Daniel Larison

What If?

Kevin Casas-Zamora makes the strongest anti-Zelaya case for criticizing the Honduran military’s actions as illegal. He does not contest that Zelaya was the one most responsible for the crisis, and he accepts that Zelaya was acting illegally, but believes that this was the wrong remedy. Fair enough, but let’s try a thought experiment about this question anyway. We are appropriately wary of people who invoke a political crisis to justify extraordinary and extra-legal measures. This sort of rhetoric can be so easily abused for the sake of augmenting and consolidating the power of those in government that we should normally be skeptical of such claims. That said, isn’t it the case that the response of Honduran political and military institutions to presidential illegalities is exactly the one that most of the Western world has been openly desiring in Iran?

Isn’t one of the main problems in Iran that the military and interior ministry colluded with Ahmadinejad in his crime? Suppose they had grabbed him on June 12, the day of the election, and thus prevented him from carrying out his fraudulent power-grab. Would we take seriously for a moment anyone gravely intoning about the need for proper procedure and rejecting the result as an illegal action against the democratically-elected president? (Obviously not, because very few, even the most ardent Mousavi cheerleaders, genuinely think of Iran as having anything like a real democratic process.) One way to look at the Honduran situation is that the political and military institutions removed Zelaya early on rather than permitting him to continue to abuse his office. They did what their counterparts in Iran could not or would not do. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that they were able to take such action because Honduras is a constitutional democracy in many important respects that Iran simply isn’t.

The protesters in Iran are claiming to be standing up for the integrity of their constitution and laws, and they seem to have a good case that the government has violated both. As a practical matter, we know that the protesters were never likely to succeed in removing Ahmadinejad from power unless and until military and security forces turned against him. Ahmadinejad’s IRGC and Basij connections and their commanders’ opposition to the political forces behind Mousavi make that very unlikely, but for the sake of argument suppose that it happened. More to the point, suppose Khamenei ordered these forces to arrest Ahmadinejad and remove him from office. The rest of the world would call this a revolution, and all of Mousavi’s international enthusiasts would be over the moon. No one would care how it happened, so long as it happened. When something like this actually happens in Honduras to a president we have not been conditioned to loathe, but who actually has far less political support in his country’s political and military institutions, whose tenure has been no less of a failure and whose designs on perpetuating his own power are apparently no less unscrupulous than Ahmadinejad’s, suddenly we are all aflutter about the terrible coup and the crime against democracy that has taken place.

Despite the serious inconsistency on one level, there is a common thread connecting the overzealous pro-Mousavi Westerners to the overreacting international condemnation of the Micheletti government in Honduras. What really irks Westerners who have invested so much energy into Mousavi’s cause is not that Iranian laws were broken or its constitution violated, but that the will of the majority was presumably thwarted and in any case the people were denied their voice. Mousavi believes he is fighting for the integrity of the Islamic republican system and its rules; his Western admirers embrace him (however absurdly) as a symbol of majoritarian democracy. Even though the whole of Honduras’ political class was in agreement that Zelaya had to go because they believe he threatened the Honduran constitution, this does not matter to the rest of the world. Zelaya is a populist demagogue who apparently still has considerable mass support, and it is his democratic support that counts for far more in the view of the rest of the world than his lack of respect for constitutional limits. When a democratic force is on the side of the law, it is lauded and praised, and when it is opposed to the law it is lauded and praised. This is phenomenally stupid and ideological, but there is at least some predictable pattern in it.


More On Honduras

Don’t weep for Manuel Zelaya. It is the country he has so irresponsibly thrown into chaos that deserves our sympathy. Via Andrew, a Honduran blogger’s perspective:

I’ve yet to see more than one reporter reporting from INSIDE Honduras. So of course, with Zelaya in Nicaragua, his UN and OAS ambassadors still in place and his people calling out from other countries, of course everyone is making him out to be a martyr. He’s not. Really, people have to remember that this man had rejected the orders of Congress and the SUPREME COURT to stop his survey and had ignored them. The man was outside the law. Again, the coup was bad, but probably the only way out. This man was NOT blameless. Stop making him look like a martyr and a hero.

