Juan Cole: How the U.S. Is Like Iran

Roundup: Historians' Take

Juan Cole, in his blog (week of April 12, 2004):

I have concluded that the Bush administration is like Iran. The Iranian
government has two of everything. It has a relatively liberal president,
and a hardline supreme jurisprudent. The reformists control the foreign
ministry, the hardliners control the military. The reformists have some
parliament representatives, the hardliners control the Guardian Council,
which has the power of judicial review over parliament. You never know with
the Iranian government who is on top or what a policy means, since it could
be coming from either competing section of the same government.

Likewise, in the Bush administration, the Pentagon has its own foreign
policy, which competes with and often trumps the foreign policy of the
State Department and the National Security Council. Thus, Gen. Myers is
pointing fingers at Iran and Syria and making all sorts of wild accusations
at them, darkly hinting they will be overthrown if they don't shape up. And
Colin Powell is writing them polite letters about bilateral relations and
could they please use their good offices to help the Americans in Iraq. It
is bizarre, and the urbane, canny leaders in Damascus and Tehran (who have
long experience of residence in the UK and Germany respectively), must be
scratching their heads in wonder at this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde American
hyperpower that rages about an axis of evil and goes about preemptively
invading countries on the one hand and then comes politely, hat in hand, to
request selfless assistance on the other.


The frustrating thing for a historian is that when you craft narratives of
19th century power struggles, you have the memos of the principals in the
archives, and you have some sense of who supported whom and why. Reading
current Iraq events through the dark glass of the Arabic press and hints
coming out of the CPA is a much chancier endeavor.


The unemployment rate is still very high
among Shiites in the south. The Great Depression in the US was defined by
an unemployment rate of about 25%. That among Iraqis is much higher,
perhaps still twice that in a lot of places. Those who complain about the
proliferation of militias should remember that militiamen get stipends, and
joining one is often a way to make some desperately needed money. Higher
employment would make such dangerous work less appealing. Despite the
bright promises of American rule, sewage still flows in the streets in the
Shiite slums, and there often is not clean drinking water. Most important
of all, the Americans promised democracy, but have consistently shut down
attempts to have free and fair elections, even (for the most part) at the
municipal level. (John Bourne's experiment with open municipal elections in
the small towns around Nasiriyah is a praiseworthy exception, but it is an
exception). There is a growing fear that the Americans intend to turn the
country over to their corrupt cronies, such as fraudster Ahmad Chalabi, and
there will be a new, neo-colonial"soft" dictatorship like that in Egypt
(also a regime propped up by the Americans).

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