Middle East

How the Western Left Has Abandoned Iranian Liberals

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Via Arts & Letters Daily comes a sharp review of Danny Postel's recent book, Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran, which indicts Western liberals and leftists for silence in the face of brutal repression by an "authentic" regime that attacks the concept of universal human rights as part of an Enlightenment, imperialist mentality.

From Rafia Zakaria's review:

[Western liberals], as Postel documents, have been silent in the face of repeated student protests in Iran, imprisonment of Iranian activists and numerous other human rights violations that should have logically attracted their support. They are so locked in the singular prism of anti-imperialism that they are unable to make peace with the idea that it is liberalism rather than radicalism that is the true fighting creed in Iran. They are even less amenable to the reality that "the denunciations of U.S. Empire in Iran today are the rhetorical dominion of the Iranian Right, not the Left". As Postel states, "it is the reactionary clergy who wield the idiom of anti-imperialism and regime hardliners [who] legitimate the suppression of Iranian students". This aversion to recognising reality in Iran has exacted a huge cost; it has delegitimised the Western left and exposed its disinterest in championing the cause of Iranian liberals and pro-democracy fighters who suffer daily at the hands of an increasingly repressive regime. Postel exposes how the insistent prioritisation of anti-imperialism over all else has produced a repugnant inversion of itself—a new form of imperialism equally blind in its U.S.-centric perspective as its ugly counterpart.

More here.

In 2002, Charles Paul Freund assayed the case of Hashem Aghajari, the Iranian dissident whose death sentence sparked massive protests (and eventually gained some measure of freedom) in Iran but little outrage in the West.

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  1. Or it could be that most folks don’t care about Iran because most folks don’t care about most locales outside of their own country.

  2. “[Western liberals], as Postel documents, have been silent in the face of repeated student protests in Iran, imprisonment of Iranian activists and numerous other human rights violations that should have logically attracted their support.”

    As opposed to western conservatives, western moderates, and western libertarians?

    The one example provided in the entire article of any western liberal who has tried to shut down discussion of the Iranian regime’s crimes is – you probably know the answer already – an unnamed “anti-war protestor.”

  3. Joe: Yes.

  4. So the purported silence of non-liberals excuses the silence of non-liberals? Interesting.

    Your isolationist libertarians and paleo-cons at least can point to a philosphical justification for not saying or doing anything about Iran. And its the nature of “moderates” to be passive and apathetic.

    What’s the good and sufficient reason for liberals to stay silent?

  5. In other words, joe, he’s positing hypocracy by omission.

  6. Why should I or any American feel obligated to obsess about Iranian politics? Should I also obsess over Pakistani politics? Cambodian? Vietnamese? Congolese? Zimbabwean (sp?)? Nepalese? Sri Lankan?

    People, including Americans, need to get used to the fact that America is not an omnipotent diety. Stop praying to us. Stop blaming all of your problems on us. Stop assuming that we can turn your shithole country into a utopia.

  7. R.C. Dean,

    What’s your big plan for doing something about Iran?

  8. Googline “Amnesty International Iran” yields 1,340,000 hits.

    “Human Rights Watch Iran” yields 54,000,000 hits.

    Damn silent left!

  9. How about some trivia for H&R veterans: can anyone name the frequesnt Reason commenter who frequently brings up the student protests in Iran that used to happen, before the Iraq War?

  10. Liberals’ not saying anything plays right along here with conservatives’ desire to sanction Iran into oblivion. They both strengthen the mullahs: the liberals don’t put any pressure on them, and sanctions allow the mullahs to point to the U.S. and other countries as the source of their problems rather than deal with them.

    I have long thought the best thing to encourage reform in Iran would be to open up to Iranian populace. When the mullahs no longer faced an external enemy, their oppression and corruption could not be blamed on the U.S. and the liberal movements in the country would be strengthened.

    I may be wrong, but it seems like sanctions have only hardened the government there and made it even worse.

    -Untermensch

  11. People here may not care, but the apparent point of Postel’s book (and the review of it that I cite) is that the Western left, especially those who are critical of the Enlightenment, has at times embraced the Islamic regime in Iran as a morally superior alternative to imperial regimes closer to home. This was true, for a while, of Michel Foucault, who initially celebrated the fall of the Shah as a rebuke to what he saw as repressive, Western-style fake democracy.

  12. Nick —

    As did, initially ironically, I believe, Salman Rushdie.

  13. How about some trivia for H&R veterans: can anyone name the frequesnt Reason commenter who frequently brings up the student protests in Iran that used to happen, before the Iraq War?

    Oh, man, this one’s tough. Jean Bart alias #11? Jean Bart alias #27? Person with 2-letter screen name that I can never remember? That other guy with the 2-letter screen name that I can never remember? Instalanche minion #1,208,934? Or Instalanche minion #1,208,935? Maybe guy with screen name that involves weird historical reference that I never get?

