Monday, June 22, 2009

We should back off and let our experts handle the Iran file

Lots of chatter on the Internet regarding support for the Iranian people and their struggle for freedom and democracy. And I’ve seen PM Stephen Harper and our Foreign Affairs ministry criticized for inaction over the past few days. Personally, I believe we in the general public should back off and let our experts handle the Iran file.

I admire the courage of the Iranians who took to the streets in mass protests of what they believe was a “stolen” presidential election that saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receive more than 60 per cent of the vote. And I think presidential rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi—a former prime minister with a reputation for honesty and competence—would most probably be an improvement over Ahmadinejad.

However, my general understanding of Iran and the international implications of what is transpiring there is much more limited than that of our prime minister and our diplomats in Foreign Affairs. And, frankly, I do not believe the vast majority of current critics on the Internet are any better informed than I am.

To begin with, I doubt many of the protesters/insurgents want anything like what a typical Canadian would term “freedom and democracy.” If they did, they would be calling for the removal of Iran’s Assembly of Experts and/or their Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who are the primary impediments to both those desirable ends.

So far anyway, I have not heard calls for the resignation, abdication or overthrow of either the Assembly of Experts or the Supreme Leader. And since the Supreme Leader—an unelected office—is responsible for delineation and supervision of the general policies of the Islamic Republic, and is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, controls the military intelligence and security operations, has sole power to declare war or peace, he pretty well calls the shots and has the final say in all matters.

So long as the Assembly of Experts and the Supreme Leader retain power, Iran will never really be a free and democratic country—regardless of who the president is—at least, not in a western sense.

In 1979, following the ouster of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Ayatollah Khomeini declared an Islamic republic after a landslide victory in a national referendum. Iran has had a quasi theocracy since that time.

A huge proportion of Iranians still support their Islamic Republic, especially in the rural areas. Many of those people really only want a change in the office of president, largely an administrative post, making this an internal Iranian matter that is really none of our business. If we interfere, we may win some thanks from the urban middle class, but we will almost certainly earn even more hatred and resentment from a much broader segment of the Iranian population.

These folks did not ask for our interference when they, by overwhelming majority, set up their Islamic Republic, and, for the most part, are not seeking it now.

With notable exceptions, Iranians are not friends of the West. They are much the same as those who stood by and applauded when, in 1979,  a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American embassy in Tehran with the support of the Iranian government. At that time, there were no mass demonstrations in the streets of Tehran in support of the 52 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days.

Typically, Iranians see us as an adversary, not a source of their salvation.

As for criticism of our prime minister and Foreign Affairs: I find it ludicrous that a bunch of amateurs are trying to give advice to career foreign service officers.

On this issue, I’ll defer to the experts and wish the rec-room quarterbacks would lay off. The pressure on our diplomats involved in this file must already be severe enough without the hue and cry from well-meaning but largely uninformed, amateur critics.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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  1. I've been following this since the beginning, and outside of changing my twitter avatar, I've kept silent on the whole matter.

    You hit on all the salient points. The prime differences between the two men amount to more open to the west and no holocaust denial. Beyond that, the undemocratic nature of the political system would remain intact.

  2. Good post. Although I detest the use of letal force on the demonstrators, its very difficult to know what exactly is going on in Iran. Most of the journalists have either left or been arrested. There have been many motives attibuted to the demonstrators and its hard to sort through this civil unrest. We have our Liberal Leader weighing in this morning, saying that the Canadian Embassy should open its doors to the injuried. Is this a good idea? The Canadian government should condemn the violence against Iranian citizens but I'm not sure if we should further insert ourselves into this situation. Fern StAlbert

  3. Just had a political discussion with a friend from Iraq. She is of the opinion that this Iranian dissent is not a passing event, that the government will be overthrown and it will be a revolution similar to events of 30 years ago. We shall see - when I asked her what the motivation is, she says its human rights and that people are tired of having everything that they do supervised by the Mullahs. Cheers, Fern StAlbert

  4. That's the thing about democracy, amateurs like plumbers and truck drivers and what will you like to give advice to the policy professionals as to what should be done. In this case their instincts are correct, this is a struggle against tyranny and we do have an interest in the outcome.

    What you are witnssing is a revolution unfolding, it may drown in blood, it may succeed, but we are not indifferet to its outcome, and don't base our sympathies on the declared program of accidental figures thrust forward at this stage to speak for the nation. They may well be thrust aside at the next stage, if history of revolutions is any guide.

    So yes I do think we should not sit this one out as neutral observers, but side with those calling for extension of democratic freedoms, even if the program is not as ambitious as you would prefer.

  5. Here is a comment I posted on the discussion of the Iranian political struggle at shlemazl’s website. What is curious is that from opposite ends of the spectrum, you arrive at the same conclusion, a plague on both houses, there is little of interest for us in this conflict, neither camp meets our criteria for support, as the self proclaimed revolutionary Marxists at the Lenn’s Tomn website. A curious convergence of views …..


    Official spokespersons for the Iranian regime, such as website Imperialism and Resistance ( provided by link in comment from Lenin’s Tomb website) argue that the liberal left in the West, the usual defenders of the current regime, are missing the “ class line” in determining whom to support in the conflict.
    Such as their piece “Iran and the Opportunist Left Liberals” :
    “The common assumption behind these kinds of infantile statements..(‘The most urgent need now is to organize the workers and provide the movement with a coherent programme, policy and banner. This can only be the red banner of socialism.” per Lenin’s Tomb). is that the Islamic Republic is a horrendous oppressive state, against whom any kind of protest is good. The overt reason for such an assumption can only be straight up Islamophobia – complete with orientalist imagery of the “mad mullah” waging a war against “freedom” (defined by the same leftists, of-course).
    Even more problematic is what these leftists are supporting; Mousavi, and his movement to re-define Iran into a toothless nationalist republic, is backed by some of the most corrupt elements of the Iranian establishment. And they are located in the most affluent areas of Tehran. Whereas Ahmadinejad’s Islamic movement is located in the heart of every city, town, village’s working class districts.
    Wittingly (for the most part) and (a few) unwittingly, the “western” left is, in essence, siding with the elite, upper classes, against the working class.”
    We saw the same arguments from Galloway, appears to be the official line of the Iranian regime with respect to their Western supporters.
    This does provide a dilemma for self-proclaimed Marxist and semi-Marxist defenders of the current Iranian regime, they are contorting themselves in knots with sociological analysis to determine the class composition of the contending camps, to define the “ class line”. And if Mussolini had declared “proletarian support” for his policies, what then.
    Aren’t choices so much easier when you base yourself on fundamental principles such as human rights and democratic freedoms, rather than worrying about where the petty bourgeois, as opposed to the real proletarians, are lining up on the barricades.
    Now our hardcore revolutionaries at Lenin’s Tomb, eager for the downfall of Western civilization, are having none of this, they find little of interest in either camp, and are rather contemptuous of the “weeping left” in the West, per discussions on Iran at the Lenin’s Tomb website, with comments such as :
    “This has absolutely nothing to do with innocent protesters being shot in the street; they are completely irrelevant, to everyone, including the weeping leftist in the West. They have died for absolutely nothing. Not the first to do so, and alas, not the last either.”

  6. Sorry for the typo in previous comment, it should refer to discussions at Lenin's Tomb website.