Put the Blame Where the Blame Belongs
Iranian President Ahmadinejad expressing support and loyalty to the Iranian "supreme" leader Kahmanei
Source: Wikipedia, photographer un-attributed
Yesterday the following article by Hossein Derekhshan, Democracy's Double Standard appeared in the Op-Ed section of the NY Times. Derekhshan essentially wants to lay part of the blame for the election of Ahmadinejad on George Bush, an interesting notion to say the least, and one more attuned, it seems to me, to trying to divert blame for the Ahmadinejad election from where it should be squarely laid, on the shoulders of Iranian reformists. It's funny in a way, as Derekhshan's piece reminds me of other things I've read where Iranian writers blame the U.S. for many of their historical ails, blowing U.S. involvement out of proportion and conveniently ignoring Iranian complicity in their own problems.
For as much as I'd love to blame Ahmadinejad's election on Bush, Derekhshan overlooks a truism which, if memory serves me well, was famously expressed here in the U.S. by the former leader of the House of Representatives, congressman Tip O'Neil, to wit: "All politics is local"; I'd hazard to guess that this is equally as true in Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, or anywhere else in Iran. Did Bush have some sort of influence on the Iranian election? Who knows, really? Maybe, I'll even generously concede possibly a few percentage points worth, though I mean really, Iranians, in Iran no less, being told what to do by any American president, but much less THIS American president - right, that's realistic.
Without likely knowing it, Derekhshan hits the problem with the last Iranian presidential election right on the head with the following observation in his article:
" ... the philosophy-loving moderate, Mohammad Khatami, was replaced as president by a radical militant, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a former military
commander who presides over one of the most extreme governments post-revolutionary Iran has yet had."
It does seem that the philosophy-loving moderate was a bit too much in the clouds for most of his 8 years in power, whereas the radical militant, et al., a man whose survival depended on knowing his constituency and what was going on in the street, was telling the people more of what they wanted to hear.
I think the Iranian reformists need to look more closely at how poorly they provided for their constituents, how out of touch they were with those people they were counting to get votes from, and how little they had managed to do in the time they were in power, which was 8 years and therefore no small stretch of time (a lifetime in politics), leaving many average Iranians without a job, healthcare, or much hope into the future in a country where petro-dollars flow, flow and flow, but no one quite seems to know where they go, go, go ... Ahmadinejad ran as a man of the people, and given his past track record and his history of being "clean" in a society and political system where corruption is rampant, this made him very appealing to many, especially when he made a point of appealing very directly to a voting populace of the majority of the disaffected in Iranian society. In the final choice the Iranian people rejected the moderate candidate supported by the reformists because the reformist out-going president Khatami, while possibly a good philosopher president, was a failed president for the people. This left the Iranian people to chose between Ahmadinejad and an old Iranian favorite, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a man cloaked in corruption, duplicity, self-serving machinations of every flavor, and a long list of failed peoples' hopes, and we're supposed to be surprised that a radical militant who promised people jobs and food on the table won? Better yet, we're to blame George Bush for this?
The Palestinian elections were, as near as I can tell, fully democratic and the people had had it with the Fatah Party, rightfully so. It was the voice of the people talking, in as democratic a fashion as I can think of. The Bush administration cannot have a complaint with the process, merely, and to a large degree rightfully so, with the result. Now it's a matter of whether or not the Palestinians can actually make this work for themselves, with a transformation of Hamas that befits a recognition of the meaning of politics and minimizing the harm to the Palestinian people, as the EU and the U.S. both threaten to cut off aid while Hamas vows to stick to its oft and clearly stated goal of eliminating Israel.
In Iran democracy is more at the leisure of the supreme leader and the governing council, and in any true sense of the word "democratic" the process is only as democratic as the cronies at the top feel they need to make it to minimally keep the people happy, and no one doubts that they very definitely control the strings. To look askance at "democracy" in Iran is legitimate enough, and of course in doing so any meaning may be extracted from that, to include thinking that a boycott is what's being suggested. The Bush administration didn't endorse a boycott in Iran, it questioned, legitimately, a process that claims to be a democratic one but isn't. The Iranian people had their own reasons to not vote, ones they may regret now and hopefully will correct for in the coming three years, but George Bush had little to do with planting those reasons there.
So yes, it must feel nice to blame Bush, and God knows there's a lot to blame the man for, but the current government in Iran is not something I'd tie to him. We'll see how the Iranian people really feel in three years, which unfortunately is another lifetime, but maybe then the old guard in the upper reaches of the government will get a message from the Iranian people that they'll find hard to ignore, and we can be just as sure that whoever's the president here in the U.S. at that time will have as little to do with the choices made by a people who know full well how to make their own choices, for their own good reasons.