Contested elections, human welfare, world peace

I have two big concerns regarding the situation in Iran. The first is for the wellbeing of the 65 million Iranians and the health and integrity of their society, and the second is for the avoidance of hostilities between my country and theirs.
Regarding the wellbeing of Iranians and the health of their society, it is heart-wrenching to see the violence being deployed there, most of which is, I believe, being used by supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad. But it is also heart-wrenching to see the depth of the social and fissures within Iranian society that are revealed by the street scenes.
Here in the U.S. we had a deeply contested election back in 2000– one that I still think was “stolen” by the Supreme Court on behalf of George W. Bush… On that occasion, our country became deeply divided, and there were scenes of heated wrangling around those Florida vote-counting halls and courthouses.
But thank G-d neither side was deploying baseej thugs to intimidate and beat up the other side. And finally, after many weeks of that wrangling, the Supreme Court ruled and those of us who wanted a different outcome all went home.
We also had some deep social/political fissures over the build-up to the invasion of Iraq. I remember how lonely it was in the early months of the war, standing on the street corner in Charlottesville, VA, with our little band of pro-peace demonstrators, and getting yelled at by non-trivial numbers of passers-by. But again, no-one was actually beating us up there… And the consensus of national opinion slowly swung around to our viewpoint on the war, which we could witness directly in the gathering amounts of support we got as we stood on the corner week after week after week.
In both those cases, underlying the sharp political differences among our country’s citizens were differences in social outlook that were often equally as sharp, if not sharper.
So how is it now in Iran, and how will it be in the weeks ahead? Can the two sides there– and the heavy-duty political forces that stand behind each of them– find a way to get through their present differences, including by building, as necessary, a new form of internal social compact?
The news from Tehran that Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i is calling a meeting of all the presidential candidates and that Guardianship Council is ready to undertake a partial recount of the votes suggests that some such resolution may be possible, though the time-frame for it is still extremely unclear.
I deeply hope this comes about– for the sake of Iran’s people, and for the sake of world peace, too. A prolonged and worsening political stand-off in Iran could tempt opportunists in Israel or elsewhere to start suggesting something along the lines of “Great! Now is the time to move in for a swift bout of regime change”, using all kinds of provocateurs or other special-ops type people, or even a bombing of suspected nuclear sites.
I sincerely hope that no such plan is launched. Sure, under some circumstances it might “succeed” in the short run. But then what? We’ve already seen most graphically in Iraq that removing a regime you disagree strongly with is only one, very easy first step… And then, what do you do afterwards?
The same with “taking out” a nuclear facility or two. (An action that would swiftly rebound, of course, against the US forces strung out in very vulnerable positions along the whole Gulf.)
Prolonged political instability and uncertainty in Iran could tempt malevolent outsiders to undertake many different kinds of mischief. But our country needs Iran’s cooperation more than ever right now– in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Recently, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett reminded us that Obama has actually been continuing with some of the plans the Bush administration had put in place that were designed to destabilize the Iranian regime from various angles.
In the present circumstances those plans need to be stopped immediately.
Americans and our government should be quite forthright in urging de-escalation of the violence inside Iran. Part of that stance also involves urging Iranians (inasmuch as any of them are listening to us) to work speedily and creatively with each other to find a resolution to their current crisis that is both fair and sustainable. What we should not do is try to “call” their election for them, or otherwise interfere in their affairs.
Also, of course, as a footnote here, our country’s credibility in calling for de-escalation anywhere in the world– but especially in that region– is considerably dented given Washington’s own massive use of violence in the recent past in Iraq and its continuing recourse to violence and escalation in Afghanistan. So maybe we ought to think harder about our government’s behavior, too?

31 thoughts on “Contested elections, human welfare, world peace”

  1. It’s sad, but it seems that the Iranian people are being used as pawns of powerful, rival factions in their drive for control of Iran’s crown jewel, the oil industry.
    “Unlike in the West, where governments are owned and run by the banking and financial system, in Iran it’s the Oil Ministry that controls the purse strings and calls the shots. The Khamenei faction has gradually been taking over key positions in the ministry and its myriad state corporations.
    It should be remembered that when Ahmadinejad gained power he was able to put in his own appointees as ministers, except for the key Oil Ministry, where the Majlis, or parliament, twice rejected his appointments and appointed someone acceptable to the “Oil Mafia” more or less identified with former president Hashemi Rafsanjani.
    In the past couple of years, we have finally seen a new oil minister appointed by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In August 2007, National Iranian Oil Company boss Gholamhossein Nozari took over from Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh. Most of the old guard – people like Kazempour Ardebili, who was for 20 years Iran’s representative at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and several others of long standing in key positions – have “retired” or become “advisers”.
    Having finally wrested control after years of struggle of the oil revenues from the Rafsanjani faction, the Khamenei’ites are in no mood to give it up.”
    And it seems pretty obvious that the US has a horse in this race. There have been a lot of stolen and highly questionable elections in the last few years (Egypt, Mexico, Ukraine). But the media only covers those where the US is trying to topple the regime and feels obliged to harness public opinion in the effort. (Not that I like Ahmadinejad, but the dispute seems to be between two evils, and I’m not sure which one is the lesser. Returning Rafsanjani, the richest man in Iran, to power–that’s progress?)