    Can we get some help here?

    🙂

  14. Yeah, why can’t libertarians, at least, get behind some non-military means of putting pressure on repressive regimes around the world? No, “Lincoln Brigades” are outlawed, but what about, say, boycotts? Case in point:
    boycott any U.S. advertiser of the Peking Olympics because China’s friendly policies toward Sudan make the Darfur atrocities more
    viable. America can’t and shouldn’t project its military power against such regimes, but there is no reason moral suasion and individual economic power can’t be used
    (and if “John Brown”s want to hit me up for some cash, I’ll consider the cause.)

  15. “Putting pressure on Iran” only strengthens the regime. When in the past 25 years has the regime feared the most for its safety? When Clinton and Albright were keeping their mouths shut, the students (and then workers) took to the streets, and the regime was so endangered that they were forced to convict and imprison some of their own security personnel for assaulting and killing student protestors.

    Of course, that’s all in the past. Since the “Axis of Evil” speech, the regime has been able to crack down on dissent with impunity. Funny how opposition movements clam up when they perceive their country to be under assault from a foreign threat, isn’t it? Funny how authoritarian governments are given a freer hand by the public to crack down on dissent when the dissenters can be easily tarred as agents of foreign agitators.

  16. Seems to me that a few years ago a large number of Iraqi exiles were badgering the United States into intervening in their country for the purpose of protecting human rights (along with WMDs and a bunch of other matters that didn’t pan out.) Now, these same exiles are going around blaming US for the fact that their country has descended into a de facto civil war.

    The fact is, if Iranian moderates and liberals want to restore freedom to their country, they have to do it themselves. It is neither our job nor our responsibility. Indeed, as they have a knowledge of the local culture, they are in a better position to do so.

  17. joe,

    AI isn’t part of the “left.” Indeed, AI members pride themselves on eschewing ideological perspectives.

  18. Michel Foucault was a liberal?

  19. Grotius,

    Amnesty Internation are liberals in the truest sense of the word, even if the organization has the wisdom to be non-partisan.

  20. Economic sanctions only work against “civilised” governments. Dictatorships let the people starve, then feed them propaganda that says the countries imposing sanctions are morally responsible their empty bellies.

  21. Nick Gillespie,

    People here may not care, but the apparent point of Postel’s book (and the review of it that I cite) is that the Western left, especially those who are critical of the Enlightenment, has at times embraced the Islamic regime in Iran as a morally superior alternative to imperial regimes closer to home. This was true, for a while, of Michel Foucault, who initially celebrated the fall of the Shah as a rebuke to what he saw as repressive, Western-style fake democracy.

    Sure, for the sake of argument I’ll accept all of that, but does it really explain why there isn’t much desire to do much about the internal politics of Iran? I don’t think that it does.

    Furthermore, do you agree with the thrust of this bit of text?

    The unfortunate geopolitical cataclysm resulting from these divergent prescriptions and the subsequent stagnation of the Western left…

  22. So far we have two “liberals” identified as doing what Postel asserts – radical post-Structuralist Michel Foucault and “an anti-war protestor,” who isn’t quoted.

    I don’t think there’s any question that there are radical “anti-imperialists” who are more concerned with American imperialism than Iranian human rights abuses, but to try to bootstrap liberals into that category strains credibility.

  23. joe,

    I’ve been involved with AI since my sophmore year in college. It is populated by a diverse group of people from numerous ideological backgrounds. It isn’t liberal or leftist or rightist or libertarian or anything like that.

  24. I care Nick and you are absolutely right. The dreck of professional protestors from the hard left march hand and hand with the worst of the Islamic radicals at anti-U.S. rallies in Europe.

    What is worse is the complete sellout of international organizations. There is nothing on the ICRC website or anything I can find on the web from the ICRC concerning the Iranian kidnap of uniformed British sailors. Of course, no one in the ICRC or the human rights community has said one word about the Hamas kidnapping of the Isreali soldier last year. The Conventions only apply when the U.S. or the U.K. is acting.

    At some deep level I think the hard left has a suicide wish. Now nearly 100 years past the Soviet Revolution and the prospect of real leftist revolution in the west more remote that it has ever been, I think at some deep level the hard left would rather see all of Western Civilization destroyed by an outside force, say radical Islam, then have it continue on as it is. Ultimately, the Western hard left hates itself and the society it lives in more than it hates Islamic regimes no matter how oppressive, reactionary and theological they may be.

  25. The dreck of professional protestors from the hard left…

    Speaks for whom, exactly?

