Blogs > Liberty and Power > Laissez Faire in Iran

May 5, 2004 4:35 pm


Laissez Faire in Iran



Last May, I wrote:
The lunacy of nation-building and of imposed political settlements—which have been tried over and over again in the Middle East with no long-term success—does not mean that there is no hope for the Arab world. Former Reagan administration advisor Michael Ledeen speaks of a rising revolt against theocracy in Iran, for example, among a younger generation that is fed up with their oppressive government. They eat American foods, wear American jeans, and watch American TV shows. I don't see how a U.S. occupation in any part of the region will nourish this kind of revolt. If anything, the United States may be perceived as a new colonial administrator. Such a perception may only give impetus to the theocrats who may seek to preserve their rule by deflecting the dissatisfaction in their midst toward the"infidel occupiers." I can think of no better ad campaign for the recruitment of future Islamic terrorists.

These religious reactionaries are, partially, the Frankenstein monsters of US foreign policy: during the Cold War, the U.S. propped up puppet dictators to do its global bidding, and its intervention was partially responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as an anti-American political force in Iran. The Iranians threw off the U.S.-backed Shah, and elevated Khomeini to a position of leadership. A hostage crisis followed, as did the US support for Iraq's Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, and for the Afghan"freedom fighters" in their war with the Soviets, thereby empowering a group of mujahideen who were to become Al Qaeda and Taliban warriors. Such are the internal contradictions of US foreign policy that continue till this day.

While the war in Iraq dominates the headlines, with its predictably obscene by-products—e.g., the US torture of Iraqis in the very Abu Ghraib prison used by the murderous Hussein regime—the Pentagon admits that Iraq will require the presence of over 138,000 US troops"at least until the end of 2005."

But if the US wants to learn a bit about how to encourage"democracy" in Iraq, it ought to look toward"those friendly Iranians," as Nicholas D. Kristof puts it, who are fomenting a revolution in Iran, which is slowly becoming"a pro-American country." Not"pro-American" in the sense of wanting to see US troops on Iranian soil—more in terms of the culture wars, that is, the wars that matter. Kristof tells us that so many of the Iranians he interviewed have expressed a desire to come to America. They wear blue jeans, read Hillary Clinton, John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, and, of course, Harry Potter. They watch American movies like"Titanic" and revel in such American TV shows as"Baywatch." And they have one message for the Islamic theocrats, who continue to denounce America as the Great Satan in their blitz of"propaganda":"To hell with the mullahs."

This is an important and continuing development, and a healthy one, considering the history of US intervention in Iran. As Kristof observes:"In the 1960's and 1970's, the U.S. spent millions backing a pro-Western modernizing shah—and the result was an outpouring of venom that led to our diplomats' being held hostage. Since then, Iran has been ruled by mullahs who despise everything we stand for ..." But as Kristof explains, among the younger generation,"being pro-American is a way to take a swipe at the Iranian regime."

And the regime knows it. Indeed,"[o]ne opinion poll showed that 74 percent of Iranians want a dialogue with the U.S.—and the finding so irritated the authorities that they arrested the pollster." But the mullahs couldn't arrest all of those Iranian citizens who had"responded to the 9/11 attacks with a spontaneous candlelight vigil as a show of sympathy."

The Bush administration, which has squandered much of the global good will of 9/11, needs to learn a new phrase if it wants to encourage dialogue with a younger generation of authentic"freedom fighters": Laissez Faire. Hands off!"Left to its own devices," says Kristof,"the Islamic revolution is headed for collapse, and there is a better chance of a strongly pro-American democratic government in Tehran in a decade than in Baghdad." If the administration decides to approach a looming crisis over Iran's nuclear program with the same"bring-it-on" approach that it pioneered in Iraq, Kristof states, it will only succeed in"inflaming Iranian nationalism and uniting the population behind the regime."

That's a form of"nation-building" at which the neocon interventionists might very well succeed. To the detriment of freedom.




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