  2. I think there are many currents in the Iranian events. Bush, for several years, and now Obama, have been expending large sums of money to overthrow the government of Iran. All of these covert operations have come to a head in the election. I suspect that the Mousavi demonstrations are being financed by huge amounts of covert western money. Everyone in Iran knew this was coming. The Basiji’s were seriously expanded over the last several months as an antidote to this “color revolution” The Basiji’s are analogous to the Nashi, who were created in Putin’s Russia to serve the same purpose. Everyone in the world is on to this “weaponization of dissent”. I don’t think the NED will be able to pull off another one, least of all Iran

  3. As you would expect, I feel obliged to suggest that your priorities are wrong. “The avoidance of hostilities between my country and theirs.” as you put it, should be your first priority. It would be nice if you could rephrase it a little, too.
    The way you put it, taken literally, means that Iran could be about to launch an aggression against USA, which is absurd. Only the USA can in practice project force to Iran, while Iran cannot do the same to the USA.
    This actual one-sidedness makes your phrasing sound more like a threat than anything else. I mean a threat by the USA to attack Iran unless… et cetera and refer back to your priority one. This kind of thing does not help anybody. It sounds like Hilary Clinton wrote it, not Helena Cobban.

  4. Hmmmn … elements of all the above, for sure. But that doesn’t go to explain the huge, mass rolling, demonstrations of students, women and workerS. That’s a movement that doesn’t happen overnight … it first sprang to notice when Khatami got elected. In 2005 it went dormant. Now it’s revived, in a big, big way.
    What’s changed since 2005? A democratically elected shia government in Iraq, for one. It’s unimaginable there would have been scope for this popular upheaval if Saddam and the Baath, Iran’s greatest regional threat was still in power.
    Secondly, it’s also unimaginable if McCain had been elected to follow Bush. But Bush has been replaced by the Obama effect – a projection of conciliatory “soft” power. (But still with the same US goals, I hasten to add)!
    Seems to me that its those last two elements that have enabled the “modernisers/reformists” to take on the radical hardliner New-Gen personified by Ahmadinejad. Like the pressure in a champagne bottle being unleashed when the cork blows. The youf and the women – they want to join the new world order. Not sure that Rafsanjani could put the cork back on that desire, even if he succeeds in toppling the govt.


  6. nd the consensus of national opinion slowly swung around to our viewpoint on the war, which we could witness directly in the gathering amounts of support we got as we stood on the corner week after week after week.
    Iraq still occupied and Iraqi still in arrested and tortured in the US and Iraqi prisons.
    read this Helena what your administration doing very good job inside Iraq.
    Iraq’s New Death Squad, I dont know how prod you feel with this freedom and democracy in Iraq.
    So what national opinion slowly swung around to our viewpoint gave for Iraqis?
    State was demolished, people living in dark ages, streets are damages, city divided in canton by concert walls, 50% Iraqis under poverty line, 500,000.0 orphans in Iraq due to the war and aftermath, 30,000.0 widows, and 70% jobless,….
    No one Iraqi went to Iraq recently I met or read from them can tell things is good at all, its all sadness and miserable, just in your media painting rosy picture
    So what means your national opinion slowly swung around to our viewpoint…? nothing benefits Iraq or Iraqis at all Helena.
    let be real, by seeing the reality on the ground today in Iraq,its a punch of thugs protected by your administration and your heroes.

  7. And finally, after many weeks of that wrangling, the Supreme Court ruled and those of us who wanted a different outcome all went home.
    The main difference is that, in the US, you all knew that in four years there would be another election and another chance to unseat President Bush. In Iran, there are no guarantees.