The same blogger has another post clarifying his original remarks. His view is that the coup was a mistake, but it was Zelaya who took Honduras over the cliff with his confrontational moves. The remarkable thing about Zelaya’s deposition is that he had managed to turn the entire legislative branch against him regardless of party. Heather Berkman of Eurasia Group explains how politically isolated Zelaya was and why:

“His own political party, his former vice president — they were all against the actions he was doing,” Berkman said. “No one knew how much he was spending. He had no coherent budget policy and his government was doing a terrible job on combatting rising poverty, crime, things like that.”

So Zelaya was evidently incompetent, power-hungry and engaged in violations of their constitution. Clearly, he is the ideal democrat. Here is more from a Daily Kos diarist who provides some additional information. So, yes, it appears that Washington and the OAS have jumped to the wrong conclusion and have handled this crisis in Honduras poorly.

Update: Here is an informative post from Juan Carlos Hidalgo at [email protected] Here is some interesting commentary on the history of the Honduran military. Via Fausta’s Blog, some groups of Hondurans living abroad have endorsed the removal of Zelaya. Tom Palmer has more.


Terrible Precedents

After quite a few weeks of defending Obama against his more unreasonable detractors, it is refreshing to be able to criticize the administration for its incredible incompetence in responding to the “coup” in Honduras. What is so impressive about the bungling here is that it contradicts every argument the administration has made in support of restraint and caution when it comes to the Iranian protests. Obama didn’t want to insert the U.S. into an Iranian dispute. Iranians, he said, would decide their own future. Hondurans apparently are not accorded the same respect. Their sovereignty isn’t quite as important. Obama withheld judgment about the legality of what had happened in Iran. In Honduras, he just knows that what the military did was illegal, despite far stronger evidence that it was legal and a result of the proper functioning of their constitutional system. U.S. intervention in Honduras has been no less than it has been in Iran. Indeed, it has been far greater. At least six times in the 20th century beginning in 1907, U.S. forces were deployed in Honduras. For fear that the U.S. might be seen to be replicating the error of 1953, Obama has kept his distance from the Iranian dispute. As ever, Central American nations’ past resentments about frequent U.S. intervention count for little or nothing, and so Obama has dived right in.

The President said that a “terrible precedent” would be set if Zelaya was not allowed to return to office. Yes, there would be a terrible precedent that Presidents cannot break the law and get away with it; there would be a terrible precedent that the rule of law prevailed; there would be a terrible precedent that Hondurans coped with their own political crisis without having to depend on anyone else to fix their problems for them. If I sympathized with left-populists, executive usurpation or interventionist foreign policy, I would be deeply troubled by what the Honduran military has done in ousting a usurping populist without having to rely on outside aid. One can only guess why the administration is getting this one so badly wrong, whether it is currying favor with other OAS member states or not wanting to appear as a supporter of a “coup” or just plain fumbling the issue, but it has dropped the ball on Honduras. We can only hope that it will not lead to any greater mistakes than misguided rhetoric.


Kings Revisited

After its late spring hiatus, NBC’s Kings returned earlier this month, and I remain a regular viewer and fan of the unusual, doomed series that has been adapting the story of Saul and David. Naturally, the show has already been cancelled, as its early, abysmally low ratings all but guaranteed, and NBC made every effort to sabotage the show by putting on the television equivalent of Death Row–primetime on the weekend. Once the show had been moved to Saturday, execution was not far away. There are just a handful of episodes left out of the thirteen that had been made, and it is unlikely that there will be much satisfactory resolution of the story with what little time is left. Like another brilliant, doomed show cancelled before its time, Firefly, Kings will shortly disappear, but before it does I recommend that you all start watching it if you haven’t already. If I’m right about this, I think it will win a larger, loyal following in the years to come, and on this trivial question you will be able to say that you saw the value in it before most people had ever heard of it.


What About Honduras?

In Iran, we know that the protesters are rallying against the perpetuation of Ahmadinejad’s presidential power and the illegalities surrounding the election and its aftermath. Honduras is seeing a different play unfold: the deposed President’s backers have taken to the streets to protest the enforcement of the law against Zelaya, who was deliberately and illegally attempting to perpetuate his presidential power. The comparison between the two systems is imperfect, but the situation in Honduras is as if Khamenei had dismissed Ahmadinejad and pro-Ahmadinejad Basijis had started rioting in response. (In other words, something very much like Zelaya’s deposition is what pro-Mousavi Westerners would love to see happen in Iran.) Because he is an executive, Zelaya’s deposition is treated on the international stage as more serious and threatening to Honduran democracy than any comparable executive usurpation against national legislatures, despite the threat to constitutional government that popular executives pose. As in Thailand three years ago, a popular executive began acting as if the law did not apply to him, and to put an end to this misrule the army intervened. This is not optimal. It is never an absolutely good thing when the military must intervene, because it suggests some deeper dysfunction in the political system. Even so, it is better than the alternative, which is for an increasingly authoritarian populist to concentrate power in his own hands and to become less and less accountable to his people.

