Monday, August 17, 2009

The US' performance on Iran's election was very disappointing

The Obama administration is likely perceived in Iran, with some justification, as having acted outrageously regarding the election. Far worse than the latter part of the Bush administration would have been expected to act. The Bush administration showed that in the final analysis it could constrain its most rabid supporters of Israel's regional interests. The Obama administration has shown that on practical matters, so far it cannot.

The example of the Bush administration demonstrating independence from Israel's agenda that I'm thinking about is that Congress was openly advocating breaking up Iraq which would have furthered Israeli objectives while infuriating Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Bush abruptly changed direction, began talks with Iran and released the 2007 NIE declaring that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program (by newly defining enrichment as outside of a weapons program). These actions demonstrated that his administration at least had the capacity to tangibly pursue an agenda in the region independent of Israel's objectives.

Obama is retreating on his signature settlements issue and acquiescing to Israel's policy of starvation of the people of Gaza, neither of which is particularly surprising for any US president, but from the Iranian perspective the US behavior during the aftermath of the elections has been breathtakingly provocative. Far worse than could have been reasonably expected.

It is well known that Obama did not forcefully speak in favor of the protesters, openly explaining that his rationale was his correct assessment that forcefully favoring them in public would hurt their cause. It is also well known that at the same time the US State Department publicly requested that Twitter remain on line to enable the protesters to more effectively organize demonstrations! The only impact of that step was symbolic, but as a symbolic gesture, it was an outrageous one.

Also publicly known is that Hillary Clinton, in her ongoing quest to prove it is possible to be a worse secretary of state than Condoleeza Rice, claims openly that the US was supporting the protesters behind the scenes.

"Now, behind the scenes, we were doing a lot," Clinton said. "We were doing a lot to really empower the protestors without getting in the way. And we're continuing to speak out and support the opposition."

Which brings us to Dennis Ross. The less said about him the better, but unfortunately Obama put him in a position from which he can more than plausibly claim to oversee all US policy regarding Iran. So of course there are rumors, spread by parties sympathetic to the US, that Ross' office has been coordinating efforts to destabilize Iran.

[I]n the build-up to the Iranian elections [Ross] sponsored and organized a program to "electronically invade" Iran with destabilizing messages trying, more subtly to be sure than the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup, to "regime change" it. Whatever else could be said about the "Iran-Syria Operations Group" , it played right into the hands of Ahmadinejad and the rightwing of the ulama and the military, giving them a proof text for American interference in the elections and thus may have backfired since no issue in Iranian politics is as sensitive as the fear of foreign espionage.

The thing is that even if the rumors are not true, these types of rumors are the very best possible outcome of any scenario in which a rabid Israel-first ideologue is charged with making Iran policy. We can consider the US fortunate if Ross, in his anti-Iranian zeal, hasn't clumsily left conclusive proof of an ineffective program to harm Iran's interests.

I also have to note here that massive electoral fraud, in a country with active and resourceful rival political factions, is implausible without tangible evidence, while a secret US program to destabilize Iran - given that funds have openly been allocated for for democracy promotion in a country the US does not consider a democracy - is plausible and even likely given what is known about the US' outlook on Iran and its capabilities. I am going to need to see tangible evidence before I believe Ahmadinejad really got fewer votes than Mousavi and was put into office by fraud. It takes less tangible evidence to make it plausible that the known US covert intelligence apparatus has been active in Iran in ways that reflect the US' historical hostility towards that country. I consider this position fair and hold this position without any bias towards Ahmadinejad's political faction in Iran. In fact, I would have preferred to see Mousavi win.

US public commentators on Iran policy, notably but not only Juan Cole, Trita Parsi and Roger Cohen have seemed disturbingly comfortable with the idea that even without any evidence they can assert as a fact that Iran's election was fraudulent. One might think from reading some of their columns that they believe that if they use the phrase "rigged election" enough times, their use of the phrase itself will serve as sufficient evidence of fraud. (Cole's recent columns have been more careful than those in the immediate aftermath of the election.)

When US policy-makers are not speaking publicly, non-governmental commentators who, as far as is known, share the ideological inclinations of the people in government and who are known to be in communication with policymakers offer something of a window into the administration's attitudes and orientation. What we've seen from these commentators suggests there is a widespread, visceral but irrational bias on the part of the US foreign policy community against Ahmadinejad. If Iran's voters chose Ahmadinejad then sadly Iranian policy-makers will have to factor an expectation of some additional amount of irrational hostility from the US toward their country and plan accordingly.

The United States has not been neutral regarding Iran's internal political situation. It is reasonable to assume that the resources allocated towards removing Iran's current regime from power were actually used, but it is not clear in public exactly how. Beyond the Nowruz greeting Obama sent to Iran, the administration has displayed a troubling degree of hostility towards Iran, and specifically towards Iran's president as an individual which, if it continues will have a real impact on events in the region, to the detriment of both Iran and the US.

My verdict so far on Obama's performance in the Middle East, especially but not only regarding Iran is better rhetoric but worse policy than late-term Bush, better policy than Bush's policy between 2002 and 2007. I guess it is possible that Obama's policy will improve by changing direction as Bush's did, but unfortunately it is possible that it will not. Iran's strategists are likely working from the assumption that US decision-making in their region under Obama is nearly completely dominated by Israel's agenda and therefore cooperation and easing of tensions will be minimal unless something changes.

1 comment:

Lysander said...

Some points regarding this post and your previous regarding Musavi's motivations.

Why do Musavi/Rafsanjani/Khatami persist in antagonizing the ruling parties without public support? It seems at this point, regardless of what their earlier motivations were, that they are much better off cutting a deal with the government both for Iran's sake as well as their own personal interest. Unless they are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that most of the public is behind them.

Regarding U.S. Iran relations, the U.S. seems to have talked itself into a corner regarding negotiations. If Iran does not back down, what will the U.S. do at the end of September, some 6 weeks from now?

Also, if U.S. policy is heavily influenced by Israel, can you rule out an attack on Iran? The U.S. has taken numerous actions that seem contrary to its interests. From the Invasion of Iraq, to the invasion and escalation of the war in Vietnam. The U.S. will take very costly actions whenever its 'credibility' is at stake.

Lastly, I was speaking to a cab driver from Iran in LA this past weekend and the conversation strayed towards politics. Here is what I gleaned from him;

1) He personally is opposed to Ahmadinejad.

2) He doesn't know who really won but admits M.A. has very large support amongst the poor. The government could have handled things much better, he thought.

3) He personally is in agreement with Iran's foreign policy and greatly distrusts U.S./Israeli intentions.

He seemed much more sympathetic to the government and feels it has accomplished much since the time of the Shaw. He visits Iran every second year.