I heard at least one conservative talk show host strongly condemn.

Of course, when millions of their fellow Americans took to the streets in protest of the impending Iraq invasion in February 2003, conservatives' passion for public demonstrations was a bit more muted. In reality, the only reason Republicans care about Iranians now is because they see an opportunity to make political capital out of it, sensing a chance to paint Obama in a bad light. Their simplistic approach to a complicated affair fails to take into consideration that an American leader throwing his weight behind the demonstrations could only end up being counterproductive -- witness the harsh crackdown underway and the ringing anti-American and European rhetoric being used against the thousands of protesters taken into custody. The show trials have predictably played up that "foreign interference" angle, with detainees "confessing" to acting under orders from the Voice of America, the BBC, etc.

The closest direct parallel to the Iranian reformists' demand for a recount seems to be the Tienanmen Square democratization rallies 20 years ago. I'm sure President George H.W. Bush spoke truth to Chinese power back then; I'm just not recalling it at the moment. But suffice to say China is now a human right paradise largely because Republicans controlled the White House for 20 of the last 28 years.

Instead, "news outlets" like Fox keep harping back to Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" moment as an example for President Obama to follow -- unconvinced that his "outraged and appalled" statement sets the right tone of bellicosity. In truth, the same contingent of bloodthirsty warhawks who painted Iran as part of a monolithic "Axis of Evil" could care less about that country's freedom movement -- their trademark selective empathy bordering as usual on rank hypocrisy.

Let's give the last word to Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald, who nailed it as usual last week in his column, The "Bomb Iran" contingent's newfound concern for the Iranian people:
Imagine how many of the people protesting this week would be dead if any of these bombing advocates had their way -- just as those who paraded around (and still parade around) under the banner of Liberating the Iraqi People caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them, at least. Hopefully, one of the principal benefits of the turmoil in Iran is that it humanizes whoever the latest Enemy is. Advocating a so-called "attack on Iran" or "bombing Iran" in fact means slaughtering huge numbers of the very same people who are on the streets of Tehran inspiring so many -- obliterating their homes and workplaces, destroying their communities, shattering the infrastructure of their society and their lives. The same is true every time we start mulling the prospect of attacking and bombing another country as though it's some abstract decision in a video game.

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