The Honduran “coup” that is today being condemned by the OAS is exactly the outcome that one might like to see occur in Iran with military institutions defending the letter of the constitution against usurpation. We know why this is unlikely to happen in Iran: the usurpers have the loyalty of the armed forces. The Honduran “coup” is a near-perfect example of how another nation has been able to handle their own internal problems and affirm their own constitutional rules without needing any outside help. Expressing disapproval of the Honduran military’s actions seems at best premature and most likely ill-advised all together. Non-interference in Honduras consistent with treaty and OAS obligations should be our policy. There appears to be a broad consensus inside Honduran political institutions that Zelaya crossed the line and had to go, and that ought to count for a great deal when deciding on how the U.S. and OAS should respond. The military’s actions in Honduras may be nothing other than law enforcement. Jason Steck explains:

As more news continues to filter out of Honduras, it appears as if the Honduran military was specifically authorized by a court order to arrest a President that was judged to be out of control. The fact that the American military would never be so authorized should not distract us from the possibility that legal authorizations for military interventions into politics might exist in other countries’ constitutional arrangements. The takeover in Honduras might be, in fact, a legal coup.

Inevitably, American reaction to the “coup” has tended to break down along ideological lines: those on the right in America are going to have no problem with it, and those on the left are more likely to see something nefarious in what has happened. It seems clear that the administration’s response was as unwisely aggressive in its condemnation as it was restrained in response to events in Iran.

P.S. As this Stratfor report makes clear, Chavez’s bluster about military intervention on behalf of Zelaya is mere posturing. Contrary to some of the fearmongers in the U.S. in recent years, Chavez hasn’t the means to project power in any meaningful way beyond Venezuela’s very immediate neighborhood, and even there he is constrained.



James has an unusual take Western attitudes towards Russia:

So here’s my peanut: bad relations with Russia make us feel so uncomfortable because they challenge and undermine our most cherished narratives about the moral and social progress of the global white community. I know even suggesting that we think analytically in terms of an ‘international white race’ sets off alarms, but it’s obvious that Russian disinterest in, or outright hostility to, liberal political norms is noteworthy primarily because virtually every other majority-white country in the world has embraced and institutionalized them. We (small-l) liberals recoil at the very idea that any white person could seriously appreciate or even live under a regime like Russia’s, because this is a reminder that white people are not the charmed winners of Earth’s civilizational marathon — contestants who can rest easy now that they’ve completed the course and won the race.

I have to give James high marks for creativity, but I don’t think so. The idea of a “global white community” doesn’t set off any alarms, because this refers to something that is a community in about the same way that “the international community” is actually a community. Discomfort with poor Russian relations is not anxiety caused by Russia’s subversion of some international white narrative. Put differently, what James is trying to say might not sound so strange. What annoys Westerners about Russia is that Russians are historically Christian, culturally European and are the most thoroughly Westernized so-called “Eastern” nation (in no small part because they have been part of “Western Civilization” for a millennium), but this does not lead most Russians to quite the same political preferences as their neighbors. That suggests that political preferences and constitutions are highly contingent and they are driven by particular interests and conditions. Western liberals seem to find this hard to believe, and they are reduced to explaining away such things by invoking irrationality as the cause.

It also suggests that a country’s history imposes limitations and constraints on how a polity develops, and it tells us yet again that there is no single model of modernity or modernization. Westerners may accept this in theory, but a lot of them don’t like it. However, before we get carried away in emphasizing Russian “disinterest” in or “hostility” to liberal norms, it is worth noting, as Lieven has done, that most Russians want a free media and the rule of law, or at least they say they do, but this does not therefore translate into what is conventionally defined as a “pro-Western” attitude on various matters of policy. This may help get at one of the real sources of Western frustration with Russia: the enduring importance of nationalism in international affairs.

