In the Arena

About Last Night

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I’ve been receiving a steady stream of favorable emails from Iranian-Americans regarding my appearance on Larry King last night. They’re delighted that I made it clear that Iran is different from the other countries in the region–better educated, more sophisticated, with far greater rights for women (although not nearly enough). And they also appreciated the fact that when King asked me what John McCain should do right now, I said, “Be quiet.”

The Washington Post has a piece today about the efforts of some Republicans to make hay out of the situation in Iran. McCain, who spent the entire 2008 election making misleading statements about the nature of the Iranian government (I wonder if he still thinks Ahmadinejad is more powerful than the Supreme Leader), has been at the forefront of this. It is very unseemly. I have yet to hear what possible good it would do for the President of the United States to encourage the protesters, except to give the Iranian regime a better excuse for killing more of them. McCain’s bleatings are either for domestic political consumption or self-satisfaction, a form of hip-shooting onanism that demonstrates why he would have been a foreign policy disaster had he been elected.

To put it as simply as possible, McCain–and his cohorts–are trying to score political points against the President in the midst of an international crisis. It is the sort of behavior that Republicans routinely call “unpatriotic” when Democrats are doing it. I would never question John McCain’s patriotism, no matter how misguided his sense of the country’s best interests sometimes seems. His behavior has nothing to do with love of country; it has everything to do with love of self.

Again, the crucial fact about the protesters is this: they may hate the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime–who wouldn’t?–but that doesn’t make them particular fans of the United States. I have yet to meet an Iranian who does not believe that the United States gave poison gas to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, gas which injured thousands upon thousands of Iranian men, who still live, incapacitated, in the shadows of that society. (Indeed, the attention Ahmadinejad has paid to the Iran-Iraq war veterans and their families is a major source of his extensive support among the Iranian working class.)

The protesters admire our freedom, but they are appalled–and insulted–by our neocolonialist condescension over the past 50 years. The reformers, and even some conservatives, consider Ahmadinejad the George W. Bush of Iran–a crude, unsophisticated demagogue, who puts a strong Potemkin face to the world without very much knowledge of what the rest of the world is about. This was an anology that came up in interview after interview, with reformers and conservatives alike.

Certainly, Bush the Younger, McCain and the rest of that crowd have absolutely no idea who the Iranian people are. The are not Hungarians in 1956. They do not believe they live in an Evil Empire. They still support their revolution. They shout “Allahu Akbar” in the streets, which was the rallying cry of 1979. They are proud of their nuclear program, even if many have doubts about the efficacy of weaponizing the enriched uraniam that is being produced. They want greater freedom, to be sure. And they believe that the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad forces–and the militarized regime they have empowered, the millions of basiji and revolutionary guards–is a profound perversion of that revolution. They are right. They deserve our prayers and support. But they don’t need grandstanding from an American President, and they certainly don’t need histrionics from blustery old John McCain.

Update: The wingnuts over at National Review think I’d oppose John McCain’s tribute to the martyred Neda on the floor of the Senate. This, of course, is bull pucky. McCain and anyone else can publicly mourn this terrible act of brutality. What is objectionable about McCain’s statements is not his support for the protesters, but his untoward belief that the President should be more outspoken and bellicose. Neda’s death–and the beatings of the other protesters and journalists, some of which I witnessed–should disgust all of us, should disgust the world. The posturing of neoconservative extremists, looking to score political points, is also disgusting, if decidedly more trivial.