    I think at some deep level the hard left would rather see all of Western Civilization destroyed by an outside force, say radical Islam, then have it continue on as it is.

    And you know that because you overheard this one guy who never bathes saying it in a coffee shop.

  26. Joe,

    The people that Nick and Postel are talking about are not the typical members of the Lowell, Mass Democratic Party. It is the real hardcore ideological left, which exists mostly in Europe and and on American College campuses. I don’t think either Postel or Gillespie thinks that the rank and file American democrat wants to embrace Islamic regimes.

  27. John,

    Of course, no one in the ICRC or the human rights community has said one word about the Hamas kidnapping of the Isreali soldier last year.

    From the AI website:

    Amnesty International calls on the Palestinian armed groups who are holding hostage a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, not to harm him and to release him promptly.

    http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE150552006?open&of=ENG-PSE

  28. Thoreau,

    How do you explain self proclaimed leftists like Red Ken Livingstone in London embracing radical Muslims? If the radical Imams that Livingstone routinely fawns over ever took over the U.K., Livingstone and people like him would be near the top of the list of people to be shot and the entire country would fall into a mysogonistic, theological nightmare, everything that Livingstone at least superficially claims to abhore. How do you explain this? I explain it by speculating that at some deep level Livingstone and his ilk are so alienated from their societies that they would rather see them destroyed and replaced by radical Muslims than continue on as it is. What is yours?

  29. I don’t know anything about Ken Livingstone. And I couldn’t care less about the mayor of London. I’m curious whether you can find a truly dangerous person who speaks for some non-trivial and influential segment of US society.

    Dudes who never bathe don’t count.

  30. Wow Grotius, they put out a statement asking them nicely. That some real forcful stuff. How about calling for divestment in the Palistinian territories until the soldier is returned? How about having a rally and marching on the Palistinian embassy somewhere and demand their return? That is what they would do with Isreal or the U.S., why not the PA?

  31. John,

    Postel repeatedly used the word “liberal.” Zakaria repeatedly uses the word “liberal.”

    If this was just a thesis about what you’re calling “the hard left,” it would be utternly uncontroversial, and of no interest to anyone outside the Communist Workers Party.

    Tip o’ the hat to you for drawing the approprite distinction.

  32. thoreau is really hit the nerve of this issue better than I am. I’ll try to do better. 😉

  33. john, don’t hate on AI. they’re good folks fighting the good fight in the middle of the dark, dark night.

  34. John,

    Wow Grotius, they put out a statement asking them nicely.

    I believe your claim was this:

    Of course, no one in the ICRC or the human rights community has said one word about the Hamas kidnapping of the Isreali soldier last year.

    You were of course wrong.

  35. Thoreau,

    Most of it goes on in Europe. The U.S. is very lucky. The mayor of New York doesn’t run around embracing radical Imams. But, the hard left has never had much traction in the U.S. either, outside of college campuses. I won’t bore you with horror stories about this or that crackpot on this or that campus. Note, I never said that this was a phenomenon in the U.S. outside of college campuses.

  36. Aw, then you had to go and ruin it, John!

    Amnesty International has never called for a boycott of Israel.

    And the admirable ability to make distinctions that you brought to your analysis of whom, exactly, fits Postel’s bill is utterly missing from your description of imams in London. Not every Muslim who denounces something or other about the British government is looking to cut off your head on the internet.

  37. But, the hard left has never had much traction in the U.S. either, outside of college campuses. I won’t bore you with horror stories about this or that crackpot on this or that campus.

    1) It’s not clear how meaningful that traction on college campuses really is. College students experiment with all sorts of dumb things in college. The question is what they actually bring with them when they leave college. Judging from the overall prospects for college graduates in the US I’d say that they bring a variety of academic, intellectual, social, communication, and professional skills that will serve them well in subsequent pursuits. It doesn’t appear that a significant fraction retain any sort of radical ideology when they leave college. So I’m content to shrugging off campus radicalism as a harmless indulgence.

    2) If the hard left has little meaningful traction in the US, then what are you worried about?

  38. Wow Grotius, they put out a statement asking them nicely. That some real forcful stuff. How about calling for divestment in the Palistinian territories until the soldier is returned? How about having a rally and marching on the Palistinian embassy somewhere and demand their return? That is what they would do with Isreal or the U.S., why not the PA?

    Despite it’s global ambitions, AI is fundamentally a western organization. As such, it’s perfectly normal for it to be more forceful with western nations — nations where it may actually exert some influence. My wife is much more forceful and demanding with me than she would be with a stranger — does this mean she holds me in lower esteem, or does it mean that she’s a rational pragmatist?

  39. Damn it! It’s = its.

  40. Chris S.,

    I’d say that A.I. is equally forceful (not a term I would use, but so be it) with all countries. Indeed, that’s probably what infuriates folks from across the political spectrum.