If post-1989 central and eastern European liberal democrats embraced Western norms, they did so in part to reject Russia. As Lieven made clear in that item from earlier this month, liberal democracy succeeded in post-communist Europe where it did in part because it was grounded in an anti-Russian, nationalist reaction that the Russians themselves could never have. Instead, like every other post-communist nation (and like every still-officially communist state in existence), Russians have become or rather continued to be very nationalistic. Undomesticated, fierce nationalism in post-Soviet space is fine in the eyes of most Westerners, provided that its hostility is directed squarely at Moscow or its allies, but any expression of nationalism coming from Russia causes Westerners to worry, even though this resurgence of nationalism is something that is common to all post-communist nations.

This brings us back to a more basic issue, which is widespread and persistent hostility to Russia that taps into various old prejudices about tsarism, communism, Orthodoxy, Slavs and all things from “the East.” Were Russia somehow to become the vanguard of a global democratic revolutionary force, I can almost imagine many Westerners finding cause to celebrate authoritarian governments cropping up all over eastern Europe to help thwart the democratic Russian menace. After all, even a thoroughly liberal democratic Russia will not cease to have its own national interests and ambitions, and a liberal Russia would have far more pretexts for intervention in the affairs of its neighbors, perhaps beginning with the “liberations” of Belarus and Azerbaijan from the grip of their local despots. One can almost imagine all of the defenders of “liberal imperialism” from the last few years suddenly discover the dangers of ideologically-justified interference in the internal affairs of other nations.

I would say that Russia vexes Western liberals (broadly defined) because the Russian example suggests that historical memory, culture and the nation’s past are far from irrelevant to the constitution of a polity. Western liberals seem to want these things to be absolutely irrelevant, because they tend to get in the way of planting liberal democracies in other countries. I’ll wager the people who are made uncomfortable by bad relations with Russia are very few, and we are unlikely to be representative. Most people are either indifferent to this or may even be pleased by it. Nothing brings back comfortable, lazy policy-making and self-congratulatory rhetoric like being able to vilify “the Russkies” as in the old days. Unless ensuring bad relations with Russia is the deliberate goal, I cannot explain how else Washington can persist in policies that are guaranteed to result in bad relations.

The Russian example is discouraging to democracy enthusiasts, because it makes clear how vital strong legal institutions and limitations on state power are to a mass democracy if it is not going to become a plebiscitary authoritarian state. Even if the enthusiasts acknowledge this, they don’t like being reminded that liberal and good government is largely of a function of all the very un-democratic institutions and elements of our system. Whenever these people whine about Russian “backsliding” away from democracy, they don’t want to have to think about how the current Russian government is illiberal, authoritarian and interventionist in the economy because this is in many (though not all) ways what most of the people want.


Non-Interference Means Not Interfering

When Ron Paul cast the lone vote against the House resolution condemning the Iranian government’s post-election actions, I expected to hear a great deal more wailing about the perils of “isolationism,” but thanks to an unusual coincidence the position Rep. Paul has taken also happens to be more or less the one that the President adopted at least for the first week or so. As time goes by, the two are likely to diverge in their views, but for the most part Paul’s lone nay has not been treated with as much scorn as I thought it would receive. Not until, that is, Grant Havers weighed in earlier this week. Havers writes:

Perhaps paleos who have recently gone on record opposing “interference” and “intervention” in Iran need to define exactly what they mean by these terms. Do interference and intervention refer to the unlikely act of sending in the Marines, or do these words also include any moral support for embattled democratic forces in Iran? While I support paleos who condemn military intervention in Iran in light of the sorry history of past interventions in the Middle East, I fail to see why democratic governments should hold their rhetorical fire against the mullahs. Surely we are not condemned to the dualistic and extreme choice between outright military intervention and eerie silence, which offers no hope to human beings like the frightened Iranian woman I mentioned earlier.

Something that I don’t quite understand is why anyone would conclude that silence or minimal comment condemning the Iranian government’s violence by government officials requires that private individuals refrain from expressing their moral support. There has been no small amount of moral support offered to the protesters by citizens of Western democracies. While I might find these enthusiasms a bit romantic, unduly earnest and misplaced (because it seems inevitably to lead to calls for the government to “do something”), other citizens are free to express their solidarity with Iranian protesters as they see fit. Interference refers obviously to actions taken by the government. The actions of the U.S. government have to be taken with American interests in mind, and representatives of the government ought to act accordingly. To borrow from the famous 1821 speech of then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, America has “abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.” We have grown so accustomed to interference that we seem incapable of grasping that it is deeply at odds with our earliest traditions of foreign policy. Does that mean that many American citizens did not openly sympathize with the Spanish and Italian liberals who were at that time being beaten down by Restoration forces? Of course not. It means that our government did not concern itself with things that were none of its business. So that is one part of the answer why the government should not interfere.

