The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Posts Tagged ‘Middle East

Why hold back on Iran? Here’s why.

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A good friend of mine asks an important question regarding President Obama’s low-key response to the Iranian election crisis:

…if things go back to normal isn’t all of the bloodshed-the woman bleeding out in the street for all to see in streaming video-all for nothing? […]

I am trying to be a lover of peace…but it is so hard when people are being killed at the hand of a dictator and watching the most influential man in the free world be silent.

I’m truly glad he asked.  Here is my response:

Barack Obama

Image via Wikipedia

1. Though perhaps not well covered by all news sources, Obama has been far from silent. Here are excerpts from his statement on Saturday:

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

See the whole statement at Obama statement on Iran violence.

2. Those who understand Iran well are begging the USA not to go further than that. Even conservative Morning Joe agrees:

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 19:  Former Congressman J...

SCARBOROUGH: All we would do is undermine those people in the street, who the second that they are attached to the United States of America, the country after all that’s been known in Iran as the great Satan since 1979, we will undermine their cause … It’s so shortsighted I find it stunning. […]

What would John McCain and Lindsey Graham specifically have the president say? All of those people that are emailing in and telling me that I’m being liberal? Oh really? I’m being liberal? No I think it’s called restraint. Showing a little bit of restraint. Looking at the battlefield in front of you and not just running up Pickett’s Charge and getting gunned down. If you want to feel good about yourself — and you can only feel good about yourself by screaming about the evils of Iran — fine do that. But our leaders in Washington don’t need to do that because people will be routed in the street the second they are identified with the United States of America.

3. Here’s the core issue: American support is the kiss of death for reform movements in countries like Iran. Ever since the CIA took down the Iranian democracy in 1953, the parties in power now have seen anything American as a threat to national security. If the President says one word that can be construed to suggest that the USA is behind the reformers, the Iranian government will believe it has a national security reason for radical, brutal action against them. It will give them an excuse to a) annihilate the movement (the killing could become far worse than it is now), and b) ignore the reformer’s issues and write them off as foreign-inspired nonsense.

Here’s how the President said it on CBS’s Early Show yesterday:

In an interview with CBS’ Early Show this morning, Obama responded similarly to Scarborough, saying the U.S. has to guard against being used as a scapegoat by the Iranian regime:

“The last thing that I want to do,” the president said, “is to have the United States be a foil for — those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That’s what they do. That’s what we’ve already seen. We shouldn’t be playing into that. There should be no distractions from the fact that the — Iranian people are seeking to — let their voices be heard.”

McCain and Graham are growing increasingly isolated, as Republicans in Congress and conservatives in the media endorse Obama’s measured response.

4. It’s a deadly game. Obama could win himself a lot of public support by really giving it to Iran. But, thank God, he knows the world well enough to resist the temptation to do that.

For some reason, American foreign policy has often been tone-deaf, and almost intentionally so. Those who ridicule Obama for the hugely positive receptions he gets in Europe often say, “Who cares what other nations think?” And that becomes an excuse for deep ignorance of the impact of our actions on other nations. We get starry-eyed about our own goodness, and our foreign policy becomes one of doing what feels good to us.

As a result, we often make situations worse rather than better. In this case, understanding Iran means walking more softly rather than letting it all hang out. Here are some historical reasons why:

5. The Bush Administration accidentally torpedoed the reform movement in 2005. A reformer, either Rafsanjani, was the president before Ahmadinejad. He offered to open up relations with the USA, and to try to work together on Iraq, even writing a letter to Bush to propose it.

Bush, ever un-aware of the impact of his actions, saw Iran as an enemy and snubbed the letter (not even responding, I believe). Iranians knew it, blamed their President for having no clout with the West, and replaced the reform-minded President with hard-liner Ahmadinejad. Bye-bye reform, thank you USA.

6. And that is typical of the history of US policy toward Iran. Heavy-handed moves toward control, starting even prior to 1953 (in a move to force Iran to sell us oil at, perhaps, 10% of its value), are what Iranians expect from us. “Here they go again” is what they guard against. We’ve made that bed, and now we lie in it, having virtually disabled ourselves.

uk66.jpeg

Image by Stephen Downes via Flickr

We see America as good. They see America as the country that robbed them of democracy and set up a corrupt puppet dictatorship and trained merciless, dreaded secret police who killed thousands, and is likely waiting for a chance to do it again.  Freedom and democracy, to the revolutionaries of just 30 years ago, meant getting rid of US influence.

