Thoughts on America and Iran

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Thugophilia Isn’t Moral

I think we are going to see, incrementally, perhaps, a rise in the ratings of former president Bush.Iraq is proving to be amazingly resilient, not only functioning as a democracy, but by withstanding the best efforts of Iran to kill it off, proving destabilizing to Iran itself.

By removing Saddam, and trying to isolate Ahmadinejad and appeal to the Iranian people, Bush at least tried to prep the landscape for democratic change.

In contrast, Obama’s past siren calls to quit Iraq, the “optional” war, his snubbing of Maliki, his ahistorical efforts to charm the Islamic Street, and apologies to theocratic Iran while lavishing attention on Ahmadinejad put him on the wrong side of history.

If Obama were wise, he would get out pronto a statement condemning the anti-democratic violence of the Iranian government, and suggesting it follow the Iraq example of free and internationally inspected elections.

At some point, one should see that moral equivalence and multicultural non-judgementalism, however catchy for the moment, are as stupid as they are amoral, and will put the U.S. in a foolish, “make it up as we go along” position.

Can we at least see an end to all the past Iranian fluff offered by Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and New York Times columnists as over the years they praised what they claimed was a good start for democracy?

How did it come to pass that the Left thought cozying up to a brutal thug like Ahmadinejad was proof of statecraft superior to Bush’s tough position that he was a nut and at odds with the aspirations for freedom of the Iranian people?

The New Old Realism

Much of the regular critiques of America during the Bush years as “imperialist,” “colonialist,” and “militaristic” were offered by rather thuggish regimes in Venezuela, Palestine, and Iran, while governments in Colombia, Iraq, and Israel were largely pro-American.

But since January, we have paid more attention to the former and less to the latter. We do not wish to “interfere” and condemn a state such as Iran that rigged an election and stifled free expression, but have no qualms about reading the riot act to Israel. Maliki, I wager, has received less attention from the present administration than has Ahmadinejad (the conventional wisdom of the Left the last few years was oddly “leave Iraq and its democracy, and engage Iran’s autocracy”).

Other examples could be cited, and the disturbing conclusion seems to be that to the extent an autocracy mouths boilerplate, Hollywood-type, anti-American sentiment, especially about the last eight years of American governance (cf. Bill Clinton’s 2005 Davos encomium of Iran as “the only one with elections, including the United States, including Israel, including you name it, where the liberals, or the progressives, have won two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote in six elections”), it now deserves attention; to the extent a nation supported U.S. democratic aims and aspirations abroad, it is now looked upon in askance, as if thinking, “Why would you guys have liked the U.S. before we came along?”

The issue of whether countries in these pairings — Iran/Iraq, Hamas/Israel, or Venezuela/Colombia — respect consensual government seems largely irrelevant, as if a multicultural veneer of “not judging others with arbitrary Western paradigms” is (at best) the kinder, friendlier version of the old realist “Let them do what they want to each other and we’ll deal with the thug that emerges in terms of our own national interest.”

It’s Beginning to Become a Little Embarrassing . . .

With all due respect to the president’s concern not to be seen “meddling” in voicing support for those in the street agitating for free and fair elections, everyone meddles in everyone else’s elections (Have we forgotten Iranian efforts from 2003-8 to destroy democracy in Iraq?).
In 2004 the Kerry campaign made a big deal over the Iranians’ stated preference for Bush (e.g., the Kerry campaign responded: “It is telling that this president has received the endorsement of a member of the axis of evil.”) The same year British subjects were hectoring voters of swing-state Ohio not to vote for Bush. In 2008, Palestinians were manning phone banks on the West Bank to raise money for Obama.

And it worked both ways. The United States practically ordered the Shah out of Iran after working behind the scenes to undermine him. We went on the record in various ways to bolster demonstrations in the Ukraine, Chile, Serbia, Poland, and elsewhere. No country has done more to meddle in the affairs of others in order not to bolster, but to destroy democracy than has Iran. Just ask the Lebanese and Iraqis.

One can sympathize with worry not to undermine the resistance by being tied to it, or being concerned about nuclear weapons, or trying to figure the odds of who will win, but all that said, it’s starting to get a little shameful for the professed humanitarian Obama to be seen so nakedly uninterested in the hundreds of thousands in the streets of Tehran both voicing values similar to our own, and ridiculing a government that for 30 years has serially killed Americans, promoted worldwide terror, and violated international agreements.

We are now well below the Ford administration’s 1975 snubbing of Solzhenitsyn.

The New Orwellianism

We use Orwell, Orwellian, and Orwellianism loosely a lot these days, but what is going on in the Obama administration is beginning to get a little creepy and resembles a lot of things Orwell wrote about in 1984.

When in, Soviet fashion, a critical overseer is dismissed as being “confused” and suffering mental problems in carrying out the law, as Gerald Walpinprobably did in uncovering waste and possible fraud in connection with the mayor of Sacramento; or when the government begins to create new words like “overseas contingency operations” and “man-made catastrophes”; or when Justice Sotomayor says that a Latina is inherently a better judge than a white man — and then says she does not mean what she says — or that a female-only club that has no males does so because no males apparently applied (using the argument of pre-Civil Rights Southern country clubs); or when the president begins nationalizing companies because he has no interest in the federal government interfering with private enterprise or swears that he is going to uncover waste and insist on financial sobriety as he runs up a nearly $2 trillion deficit, we see a creeping Orwellianism everywhere. Bush (and “Bush did it”) has become the proverbial enemy at large, sort of playing the role of Trotsky in the Soviet 1930s, or the face on the big screen we are supposed to hate — alternately demonized and airbrushed (when Obama adopts his policies like military tribunals, Iraq, or renditions). Newspeak has even proclaimed our president a “god,” and a journalist has adopted proskynesis in his presence.

All this dissimulation is based on two general principles — one, the cause of egalitarianism and equality of result is so critical that the tawdry means of distorting reality is not only worth it, but not tawdry; and two, 30 years of postmodern teaching in our law and graduate schools have insidiously convinced many of our elites that there is no absolute truth, only competing narratives that take on credence depending on the race, class, gender, and access to power of those who speak.

As a rule of thumb, when key administration officials say they do not wish to do something, the odds are they have already done it, and when they imply “Bush did it” it means that they will adopt it (e.g., anti-terrorism protocols) or exceed it (Bush deficits).

Ipse Dixit — End of Story

It is quite amazing to see the various, sometimes conservative, explanations that most liberal (including some rather extreme leftist) pundits have suddenly advanced to support the president’s mostly do-nothing, say-nothing policy on Iraq: Mousavi is no different really from Ahmadinejad; our distaste would only empower the government; the resistance does not want or need the American albatross; we should have learned our lesson from 1953, or from Iraq, or from (fill in the blanks); it is such a relief to have a calm president rather than a President Bush shouting about freedom in the hearts of everyone; we can’t do anything anyway; “Bush did it” and tarnished the American brand anyway . . .

Two reactions: (1) I doubt such supportive arguments would be now advanced should a President McCain have urged similar realpolitik; (2) Should Obama have come out a few days ago with ringing endorsements for those who wish free and fair elections, and had he given a Reaganesque embrace of the dissidents’ bravery and idealism, I doubt we would be reading any of what we read today.

In other words, we are in an age of ipse dixit. And that is all ye need to know.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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