The other part is one that has already been thoroughly rehearsed over the last two weeks, which is that having our government hold its “rhetorical fire” may be more useful in aiding the protesters than a daily stream of outraged pronouncements from Washington. After all, if the call to interfere is merely a call for expressions of moral support, what good is it doing anyone? Will Washington’s moral support make the Basij militiaman more or less likely to see the Iranian protester in front of him as a fellow Iranian rather than a criminal? If it will make the protester’s situation more difficult, whose cause is served by showing solidarity?

Have the government make a statement expressing moral support, and you may feel very content, but it may have serious consequences for the very people you are trying to aid. Encouragement can easily bleed over into reckless promises of assistance, or it can be perceived wrongly as such, in which case the lost lives of protesters who trusted in empty words will be on the heads of those in government who made these statements. This would be the worst of both worlds: effectively uninvolved, but still bearing the moral responsibility for goading the dissidents into futile, bloody resistance. Unable and unwilling to take any greater direct action, perhaps it is best for the government to refrain from making statements in support of the protesters.

Havers cites Solzhenitsyn’s call for greater Western interference inside the USSR to admonish the advocates of non-interference. It may be unthinkable for some to say so, but Solzhenitsyn’s perspective on what American foreign policy ought to have been was not always as wise and sober as his reflections on moral and religious truth. In his Harvard speech, Solzhenitsyn made the following remarks, which even the greatest admirers of Solzhenitsyn have to find more than a little embarrassing:

However, the most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or communist, self-determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear? The American Intelligentsia lost its [nerve] and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your shortsighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing pause; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam had been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation’s courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small communist half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future?

Solzhenitsyn was in many ways a moral genius and a prophetic voice, and I think he was a good writer, but in this instance he was not, alas, a serious foreign policy thinker nor was he a strategist. One can understand why a man who suffered so deeply in the Gulag would adopt an unflinching, uncompromising attitude towards communism everywhere, but the alarmism that compelled him to warn of a looming “hundredfold Vietnam” a mere eleven years before the collapse of the USSR should make us think again about his equally insistent demand to interfere early and often. What devoted anticommunists could not then and to some extent today still cannot admit is that Vietnam was basically unnecessary and irrelevant to the greater success of the West in the Cold War. They furthermore cannot accept that the millions who died in the war and the millions who perished in its aftermath most likely would not have died had there never been a “crusade” to save South Vietnam. This is a bitter truth, and there are not many people who would want to accept this. Being wrong about this does not change all of the things that Solzhenitsyn got right, but thirty-one years later we might note that we have listened more often than not to people who have said that the West was lacking in willpower, needed to show more “resolve,” and had gone horribly wrong in withdrawing from Vietnam, and in almost every instance in the last three decades those people have been as wrong as can be. If we admire Solzhenitsyn and can find a record of Solzhenitsyn saying things that could be put into the mouths of interventionists today, we should take care not to expose Solzhenitsyn to ridicule.

Do we really believe that “there are no longer any internal affairs”? While I understand why a man who wished to see the Soviet monstrosity removed from his home country would say this in 1974, is this really the sort of claim that anyone would want to endorse today? Are there no internal affairs of the United States? Are there no internal affairs of Iran? Have we all been pressed together by our sheer numbers such that we cannot discern where one state begins and another ends? I think we know the answer. One might have asked the Solzhenitsyn of 2004 whether he still believed that “there are no longer any internal affairs” when it came to Western denunciations of Russia, and I tend to think that he would have changed his mind. I suspect that internal affairs would have come back into existence. I am not saying this to criticize Solzhenitsyn. A dissident against a monstrous system will seek aid where and how he can–that is his obligation, and he is doing what he can for his country as a patriot. However, it is not necessarily the job of the United States government to follow his lead, nor does the government have to accept his claims.