The only way to improve that is to allow Iranians to make their own way until they can trust the USA again. It will take a long time and a lot of patience, for we’ve spent half a century degrading ourselves there.  But I think we might be surprised what a little worldwide credibility could accomplish.

Thanks for asking!

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How to help Iran – an Iranian view

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My friend Naj, who writes an excellent blog at iranfacts.blogspot.com, is certain that pro-reform statements or actions taken by American politicians can have only negative impact on Iranians. She urges us to ask our politicians to hold back:


How to Help Iran?

Tell your elected representatives, especially the American ones, Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative to “SHUT THE HELL UP!”

Obama’s handled this PERFECTLY well so far!

Make him know that on behalf of your Iranian friend, Naj.

The slightest American meddling will throw all that spilled blood out of the window! Let us accomplish our own deed. Then, all we ask of your government, is to respect whatever government becomes official in Iran, even if it may be Ahmadinejad.

An American friend of mine just sent this to her congresswoman:

Dear Congresswoman Tsongas,

I am writing to you as a concerned American citizen who is an active member of the international community. With the recent electoral upheaval in Iran, there are many people, many friends of mine, who are caught between a rock and a hard place. They do not necessarily still live in Iran, but love for their family, country, and heritage is a huge part of their identity.

The main fear they have is that anything other than a course of neutrality by individual countries could very easily foment further bloodshed against civilians in an attempt to control protests, display power, and cultivate fear. President Obama has so far done an excellent job of maintaining neutrality, but it is concerning that various members of congress want to take a more hard-line stance, and are haranguing the president for not having done so.

As your constituent, Congresswoman Tsongas, I am asking you to please do what you can to maintain official US neutrality toward the current situation in Iran, and please do not support any bills that would involve US interests directly in this matter.

Sincerely,
[name preserved]

Posted by Naj at Sunday, June 21, 2009


If only we could learn this lesson! For many reform movements, American support is the kiss of death, marking them as a threat by foreign enemy rather than an expression of the people.

You can contact your Senators and Representative by using the contact form in the right sidebar. Go for it!

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Khatami’s statement of June 21, translated by Naj

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DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 25JAN07 - captured during t...
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Naj writes: (please forgive typos and grammatical errors, in RUSH before running to work, feel free to edit and cross post)

In the name of God, the kind and the merciful,
People’s participation is one of the grand achievements of the Islamic Revolution, which must be guarded and expanded. This magnificent presence, from all sectors and all ages and all professions, has a clear message that the people are the rightful owners of the country and the revolution. This message must be heard today; their silent protest and civil manners during these protests is an evidence of their maturity, vigilance and responsibility and it also reflects this unequivocal fact that the people are entitled to basic and specific rights that any government is obliged to respect. Provocative and insulting propaganda against a people who have always acted independently, and blaming their rightful movement to foreigners is in itself a sign of implementing wrong politics that cause further alienation of the people from the government. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

June 21, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Iranian reformers unite; seek ouster of Ahmadinejad

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Ahmadinejad may be losing support. Is it a new day for Iran?
clipped from www.nytimes.com
Mohammad Khatami, the reformist former president, has decided to withdraw from the June presidential race to support a political ally […]

Mohammad Khatami

“The most important goal is to prevent Mr. Ahmadinejad from re-election, not to get Mr. Khatami elected,” […]

Mr. Mousavi [the candidate Khatami will support], who is also a painter and architect, stayed out of politics for the past two decades and had turned down calls to run as presidential candidate in previous elections. His wife, Zahra Rahnavard, was the dean of the prestigious women’s university, Al Zahra, from 1998 to 2006 and is close ally of Mr. Khatami.[…]

President Ahmadinejad is supported by the conservative Iranian establishment, but his economic policies have unleashed economic inflation of over 25 percent, and two major setbacks last week suggested that he might be losing support ahead of elections.[…]

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Could be a breakthrough.  The election is June 12.


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Written by Monte

March 16, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Amnesty USA volunteers help stop anti-Palestinian amendment

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Bad news to good news!

