In the Arena

McCain and Iran

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The New Republic perplexes me. It has some of the best and smartest writing around. And then it allows John McCain, whose lack of knowledge about Iran is encyclopedic, to hold forth in its pages. McCain, blustery as ever, wants regime change. Amen to that. But his vague, neocolonial sense that (a) we can help bring that about and (b)that the Iranian people want us to bring it about, is debatable, to say the very least. (Add: McCain claims to want peaceful regime change; but it was two months ago that he was explicitly supporting an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which he may still.) In any case, his lack of knowledge–his tendency to bloviate without thinking–can be staggering, as in this case:

Is it any wonder that this is the same regime that spends its people’s precious resources not on roads, or schools, or hospitals, or jobs that benefit all Iranians—but on funding violent groups of foreign extremists who murder the innocent?

Yes, the regime spends money funding noxious terrorist outfits like Hizballah. But it also spends vastly on its people. The road, school and medical systems far surpass those of neighboring countries–they approach the level achieved in that other regional petro-giant, Saudi Arabia  (the Iranian school system, though riddled with propaganda when it comes to the teaching of history, is excellent when it comes to math and science–and it is fully coeducational; Iran’s women are, without question, the best educated in the region).

More important, under Ahmadinejad, a phenomenal amount of money and attention has gone directly to the poor, especially the widows and children of the 1 million Iraq war casualties, raising them into the middle class. This sort of populism has been controversial among the conservative principalists close to the Supreme Leader; the faction led by the Larijani brothers and a fair number of Revolutionary Guard muckamucks believe that those funds should have gone to long-term economic development projects. Ahmadinejad’s populism, however, has had sort-term political benefits: he has the undying support of Iran’s less-educated workers. Indeed, as I reported last year, he might even have won the election (narrowly) if the votes had ever been counted. But the Revolutionary Guard regime was never going to take a chance on democracy.

In any case, life–and foreign policy, especially Iran–is never quite as simple as John McCain would make it. As much as we’d all like to see Iran have a government worthy of its people–and this is the greatest mismatch between a people and a government of any country in the world–an accurate sense of what the government does and does not do domestically is essential to formulating a policy avoids the historic stupidities the west has committed in dealing with Iran. I’d have hoped that the New Republic would have published something more insightful than this onanistic rant.