  41. Chris S.,

    In other words, I’ve witness lefty-types get angry over AI’s coverage of Castro’s Cuba and righty-types get angry over AI’s coverage of Gitmo.

  42. Grotius,

    Have you encountered a great deal of criticism of A.I. from liberal Democrats?

  43. There seems to be an awful lot of discussion about Artificial Intelligence and American Idol (Artificial Talent, really) in this thread.

  44. joe,

    That probably depends on what you mean by liberal Democrat. But yeah, I’ve met Democrats who didn’t criticize AI.

  45. These days most of the criticism I see of AI online seems to be coming from folks who are broadly conservative. That may just be a function of the sort of blogs I frequent though.

  46. Grotius,

    You seem to know more about AI than I do, so I won’t attempt to argue with you. I was attempting to make a broader point about why American dissenters are typically harsher towards the U.S. than towards more distant regimes.

  47. Chris S.,

    That’s probably true. I really don’t know squat about the internal administration, etc. of AI. I do know that most of the urgent action reports that I get via e-mail have really nothing to do with the U.S. or the various situations in the middle east.

  48. I feel for the Iranian “liberals” who are being oppressed. I hope that they can get the boot off of their heads one of these days, and I might even support some U.S./Western help with that if the timing were right (not an invasion, mind you, but “help” of some sort). The Iranian government really does suck.

    I don’t think most leftists are in love with Iran, for obvious reasons. While I think it might be true that they don’t emphasize the liberal underground in Iran, I imagine that that omission is due to a desire to avoid more armed interventions by the U.S. I assume that the anti-war libertarians are uninterested in highlighting the plight of the oppressed for the same reason.

    In a perfect world, we could remove all of the corruption and oppression and lead everyone to peace, freedom, and prosperity. Unfortunately, humanity is insane and requires extraordinary events and extraordinary people to achieve such a state. Probably the U.S. can do the most good in this regard by being an example and by using its enormous economic, political, and sometimes even military influence to improve things. . .with the understanding that the slow and gradual approach is usually the best.

    One question I have is why, say, the Czech Republic so quickly moved from an oppressive, communistic regime to a liberal, capitalistic system. Why were they ready and others like Iraq don’t seem to be?

    As for AI, they pick on the West more because they can get more results from us. It’s like people who complain that Iran, for example, can ignore international law without a lot of hue and cry, while we must adhere to the letter of the law. It’s because people expect more from us, obviously. As they should, though I don’t believe in giving oppressive governments as much of a pass as they’ve been seeming to get in recent times.

  49. I ‘like’ the way MSM covered the ginned-up Iranian protest at the British Embassy in Tehran.

    First, the crowd shots were a perspective to make the 150ish crowd seem like thousands.

    Second, no counter-demonstrators could be found.

    Third, they acted like it was a real protest instead of a state sponsored photo-op.

  50. “One question I have is why, say, the Czech Republic so quickly moved from an oppressive, communistic regime to a liberal, capitalistic system. Why were they ready and others like Iraq don’t seem to be?”

    Because the people of Czecheslovakia did it themselves.

  51. Chris S.,

    The biggest thing I wish people would do is simply visit AI’s website sometime. One will find a concern with human rights issues around the world.

  52. Anyone notice how John just disappeared?

  53. “”One question I have is why, say, the Czech Republic so quickly moved from an oppressive, communistic regime to a liberal, capitalistic system”

    in the Monarchy, there was a thriving, vibrant merchant class, so the comparison doesn’t work (Europe to middle east) – there were already cultural, social (etc) structures in place.

    (and lotsa tourists a few hours away by train)

  54. According to George Clooney’s Syriana, the Free Iran Movement in the West consists only of suit-wearing, balding, middle-aged, grumpy white men, pissed off that they’re not getting enough oil profit$ from Iran.

    (Clooney’s role in Syriana (not a bad movie) must be the most pointless Look-at-all-the-weight-I-gained-for-this-role in movie history.)

  55. “Grotius | April 3, 2007, 11:37am | #
    Anyone notice how John just disappeared?”

    his lips got tired when he tried reading the first sentence in the review:

    IN unravelling the grand universalism of the Modern project, post-modern thinkers arrived at a conception of authenticity that eschewed the imposition of Western ideas on the misunderstood `other’.

  56. Because the people of Czechoslovakia did it themselves.

    joe,

    That’s no answer. Obviously, if there’s absolutely zero interest in liberalizing your ways, then imposing them will only work if we’re willing to beat the light into your head. Iraq is a clear example of how a short occupation isn’t going to make everything work.