Last Friday, Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) proposed an amendment to the budget bill prohibiting use of any of its funds for assistance to refugees who resettle in the USA—if they happen to be from Gaza.  When I heard of it, I thought, “What on earth?  Why would he …?” And then, “Ohhh, no.”

Yesterday, it became clear that the amendment was heading for a vote.  Amnesty USA emailed its network, of which I am proud to be a part.  Here’s what we learned:

clipped from blog.amnestyusa.org

A Palestinian boy pours water into a dish for a woman as she sits on the rubble of her home, March 6, 2009. (c) MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

A Palestinian boy pours water into a dish for a woman as she sits on the rubble of her home in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip , March 6, 2009. (c) MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinians: Keep out?

Middle East, Refugees, United States | Posted by: Christoph Koettl, March 9, 2009 at 2:28 PM

Should Palestinians from Gaza be treated differently under US refugee law? According to Senator Jon Kyl (R – AZ), the answer is yes.

Last Friday, Senator Kyl introduced an amendment to the Omnibus Appropriations bill, which adds the following line:

“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available to resettle Palestinians from Gaza into the United States.” […]

Contrary to a policy of 30 years, which extends protection to refugees on the basis of need, this amendment seeks to discriminate against an entire group based on nationality alone

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Now the good stuff. Today, I (along with many others) received this email message:

Hi,

We wanted to send you a quick update on last night’s Gaza refugee vote. Thanks to your quick mobilization in which over 16,000 of you faxed letters in a span of just two hours, Senator Kyl withdrew his discriminatory amendment.

A bipartisan group of several Senators including Leahy (VT), Kerry (MA) and Gregg (NH) stood on the floor of the Senate and spoke out against the amendment. Your faxes together with our champions on this issue applied enough political pressure for Senator Kyl to just withdraw the amendment completely.

Again, this was one of those moments when together we really made the difference. Thanks again.

– Sarnata, Steve, Zahir, Edie and the rest of the team here at AIUSA

Ya – hoo!

Yes! We can make a difference!

Check out AmnestyUSA if you’d like to add your voice.  Let’s make a nation that treats its neighbors the way we’d want them to treat us, were we in their shoes.


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Written by Monte

March 10, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Clinton speaks out as Israel hardens

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Good news and bad news from the Middle East.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has criticized Israel for planning to demolish 88 Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem, saying,

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and S...
Image by connect2canada via Flickr

“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road-map’… It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem.”

What a relief it is to hear an American diplomat admit, for once, that Israel is out of line.  Perhaps this is a signal of some movement toward fair play in U.S. foreign policy.  That could help the region a great deal.

Prof. Juan Cole points out that she’ll be besieged by Zionist critics in the USA for daring to say it, and urges “Please consider sending her a supportive message for daring [to] speak out on the issue. In fact, urge her to use a stronger word than “unhelpful” the next time.”

Now the bad news:  Israel’s new hard-line government will probably press ahead on a plan to build 73,000 new settler homes in the Occupied West Bank, doubling the number of Zionists living on Palestinian land to 600,000.  One can only imagine the despair and outrage this theft of the homes of Palestinians will cause throughout the region.

If they do so, Cole believes the two-state solution will be utterly dead: Read the rest of this entry »

Why bombing Iran won’t work

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And a few things that just might.

Tehran
Tehran – Image via Wikipedia

“You can’t bomb knowledge,” said Robert Litwak, Director of the Division of International Security Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars […]

[B]ombing … Iran’s nuclear sites will not deter future technological developments […]

US military action … would only trigger major responses worldwide, … a worsening of the fragile state of Iraq and “a rally around the flag effect in Iran.”

Washington will need to recognize that “what is politically serious in Washington is politically insignificant in Tehran.” What the US has previously viewed as a big step toward normalization, such as allowing the importation of pistachios and carpets, has little weight in Iran […]

Pres. Obama and other political figures have not recognized the need to use sensitive language when dealing with Iran. Iran has expressed its disdain for phrases such as “carrots and sticks,” that the US has repeatedly used […] [T]his mistranslates to say that the US plans to deal with Iran as a donkey, either reward it with carrots or beat it into submission. “This will backfire on us,” … stated Robin Wright, journalist, author and public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Clipped from niacouncil.org

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Written by Monte

March 3, 2009 at 2:31 pm

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