The Unasked Question

Like most of us, I’ve been following the events (or as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs calls it, the “vigorous debate”) in Iran. I’m under no illusions that Mousavi is any kind of real democrat. There may be a Thomas Jefferson somewhere in Iran, but he’s not one of the candidates for high office. In prior elections, the presidential candidates in Iran were chosen by the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khameini. There was a choice between this West-hating hand puppet or that West-hating hand puppet. This year, for the first time, the Ayatollah allowed unapproved candidates. And why not? By allowing Mousavi to run it was designed to look like the election was going to be free, but Khameini had the results in the bag the entire time.

What the mullahs did not expect was that the Iranian people would also believe that the elections were free and fair. When the results were called into question, the Iranians felt betrayed by their leaders. With good reason, I might add.

Much to the shock and dismay of the mullahs and Ahmadinejad, protestors took to the streets, demanding their rights to the free election that the Supreme Leader had promised them. Worse for the mullahs and Ahmadinejad, the protestors haven’t stopped despite a government crackdown. Protestors are being killed in the street, internet cafes are being raided for information about people who are trying to get the word out, the internet is being blocked as much as possible, foreign journalists are being “asked” to leave. Yet the protests go on. Summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the streets, boy.

It needs to be stressed that the violence is largely one-sided. The protests were peaceful, and remain mostly peaceful, despite the skulls being cracked by the Iranian police and military. These were not riots that needed to be quelled. This was assembly that was deemed embarrassing by the reigning thugocracy. This is turning into a revolution. Whether or not it succeeds depends entirely on whether the Iranian people can stand up to the mullahs, and whether the police and military begin to side with the people against the government. Already there have been reports of police refusing to “do their job” by beating people’s heads in. There has been nothing like this in the Mideast since 1979, when the Islamists seized power when the Shah was overthrown.

The Iranians are clearly tired of living under Islamist rule. Despite being one of the more “progressive” countries in the Middle East (which it always was), Iran is still a theocracy where women are oppressed and everyone is subject to the rule of Islam as interpreted by fundamentalist crazies.

Much has been made over the youthful demographic of Iran. Iran has a huge number of people under the age of thirty, and media reports attribute the protests to this supposedly young, hip, generation. I’m inclined to think that is our media projecting their cozy view of anti-Vietnam protests onto a foreign country. The fact that so much of Iran is under 30 may play a role here, but I don’t think it is some kind of skeleton key to unlock the mystery of the protests. Those under 30 have never lived under any type of government other than the Islamist theocracy they are now protesting. So where do they get the idea for free and fair elections?

It seems to me that there is a legitimate question here that has, to my knowledge, not been asked by anyone. That question is simply this: What role, if any, have the free and fair elections in Iraq and Afghanistan played in this protest?

Part of the reason for America invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein was this: Iran was a country straining at the leash. Having a free Iraq on one side and a free Afghanistan on the other side, might just inspire the Iranian people chained by that leash to pull a little harder and seek a genuine political process in the governance of their nation.

Clearly the Iraq War was a mess in many ways. The wrong commanders were on the job, Donald Rumsfeld hung on for far too long, and George W. Bush put too much faith in his men on the ground. A lot of lives were needlessly lost because of poor planning. The “surge” changed that.

Advocating the use of more troops in Iraq when everyone was screaming for a full-scale retreat was an act of political courage. That act got John McCain the GOP nomination to be President, and it won a war (albeit belatedly) for George W. Bush.

As things were bad and getting worse in Iraq, largely supplied and funded by Iran, there was no whisper of dissent in Iran. But now, with Iraq largely stabilized and peaceful, with Iraq’s economy booming, with Iraq enjoying a free press, the protestors are out in the streets demanding…well, demanding the kind of elections that the Iraqis have.

If Iran should fall and some sort of democracy take root there, I have no doubt that Barack Obama will take the full credit when he runs again in 2012, despite the fact that until last Saturday the message he was sending could only be interpreted as supporting the current leadership in Iran. But if, and I admit it’s a huge if, some sort of democracy does emerge in Iran, will some small part of the credit rest with the Mideast policies of George W. Bush and the change those policies brought to Iran’s next door neighbors?

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