In the Arena

Supreme Irony

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The most common feature of autocracy, from Egypt to North Korea, is an overweening myopia and self-regard on the part of the autocrat. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatullah Khamenei, has demonstrated yet again how brutally silly such people can be in his remarks during Friday prayers at Tehran University:

The 71-year-old, who condemned huge street protests in Iran after the disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, welcomed the “revolution and awakening” and “explosion of sacred anger” in the Middle East.

Happily, the forces of “revolution and awakening” in Iran–the brutally suppressed Green movement–called Khamenei’s bluff yesterday, asking for a permit to rally in support of the Egyptian and Tunisian protesters. I don’t think they should hold their breath over that one, but it’s nice to see the green movement leaders–Kharroubi and Moussavi–still causing embarrassment for the tyrannical regime.

On a similar note, the conservatives who are desperately searching for a non-idiotic (that it, non-Palin, non-Beck) way of faulting Barack Obama for his handling of the Egyptian crisis have resorted to this fatally flawed argument: why couldn’t he have done the same with Iran in 2009?

The answer is pretty simple: no leverage–and the danger of discrediting the Iranian protesters by tainting them with (unwanted) American support. In Egypt, you had people protesting against a pro-American government. In Iran, you had people protesting against an anti-American government. In Egypt, the U.S. could insinuate itself diplomatically and nudge the Mubarak government toward accomodation. It was also a good idea for the U.S. to be seen, by the Egyptian masses, as an actor that wasn’t totally lashed to the dreadful Mubarak. In Iran, any and all remarks by Obama would have been seen as empty rhetoric–since he had no influence at all with the regime–and would have been used by the Supreme Leader as further evidence of western interference, a chronic paranoid theme in Iranian politics. Furthermore, the Green movement–whose leaders I interviewed before the election–had absolutely in no interest in U.S. support; indeed, they made it clear to me that they (a) were not about to relinquish Iran’s nuclear program and (b) that while they admired American freedom, they saw the U.S. as a negative force in the past, especially during the Iraq war, when we provided Saddam Hussein with the chemical precursors for poison gas.

The point is: we are dealing with different countries here, different revolutions, apples and oranges, Arabs and Persians. One size definitely does not fit all.