  8. “Hmmmn … elements of all the above, for sure. But that doesn’t go to explain the huge, mass rolling, demonstrations of students, women and workerS. That’s a movement that doesn’t happen overnight … it first sprang to notice when Khatami got elected. In 2005 it went dormant. Now it’s revived, in a big, big way.”
    This quote from Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar might give a partial explanation:
    “For those who do not know Iran better, suffice to say that the Rafsanjani family clan owns vast financial empires in Iran, including foreign trade, vast landholdings and the largest network of private universities in Iran. Known as Azad there are 300 branches spread over the country, they are not only money-spinners but could also press into Mousavi’s election campaign an active cadre of student activists numbering some 3 million.
    The Azad campuses and auditoria provided the rallying point for Mousavi’s campaign in the provinces. The attempt was to see that the campaign reached the rural poor in their multitudes who formed the bulk of voters and constituted Ahmadinejad’s political base. Rafsanjani’s political style is to build up extensive networking in virtually all the top echelons of the power structure, especially bodies such as the Guardian Council, Expediency Council, the Qom clergy, Majlis, judiciary, bureaucracy, Tehran bazaar and even elements within the circles close to Khamenei. He called into play these pockets of influence.”

  9. Dominic, you’re right to call me on the wording of the “avoidance of hostilities” thing, since very evidently it is only the US that is threatening military or other regime-changing actions against Iran (“All options are on the table”, etc), rather than the other way round. Also, this is something we can and SHOULD be energetically doing something about… whereas a concern for the wellbeing of Iranians (which I is think is important) is not something outsiders can, or should, do that much about.

  10. Thanks Helena. I think the greatest thing that holds us together on this unique site of yours is the belief that peace is the prerequisite for all other goods. Hence it must come first.

  11. The country has an industrial class – it has the largest car industry in the Middle East – and trade unions agitate ever more forcefully in the factories of the Republic.
    LOL. The largest car industry in the Middle East! That isn’t saying much. However, I would take a look at Turkey before making such a bold, refutable statement. The have a number of assembly plants that I am sure out produce anything that Iran has to offer.

  12. Well shut my mouth. I didn’t know whether to piss or go blind, but I just checked Wikipedia, and Iran does have the largest auto industry in the Middle East. Of course, that’s only because Turkey is counted as part of Europe.

  13. Domza, just so you’re aware — Afshin Rattansi isn’t Iranian, but of Indian descent by way of Kenya. He’s British, his first language is English, and by his own account he has never lived in Iran before this one year stint working for Iran’s state-owned and -operated “Press TV”.

  14. Oh dear. The Tudeh Party of Iran says that the election results were rigged. It does not give any evidence. Shame.

  15. you have observed:” Great! Now is the time to move in for a swift bout of regime change”, using all kinds of provocateurs or other special-ops type peoplehave” Is it possible that the demonstrations are driven my some such provocateurs?

  16. Raid, my judgment is this might be the case for some of the demo participants but if so only a very small proportion of them. It might be a factor in some of the ethnic-minority areas where, afaik, the CIA’s destabilization efforts have been concentrated. But we’re not getting much news of sizeable demonstrations anywhere outside (North) Tehran.
    Doesn’t mean they’re not happening. But we’re not getting news of them.

  17. Some facts about Iran’s election will hopefully emerge in the coming weeks, with perhaps even credible evidence that the election was rigged. But until then, we need to add a caveat to everything we hear and see coming out of Tehran. For too many years now, the Western media have looked at Iran through the narrow prism of Iran’s liberal middle class — an intelligentsia that is addicted to the Internet and American music and is more ready to talk to the Western press, including people with money to buy tickets to Paris or Los Angeles. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a terrific book, but does it represent the real Iran?

    TIME Robert Baer Tuesday, Jun. 16, 2009

  18. “But we’re not getting much news of sizeable demonstrations anywhere outside (North) Tehran.”
    ???? I’ve seen photos and YouTubes of huge demos in Isfahan. Also read many Tweets (via Sullivan and Huffpost) from other places in Iran, partic universities.
    Am dusting off my old Chicago Transit Authority LPs.

  19. The surprise with Iran and after the election, new missing Nir Rosen as common see him reporting from troubles area in ME using an engaging smile, knowledge of Arabic picked up as an Israeli-American Jew who spent summers back in Israel, and what was coyly referred to as his “Middle Eastern appearance, where he did well work as “journalist with US forces some times works on his own “Spy”!!(considering his early visit to Israel before the war in Iraq).Although he is natively Iranian Jew so surprising, he is out the boat from Iran.
    Did anyone see why he kept silence until now not dispatched to the Iran?

  20. Mossad chief Meir Dagan on Tuesday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the riots in Iran over the election results will die out in a few days rather than escalate into a revolution.

