Sunday, June 21, 2009

Quick Thoughts on Iran

I've been having this heretical thought for a few days now, and it was interesting to see it confirmed by Jerry Pournelle:

We know that the Tehran demonstrators claim the election was rigged and that their man won. We don't know a lot more.

Suppose...just suppose: despite the overly hurried ballot counting and the appearance of corruption in the election process, that the ballots were actually recounted by a reasonably neutral third party and it turns out Ahmadenijad really did win the election. Win or lose, I must argue against John McCain and others who say that we "must" support the protestors simply because they appear to support things that we want. Or, more to the point, it appears that they don't support our enemy, Ahmadenijad. If honestly counted ballots were to turn against them, we might sympathize, but we cannot say unequivocally that the protestors in the streets are right.

This is why "We are friends of liberty everywhere, but guardians only of our own" matters. We do not need to be putting the prestige of the U.S. government behind uncertain election results. It is not our responsibility to get in the middle of every crisis that erupts in the world, especially when that crisis is in a nation that has steadfastly disliked and fought an undeclared war against us for 30 years. When your enemy is in the process of hurting himself, stand back and let it happen.

The outcomes are numerous, but range from triumph of the dissidents to a recount to a coalition government to a vicious crackdown of the protestors to something else that we haven't thought of yet. It would be bad form and bad policy to stick our noses in where they didn't belong. The very act of intervention could turn the result against us, and leave us in an even worse situation (imagine it's possible, because it is) with whoever comes out on top of the ensuing struggle. This is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle as applied to politics: you can either observe the position or the trajectory of a situation, not both, and the mere act of observing could change the outcome.

Does this mean do nothing? No. We can and should do everything we can to keep the lines of communication open, especially from private citizens using the internet. If the Ahmadenijad/Khamenei government continues cracking down on protests and communications with the outside world, there are things we can and should do within the U.N. and the Persian Gulf region to ensure that information continues to flow and the outcome is more to our liking. But we really need to sit this one out. If it was our job to right every wrong and dethrone every tyrant in the world, Ahmadenijad would be out of office already, as would many of his neighbors and allies. A political party and ideology was roundly defeated recently because of a counterinsurgency following a victorious war against another dictator. Does Obama really want to extend the Bush Doctrine in that way? I don't think so.

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