In the address Havers cited, Solzhenitsyn quoted a Russian proverb: “The yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you.” I agree with this entirely. It applies to so many foreign policy debates past and present: the war in Iraq, Israel policy, America’s military presence abroad, and on and on. Turn it around and apply it to the dissenters in other countries. The advocates of interference want us not only to offer moral support to the dissenters, which probably will not help them, but they are positively urging us to become their cheerleaders and propagandists abroad. Following this proverb, this means that we will become their enemies, because we will be cheering them on in what might well be a disastrous course of action. It could be that the friend of Iranian reform and the protesters at this point will even go so far as to question whether the protesters are doing their own cause more harm than good in the long run. The meaning of the proverb is that unreflective, uncritical backing is dangerous; true concern for someone’s well-being will sometimes require disagreement and argument. I would add that sometimes it may require a government to remain mostly quiet while that person carries on his struggle, lest the government compromise or sabotage that struggle in a foolish attempt to affirm its own importance and status in the world.



Anyone familiar with the views of Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years might wonder if Reverend Jeremiah Wright is the chief inspiration behind the president’s foreign policy. ~Mark Hyman

Well, anyone familiar with the foreign policy views of Barack Obama might wonder if Mark Hyman is very confused. First, he misrepresents what Obama has done in office as an “apology tour.” This is taken as a given in many conservative circles, but even this part isn’t correct. If anyone can show me where Obama has actually apologized (i.e., expressed regret, asked for forgiveness, etc.) for a single thing the United States has done, I would be very interested to see it. He has mostly acknowledged things that everyone already knows to be true, otherwise reiterated things that his predecessors have already said, and in other cases simply refused to take the bait offered him by ridiculous foreign leaders (e.g., Ortega). The pointed dismissal of Ortega is taken by Hyman as “deference,” which suggests that Hyman does not understand what deference is. Contemptuously ignoring someone is the opposite of deferring to him. A good example of deference would be what the now-disgraced Mark Sanford did when he yielded to Gingrich’s allegedly superior understanding in a discussion on North Korea.

Far from “finding unlimited fault” with America, as Hyman claims, Obama can earnestly spout the most predictable self-congratulatory nostrums about the country and America’s role in the world. From the first convention speech that catapulted Obama to national prominence till now, Obama has never allowed acknowledgment of past mistakes to dominate his rhetoric about America. The Obama who has repeatedly praised an America of possibility and opportunity, which conservatives were so keen to cheer on in 2007, is the same Obama who gave the speeches in Cairo, Ankara and Berlin. Bizarrely, even though the Cairo speech was laced with as much pro-American rhetoric as one could ever expect in an address presumably designed to conciliate Muslims worldwide it has been taken as some sort of calculated insult. Contrary to the caricature Hyman and others have drawn, Obama can barely bring himself to find fault with America, and even when he does he is always offsetting this by drawing attention to the flaws of others. So while he said that Americans were sometimes “derisive” of Europeans, he accused Europeans of tolerating and practicing an “insidious” anti-Americanism. Which of the two statements is stronger and more critical? Clearly, it is the latter. Naturally, conservatives are whining about the first one, because even minimal acknowledgment of American error (especially when it is an error in which they participated so enthusiastically) is intolerable in their eyes. To attempt to link this to Wright’s vastly more aggressive, vehement condemnations of U.S. policies, almost all of which are the same policies that Obama fully endorses, is simply ludicrous.

As it happens, criticism of this kind makes it that much easier for Obama to pursue his agenda overseas, because his opposition is continually sabotaging its own credibility with wacky claims about how the boring establishmentarian Obama is taking his cues from Farrakhan and Wright.

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Least Credible Quote Of The Year

But let us judge not, that we be not judged. ~Michael Gerson

Granted, this is probably intended to be read in context as sarcasm, but this is still a bit rich coming from Gerson. After all, Gerson specializes in portraying practically everyone who disagrees with him on anything as a hard-hearted, vicious monster who would deprive a dying child of his last wish (and occasionally as someone who probably would have participated in the slave trade and genocide if he had the chance). Instead of seeing the see-saw of political turmoil in the Near East as proof of the uncertainty in the region and the unpredictability of events, Gerson has returned four years after the so-called “Arab spring” to announce another spring. Even though he claims that he is not one of those overinterpreting events to fit preexisting views, his descriptions of what has happened are themselves based on flawed overinterpretations designed to fit preexisting views. He says that every idealist will have his day and every realist his night, but as in so many other things Gerson reminds us that he cannot even tell the difference between night and day. As in 2005, this requires being very selective in the use of evidence and unduly optimistic about what the limited evidence shows. It is also crucial that one misread the evidence or twist it to fit the argument. Gerson does all of the above:

Now spring is returning. January’s local elections in Iraq favored secular nationalists instead of clerical parties. In Lebanon, Hezbollah was defeated in an open and vigorous vote. Kuwaiti women have been elected to parliament for the first time. And in Iran, brave women and men have demonstrated that democracy, not just nihilism, counts martyrs in the Muslim world.