    My question was more centered on the foundations for change. What made much of Eastern Europe ready? Why is Turkey so much more liberal than its Arab/Iranian counterparts? Why did Japan liberalize? Really understanding all of that would be a good thing, in my opinion. I don’t think this is a left-right issue, either, at least not in the U.S. sense. I doubt that there is any serious disagreement here that a more democratic and liberal world would be good for the West, regardless of your particular political position.

    VM,

    Yeah, I kinda think the same thing. Maybe the CIA should just hire thousands of college students and send them over to Iran to subvert them through aggressive, interactive tourism and student-visa sorties.

  57. I think at least the older hard left, and this is truer of Europe than the US, is simply embarassed by Iran. Many prominent figures on the left were vocal opponents of the Shah in the 1970s (fair enough at the time, he wasn’t exactly a model of good governance), but what has come after the Shah has been much much worse. In many ways the left is trapped in the same situation they were trapped in vis-a-vis the Tsar and the Soviets in the 1930s. Having been invested so much energy in being vocal opponents of the Tsar, progressives found it hard to condemn their erstwhile allies even when it became clear that the revolution was an awful disaster in retrospect. I think the same can be said of European left wing attitudes toward Iran today. I don’t think the American left deserves the same approbation, because I don’t think for the most part Americans (liberals or conservatives) are really seriously engaged in what is happening outside their borders, and haven’t been for some time.

  58. but also – there was a middle class in CZ. There was an industrial class (Skoda Works), etc.

    They and the Hungarians helped prop the economy of the Austrian empire – the comparison is apples to giraffes: the czechs only had a few, horrible years under the kommiez, but they could still fall back to older tradition.

    We’d need a better historian than us here, but to answer that question, we’d need to find similar traditions. We’d need to see how much empire there was (how “strong”, how long). We’d need to see what social structures that existed before the empire (and for how long, etc) that were in place – including a middle class etc.

    Also, 1848 had a large influence in Europe. Think: civil rights movement here. They didn’t have one in, say, Denmark – and you can see the difference. there was no 1848 in the middle east.

    Just with historical and cultural differences, I don’t see any relevance in comparing the two!

  59. Pro Libertate,

    “That’s no answer.” It’s a big answer. You can’t say that “there is absoluting zero interest in liberalizing” in Iraq, just because of what happened after we invaded. Iraqi politics are being driven by foreign players, (us and Al Qaeda). You can’t just assume that there would be no interest in liberal democracy if they were left to their own devices, because they haven’t been left to their own devices.

    The peaceful, incremental, but still significant moves to democratization in places like the UAE don’t get much press because they are peaceful and incremental, but they are happening. And let’s not forget those Iranian students protests – there’s your local, self-directed seed for democratic renewal. Even the 1979 revolution was a broad, popular-front type democratic revolution, until the theocrat faction of that coalition took over.

    The Arab and Persian Middle East is democratizing, the same way Europe did from 1600-1900 or so.

  60. It would be nice for a little revolution to occur on its own in Iran. An actual homegrown republic in the Islamic Middle East could do wonders. Could the Kurds help in that regard? Hmmm.

    VM,

    There’s no doubt that the Czechs were ready and willing, and they may be a bad example. Still, we’re putting together the reasons after the fact. Why is China the way it is? Everywhere else, the Chinese have been pure merchants, which you would think would be conducive to a political liberalization of China proper. Even the economic rise of China doesn’t make it a capitalist state. Not yet, anyway. I’m dubious about liberal ideas not having at least some universal appeal, especially insofar as they seem to be associated with a higher quality of life. Why can’t the Arabs or Iranians have freer societies?

  61. joe,

    I don’t think Iraq as a whole was anywhere near liberalizing. The Kurds are and were, but that didn’t happen for the most part until we invaded Iraq the first time. Does that mean we should invade sometimes and not others? I don’t buy into the Invasion Theory of Liberalization, but I also don’t think the last invasion is the whole problem. There’s some magic tipping point where revolutions happen. It’s a different one for liberal revolutions, too, and I don’t think we really understand that whole process very well.

    Our success is probably the greatest selling point to Western liberalism, and avoiding situations that blind people to that success–like killing them–is probably best. Not that I’m advocating passive isolationism, but if we could avoid pissing people off, maybe they’d see the advantages to our system. There’s plenty of room to get our advantages without becoming completely like us culturally, too.

  62. “As opposed to western conservatives, western moderates, and western libertarians?”

    Joe, they might be guilty too, but this particular piece is addressing the perceived inconsistencies on the left.

    Guy Montag:

    “I ‘like’ the way MSM covered the ginned-up Iranian protest at the British Embassy in Tehran.”

    …and how long were you fooled? You seem to have noticed that there were 150 people there, why can’t other Americans? I’ll tell you: they’re yella, cowardly sons a hounddogs.

