The unpopularity of more military invasions in the Middle East hasn’t quelled calls from the governing intelligentsia for intervention in Iran. But this time it’s a kind of soft intervention, cloaked in “democratic values” that at first glance sound more reasonable. But when placed under scrutiny, it turns out to be rooted in the same misguided notions that America can and should remake the world.
At least two prominent op-eds this week suggest that America should pursue a soft intervention in Iran. David Brooks concludes his argument for intrusion by trotting out a now tired and naive argument: the success of liberal democracies isn’t dependent on historical context and circumstances.
Recently, many people thought it was clever to say that elections on their own don’t make democracies. But election campaigns stoke the mind and fraudulent elections outrage the soul. The Iranian elections have stirred a whirlwind that will lead, someday, to the regime’s collapse. Hastening that day is now the central goal.
Brooks perpetuates the idea that liberal democracy is deeply compatible with our human nature, thus “outraging the soul” when it goes awry. Of course many in Iran are outraged—but isn’t it really mass society, the handmaid of liberal democracy, which affects the soul so negatively? Drawing on even more concrete experience, who can seriously say that the average American election—with its dirty attack ads and pep rally-style conventions—really “stokes the mind”? (And “whirlwinds” of democracy? That sounds familiar.)
In a post at The New Republic, political philosopher Michael Walzer also argues for soft intervention in Iran:
The dissidents are the people we should be supporting, whose stories we should be telling. And we should be talking to them about the kind of support they want and need. They and we are aiming at, and have every right to aim at, regime change. Organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, though they can’t acknowledge it, aim at regime change whenever they condemn the practices of tyrannical regimes; and so should union members and democrats of every sort, and religious moderates committed to freedom, and faculty members and students who believe in the integrity of the university. Regime change (it used to be called revolution) is our business, and we should embrace it.
The case for an activist academy is again on the table, and this time it seems rooted in a strange combination of American exceptionalism and cosmopolitanism-lite (one that evokes John McCain’s “We’re all Georgians now” remark). The revolutionary campus spirit of the ’60s will be taken on world tour—not with tanks, but with the kinder, gentler approach of NGOs. Michael Walzer and other cheerleaders for soft intervention are ready to send America’s best and brightest abroad to remake Iran. On second thought, maybe they prefer to just twitter some suggestions.