In the Arena

McCain Unhinged

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For two years now, John McCain has been entirely consistent on Iran: every last statement he’s made–at least, those that I’ve seen–has been (a) fabulously uninformed and (b) dangerously bellicose. He’s still at it, apparently. There is no question that President Obama’s more prudent path is the correct one right now. There is also no question that the neoconservatives are trying to gin up this situation into an excuse for not engaging with the Iranian government in the near future–and also as a rationale for their dearest, looniest dream, war with Iran. I’ve come home more pessimistic that much can be accomplished in negotiations with the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad government, but we certainly should continue to make the effort to lure the Iranians into the civilized world. It may even be the case that Khamenei decided that Ahmadinejad’s reelection was a pre-requisite for negotiations.

Meanwhile, Pete Wehner has a post at the Commentary blog comparing Iran in 2009 to the Soviet Union of the 1980’s which, of course, is completely ridiculous. I visited Russia back in the day and I’ve now visited Iran twice. There is no comparison. The Soviet Union was the most repressive place I’ve ever been; its residents lived in constant terror. I’ll never forget my first translator in Moscow telling me that his parents had trained him never to smile in public–it could easily be misinterpreted and then he’d be off to the Gulag. There was no internet in those days, no cellphones, no facebook or twitter.

Iran, by contrast, is breezy with freedom. It is certainly freer now, despite Ahmadinejad, than it was when I first visited in 2001. There are satellites dishes all over the place, which bring accurate news via BBC Persia and the Voice of America. The place is awash in western music, movies and books. The Supreme Leader has a website; ayatollahs are blogging. You can get the New York Times and CNN online. (I was interested to find, however, that most blogs except those, like this one, that are associated with a mainstream media outlet, are filtered by the government.) There is, in fact, marginally more freedom of expression in Iran than in some notable U.S. allies, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia–although the danger of imprisonment always exists if a journalist or politician takes it a step too far for the Supreme Leader’s watchdogs. It is not even clear that Ahmadinejad–who has significant backing from the sort of people who support Republicans here (the elderly, the religious extremists) plus a real following among working-class Iranians–would have lost this election, if the votes had been counted fairly. (I tend to believe that they weren’t counted at all, but that’s just my opinion.)

The point is, neoconservatives like McCain and Wehner just can’t seem to quit their dangerous habit of making broad, extreme statements based on ideology rather than detailed knowledge of the situation in Iran and elsewhere. This was always the main problem with McCain’s candidacy–he would have been a trigger-happy President, just as Wehner’s old boss, George W. Bush, was. We are well out of that.

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