Actually, if we look at the people involved and the constituencies voting for the parties, Iraqi elections favored more or less the same parties that portrayed themselves in less sectarian terms. As in Lebanon, parties that are blatantly sectarian in their composition and interests claim to be secular. That may well be inevitable and may simply be something everyone has to live with, but we should not pretend that it is not the case. As in Lebanon, the elections represented no meaningful change in the distribution of power, but at least in Iraq I will grant that the majority of the population is represented in the (sectarian, Iran-leaning) government. The incumbent governments remained in power in both Lebanon and Iraq, which suggests that the election results of 2009 have more or less confirmed the 2005 distributions of power. If the “spring” of 2005 was a false one because of political instability and sectarian violence that followed, 2009 has so far offered little to make us think that anything has fundamentally changed. As in 2005, insignificant and superficial changes are being taken for major, profound ones. Regarding Iran, it is true that the protesters have been using the language of martyrdom to describe those who have been killed, but that also means that the protesters are losing the political fight, much as Husayn did at Karbala.


Getting Radical

Moreover, Mousavi’s positions have changed, just as he has. He is far different today from the Mousavi who began this electoral campaign. ~Charles Krauthammer

Yes, the dramatic changes are overwhelming. Just consider this new statement from Mousavi:

I’d like to thank you again for your peaceful objections which have received widespread coverage across the world, and would like to ask you that by using all legal channels, and by remaining faithful to the sacred system of the Islamic Republic, to make sure that your objections are heard by the authorities in the country. I am fully aware that your justified demands have nothing to do with groups who do not believe in the sacred Islamic Republic of Iran’s system. It is up to you to distance yourself from them, and do not allow them to misuse the current situation.

Oddly enough, it is because Mousavi hasn’t changed very much that he can continue to be a credible opposition leader. Unlike Russian liberals, who have never missed an opportunity to alienate themselves from the majority of Russians, Mousavi hasn’t made any great display of willing subservience to Western interests, which is why Obama’s recognition of the policy similarities between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad remains one of the most appropriate, correct and potentially helpful things he has said in the last two weeks about Iran. Americanists believe that any statement from the President that fails to build up and anoint Mousavi as the preferred candidate is discouraging to Mousavi and his supporters, because they apparently cannot grasp that being our preferred candidate is to be tainted with suspicion of disloyalty to the nation. It is strange how nationalists often have the least awareness of the importance of the nationalism of another people. Many of the same silly people who couldn’t say enough about Hamas’ so-called “endorsement” of Obama as somehow indicative of his Israel policy views, as well as those who could not shut up about his warm reception in Europe, do not see how an American endorsement of a candidate in another country’s election might be viewed with similiar and perhaps even greater distaste by the people in that country. As Anatol Lieven explains here, Russian liberals destroyed their political chances by being and being seen as stooges for Western interests and allies of every anti-Russian policy that came down the pike. A perfect example of this is Garry Kasparov, whose call for more direct support for the protesters in Iran is as poorly judged as Kasparov’s own domestic political alliances with neo-fascists.

Krauthammer uses the word radicalize many times in the latest column, but what he misses is that even if Mousavi were being radicalized by recent events to take a more adamant stand against the current leadership he would be going back to his Khomeinist roots. As his latest remarks suggest, though, rumors of his radicalization are greatly exaggerated, and one thing we can be quite sure of is that Mousavi is the one leading figure in all of this who has changed the least. The pragmatists in government seem to have no problem with altering the constitution of the system as they see fit and as it suits their needs. Mousavi is the one being inflexible and resistant to accommodation, which is what you would expect from someone leading a mass protest against the government. What you have is an opposition leader who is demanding a return to the pre-June 12 status quo. Back then, the fiction of the “Islamic republic” remained at least somewhat credible. Mousavi has correctly observed that the current leadership has moved to scrap important parts of the republican element of the system, and it is against this that he has been protesting. The reformer has shown himself to be more of a “principalist” than the so-called principalists, which is, of course, what most reformers claim they are doing: restoring what has been corrupted, rather than overturning and destroying the system.

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