    I am disturbed that Iran can’t even have a fake state-sponsored rally without forgetting the details. Counterprotesters would have been the Hollywood-style touch that would have given the whole thing…cough…legitimate status.

    Finally, you asked why would people hired as protest actors act like they were part of a fake protest. Isn’t that what they were paid for? Or isn’t that what they were threatened with torture for?

    AI is a liberal organization with some conservatives who believe in the cause. The rank and file, in my limited experience, is made up of impassioned liberals.

    I don’t understand why the far left (the college campuses and Rosies) doesn’t condemn Iran or at least the regime. Bush hate can do that I guess.

  63. What’s your big plan for doing something about Iran?

    Nothing (good) is going to happen in Iran unless and until some kind of political and cultural transformation occurs in the region. Gosh, I just can’t imagine what that might be, or where we might try to help it along.

    Others are struggling above with identifying the necessary conditions for liberal democratization to occur. I wish I had an answer to that. I do seriously doubt the degree to which the feeble diplomatic/trade “pressure” applied by the West either helps entrenched regimes or affects liberalization one way or the other.

  64. R C Dean,

    I think we of the West should put on our trench coasts and, ahem, expose ourselves to other cultures as much as possible. Let them see us and our wealth and power. That’s a reason for liberalizing trade relations, and it’s why we should let our people travel where they will.

    I tend to share your disdain for high-level “engagement”, because I don’t think it works much in the long term without the people themselves getting some benefit and some exposure to our political and economic culture. I’m not opposed to making nice whenever possible to achieve such goals, but there’s a lot more work needed than some talks at a table with the leaders who are screwing and deluding their people in the first place.

  65. “Most of it goes on in Europe. The U.S. is very lucky. The mayor of New York doesn’t run around embracing radical Imams. But, the hard left has never had much traction in the U.S. either, outside of college campuses. I won’t bore you with horror stories about this or that crackpot on this or that campus. Note, I never said that this was a phenomenon in the U.S. outside of college campuses.”

    Is there, like, some computer at AEI stuck in an infinite loop?

  66. What Iraq needs are a bunch of jacobins to counterbalance the other fanatical factions

  67. ProL:

    “Still, we’re putting together the reasons after the fact. ”

    no we’re not. The middle class and a liberal tradition were already written into the culture there. Asking why some areas liberalize “easier” than others is an excellent question, but I disagree with the characterization that we’re backing into the CZ example. It simply is a poor choice for comparison – using central europe is not an appropriate measure by any means!

    you missed the 1848 reference – that’s when huge changes took place in Europe, including the political rumblings and actions by liberal and socialist (and nationalist) thinking.

    As I said, just as we can see the difference in race perceptions and relations in a nation that didn’t have a civil rights movement, we could see the difference in a peoples that didn’t go through with the changes of 1848.

    Anyways – China – that’s an excellent question:
    some of it could be the nature of how the peoples organized – trade, agriculture, nomadic – what they could do with their natural resources (farm, fish, make huge sand castles).

    then what is the region’s history? Did a middle class develop? If not, is there a history of a dominant culture? etc.

    But again, those other regions didn’t have an 1848.

    Dhex and Grotius can help both of us with the structures of those societies to fill our thoughts in.

    *pulls armchair next to ProL and pours drink

  68. If the hard left has little meaningful traction in the US, then what are you worried about?

    They very well could be hiding under his bed right now. Waiting for him to slip. Must be vigilant!

    Anyway, the very worst thing that the West could do to delegitimize the Iranian gov’t is to help the dissenters with money or NGO-type assistance. They actually tried to help Admin-jihad-istan-abad’s (whatever his name is) opponent, which upped Admin-whatever’s Iranian street cred immensely.

  69. VM,

    *Gargles drink in uncouth manner.

    No, I caught the 1848 reference, and I understand where you are coming from. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a world of difference between Eastern Europe–which is, after all, in Europe–and the Middle East. Or Africa, or Asia, or South America. As Jim Morrison said, the West is the best. However, I’m not comfortable just dismissing these other cultures as not European and not capable of enlightenment. Why did Japan make the leap, for instance? Or South Korea or Taiwan? I think it’s a couple of things, like exposure to our models for success and a desire to emulate that success and, perhaps, kick our ass.

  70. Pro Lib,

    “I don’t think Iraq as a whole was anywhere near liberalizing.” In most of the country, even under Saddam, women walked around unescorted and unveiled. They were professionals in various fields (such as chemistry, ahem ahem). In some ways (but, obviously, not in others) Iraq under the Ba’ath was down the road to liberalizaiton.

    “The Kurds are and were, but that didn’t happen for the most part until we invaded Iraq the first time. Does that mean we should invade sometimes and not others?”