    “The reality in Iran is not going to change because of the elections. The world and we already know [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. If the reformist candidate [Mir Hossein] Mousavi had won, Israel would have had a more serious problem because it would need to explain to the world the danger of the Iranian threat, since Mousavi is perceived internationally arena as a moderate element … It is important to remember that he is the one who began Iran’s nuclear program when he was prime minister.

    Yossi Melman and Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz

  21. Good catch Salah.
    I’m afraid I once again am in disagreement with Helena. There are massive, widespread demonstrations all across the country….
    now, maybe Robert Fisk hasn’t yet gotten out of Tehran.

  22. Robert Baer above doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about… infuriating ignorance on his part.
    I am among the first to criticize Reading Lolita as total fiction, but he’s never been to Iran, much less to the countryside. See the Hooglund clip. I’ll stake Eric’s reputation and credibility any day over a former CIA Lebanon officer.
    As for evidence of widespread demonstrations, try this video from Isfahan.
    And then here’s one of Monday’s stunning million or so march in Tehran….

  23. Salah. Far be it from me to argue with the head of Mossad, but Iran had very strong, even desperate, need for a nuclear program in the years when Mousavi was prime minister. 1981-89, the period of the Iraq/Iran War as result of Saddam Iraq invading Iran to annex Iran’s oilfields?
    As Iraq is no longer an existential threat to Iran, quite the opposite, it could be anticipated that a President Mousavi would be far more likely than his predecessor to put Iran’s peaceful nuclear intentions beyond doubt.

  24. bb,
    I think Israeli vies about ME should be revisited and read carefully when they say something, they are not just talking or guessing. They have their sources and links to any development in ME.
    Although I agree with you that Iran needs for a nuclear program due to the war, but with all due respect for your view, I disagree with your statement that “Saddam Iraq invading Iran to annex Iran’s oilfields?
    This is more represent what western media feeds most those who do not read carefully the tensions build up to the war.
    First Iraq have a huge reserve of oil, at 1980 Iraq was not yet have developed all the oil fields, or have discovered all the geological oil area.
    For your info, Iraq at 1980 have completed digging and finished oil wells discovery ready to pumps oil but those wells was tap on them waiting for the right time when the demands increase for oil.
    As you know, Iraq has limited exporting limits due to OPIC production limits and facilities that was not yet developed / build. The prove for my words you need to ask some of your Australians who servicing in Iraq will tell you seeing those Taped Oil wells around Baghdad and other cities inside Iraq.
    The clearest cause for the war came from tyrant Khomeini early days in consolidating power, as in executing their enemies; Khomeini/mullahs and their political allies did not waste time.
    There were persistent attempts to export the revolution to neighbouring countries, which intensified regional rivalries and fostered conditions that led to inter-state war.
    Firstly, may I pick your attentions to what happen during Hajj in 1979 in Mecca when Iranian’s (Khomeini gorilla) starting their riot in Mecca.
    Secondly I was in Iraq I recalled for military national service during Iran War, I heard from military personal who were on the borders Iraq and Iran, weeks before the war started Iranians started shilling the villages northern Iraq (North Baghdad)
    Saddam rushed to be the first to send his fighters to bomb Iran to punish them and thinks that, as “A preventive strike” will stop tyrant Khomeini exporting his revolution.
    Your argument to them they are all wrong, I do not think should every one given his reading have visited / lived in Iran.. You visited Iran about 25 years ago there are changes a huge changes socially and politically, if you keep arguing each one talking about his reading for Iran its looks very unwise and unhealthful.
    Anyway you did disagree with my bit of comment about Rafsanjani and accusing all sort of the source of that bit of news and all …infuriating ignorance on his part. etc…
    The reality is AN in his speech after his election and wining , he stated that he will start clearing and fights the corruptions in his country, should this brings some fears and attentions of some Mullahs they start make their own calculations to move against AN especially the Iraq/Iran war then Iraq sanction warlord Rafsanjani?

  25. It is important to remember that he is the one who began Iran’s nuclear program when he was prime minister.”
    This is completely false — Iran’s nuclear program dates from the 50s and 60s (assisted as it happens by the USA which supplied the TNRC with its first research reactor in 1967.)

  26. We can’t condemn enough the suffering inflicted on protesting Iranians. However, I can’t help thinking that by committing these atrocities, the regime has undermined itself permanently, and a greater good in the long run will be achieved. This regime and the clergy will never again have any claim to legitimacy. The anger of 60% of Iran’s population under 30 years of age may no longer be focused solely on the West but on Iran’s own government.
    A bottom-up sea change may preclude the “need” for ridiculous bellicose rhetoric from the US and better relations will develop. In time.

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