    Yes, it does. We should be prepared to use force in support – support, as in “Best Supporting Actor” – of local, indigenous democratic or liberal movements. Kurdistan, with its peshmerga, is an example, as is Afghanistan with its Northern Alliance and 1940s France with its Free French and Resistance movements.

  71. BTW, have all of the war supporters, the ones proclaiming the sectarian violence to be unavoidable, forgotten about Ali al-Sistani? The man held the country together for two years, even as Al Qaeda deliberately worked to provoke a civil war, and our backing of the sectarian Shiite government turned the anti-occupation resistance into an anti-Shiite faction.

    Do you think our politics would look a little different if our country was under foreign occupation that was aligned with one segment of our population against the other? Do you think that, maybe, such a situation would cause our normal politics to be put on hold, and heighten tensions between different groups?

  72. I think we of the West should put on our trench coasts and, ahem, expose ourselves to other cultures as much as possible. Let them see us and our wealth and power.

    Our wealth, power, and liberal (in every sense) values are on prominent display everywhere on the planet. Much of the hatred for the West can be attributed to exactly these things.

    We should be prepared to use force in support – support, as in “Best Supporting Actor” – of local, indigenous democratic or liberal movements.

    I’ll agree with this. Of course, I think it means that we should have gone into Iraq back in the day, after the liberation of Kuwait.

  73. R C says, “Nothing (good) is going to happen in Iran unless and until some kind of political and cultural transformation occurs in the region.”

    Student protests during the 1990s and 2000-2001? What student protests? Down the Memory Hole with that rabble-rousing!

  74. *does trick with ice cube and twizzle straw!

    cool! I thought in the spaghetti thought I threw out 1848 got missed (in my web of confusion – my writing, not your thinking or knowledge)

    And I agree with this wholeheartedly:
    “However, I’m not comfortable just dismissing these other cultures as not European and not capable of enlightenment.”

    however, it doesn’t have to be, contrary to the Green Footballs types, broken down into {capable of enlightenment vs those not}

    Rather – there have been developments in the region and culture. There has been economic opportunity, etc. It’s not a question of if those other cultures are capable, it is a question of how it’s going to happen.

    Marching into the detention area, which isn’t like my idea of fun, or into Iraq and expecting a WWII style of liberation to take place and voila! was incredible, and it’s astonishing to think that people actually believed that.

    Issues of nationalism and the notion of being a part of a “culture” might contribute to what you’re noting. China’s lifecycles of dynasties helped with them conquering and then falling back. The other cultures in the area worked with that, took ideas, etc.

    where was this going… aw hell.

    *freshens drinks. turns up the tunes.

  75. “Of course, I think it means that we should have gone into Iraq back in the day, after the liberation of Kuwait.”

    If you mean protecting the Shia uprising like we did the Kurds (eventually), I can see that. If you mean “On to Baghdad,” I must disagree. There simply was no democratic uprising for us to support among the Sunnis.

  76. Does that mean we should invade sometimes and not others?

    Invasion is a sometimes foreign policy.

  77. joe,

    Ack. Maybe we need a coalition of democratic nations that can invade bad-guy countries as needed. We could run it like the AP poll in NCAA football, invading the countries that qualify for the BCS (“Bad Country Series”).

    VM,

    Not to advocate another war–I’m not–but I think the liberalizing invasion might’ve worked if we’d invaded Iran, not Iraq, in the first place. They have a lot more of a rumbling in that direction, and they were way on the way to liberalization when the revolution happened. Not that the Shah didn’t suck, of course. This stuff just isn’t easy, except from the sidelines with the 20/20 goggles on.

    * Ignites bourbon bottle and throws it into the neighbor’s house. He oppresses his kids, who are ripe for revolt.

  78. Invasion is a sometimes foreign policy.

    C is for counter-insurgency. Good enough for me!

  79. …and how long were you fooled? You seem to have noticed that there were 150 people there, why can’t other Americans? I’ll tell you: they’re yella, cowardly sons a hounddogs.

    Actually, from the “usual” MSM sources I could not tell if they rousted thousands or hundreds, but I knew it was fake. However, the coverage was just as “honest” as the DC rally I attended 17 March 2007. You know, the one that is still touted by the Left as them having equal or superior numbers to my side?

    The ONLY place I saw a shot of the back of the crowd was on FOX News Channel. Perhaps some others picked it up after them but I doubt it.

  80. *gets out new bottle of Bookers. sighs. passes the snacks*

    With Iran – we had the chance (have?) to keep ’em talking. Take advantage of the changes in the mid 90s. Invading to get people to liberalize makes as much sense as fucking for virginity (ducks. horrible, irrelevant comparison).

    Even back in 79 the Ayatollah had mobilized a friggin huge % of his population.

    srsly: invasion to force freedom wouldn’t work. The Persians have a sense of nationalism and culture. Invasion would most likely trigger the “enemy of my enemy” syndrome.

    Plus, it’s a huge fucking country. I doubt that it would work.

    Also, to foster change, appealing to their culture and what is important to them – not imposing our formula and our cultural values and ways of expressing “freedom” – is key.

    these folks have an interesting take!

    * reaches for the leather-bound copy of “Heather Has Two Mommies”

  81. VM,

    * Leaving the neighbor’s children in a free and economically prosperous home–Mission Accomplished!

    No, war isn’t the answer 99% of the time. Especially with these little, easy-to-beat nations, where the temptation to impose change is sometimes too great.

  82. agreed!

    plus we get to use really cool stuff like the MOAB!

    love it!

  83. joe writes responding to John:

    “Postel repeatedly used the word “liberal.” Zakaria repeatedly uses the word “liberal.”

    If this was just a thesis about what you’re calling “the hard left,” it would be utternly uncontroversial, and of no interest to anyone outside the Communist Workers Party.”

    Looking over Zakaria’s article I can only locate two instances where he conflates “liberal” with “left”–the section title and the first sentence of that section–and all of the direct quotes from Postel concern the western Left and Iranian liberals. But I haven’t read Postel’s book, so I can’t really say whether or not he is also guilty of confusing the left with liberalism.

    On my reading, I thought it was pretty clear that the counter-enlightenment left was the intended target of Postel’s criticism not the mainstream of the American Democratic Party. Foucault and Said were mentioned as culprits but neither Rawls nor Habermas were.

    That leaves the issue of how important the opinion of the counter-enlightenment left really is. That’s a tricky question but I think it’s safe to say that even if they don’t have any real influence in political terms, the kind required to influence policy decisions, they do hold considerable sway over those academic disciplines where Said’s Orientalism critique has been elevated to the level of near gospel (cultural studies, literary studies, etc…). Some would argure that since those disciplines have little real influence outside of academic institutions, we therefore shouldn’t bother ourselves much with what they believe. But to conclude that would then raise the question of why would someone of Habermas’ caliber has spent so much effort confronting their ideas. It is also worth considering why someone like the Iranian Mohsen Sazegara is inclined to making essentially the same critique as Postel does.
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-irandemocracy/article_2413.jsp

  84. VM,

    My brother went to the Air Show at MacDill AFB this past weekend. He was quite impressed with American air power. I’ve had a similar reaction. I know that conventional military wisdom says that you can’t win a war with air power alone, but for pure freak-your-ass-outness, air power can’t be beat. Especially when it involves dropping massive bombs on targets from planes you don’t hear until the bomb is in your lap.

    Not that I’m suggesting that we run amok with this power of ours, I’m only sayin’ it’s weird stuff, Ed, really weird.

    Frankly, if were, say Grenada, I’d surrender in advance. Even winning a war against us sucks like only a comet hitting your country can–ask Vietnam.

    By the way, I think we could use a little more Enlightenment thinking these days, not less.

  85. ProL:

    very cool!

  86. What would really help the U.S. cause is a starship armed with phasers in orbit around the Earth. I mean, come on, who could resist that?

    That, and, um, enlightened persuasion and all that stuff I was talking about before megalomania set in. It’s one of those charming failings we Americans have.

  87. ” Funny how opposition movements clam up when they perceive their country to be under assault from a foreign threat, isn’t it? ”

    Yeah, that is funny. I sure hadn’t noticed that happening around here.

  88. R.C. Dean,

    You’re wrong about the “transformation” bit. Transformations aren’t all that common in societies and when they do, well, they are generally accompanied with the guillotine. No, evolutionary change seems to be the better bet – improving the current system over simply trying to tear the whole thing down and creating a whole new edifice.

  89. Pro Libertate:

    Air power is cool, and it makes us feel safe, but as long as guerillas can mingle in with the general population, air power will never win a war. Still gotta have boots.

  90. I’ve had beers with Danny Postel. Great guy, good to see he’s having some success regardless of what anyone thinks of his arguments.

  91. “Air power is cool, and it makes us feel safe, but as long as guerillas can mingle in with the general population, air power will never win a war. Still gotta have boots.” – Lamar

    I don’t think the Japanese would agree with you on that, Lamar. It really all depends on where you set the bar for how much “collateral damage” is acceptable. If you’re willing to drop ordnance on every location guerrillas are mingling with the general population, suddenly you need a lot less in the way of boots…

  92. Hell, rob, nuke ’em and ya barely need any boots.

  93. Lamar –
    Well, that’s along the lines of WWCLD – What Would Curtis Lemay Do?

    It’s a technique…

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