The Iran Syndrome

The U.S.' obsessive media coverage of Iran puzzles me.  I see no reason why the disputed presidential election and the following violent street protests in Tehran should be treated as a major world event.  Even the expected North Korean launch of a ballistic missile toward Hawaii has suddenly become less threatening to U.S. national security than the prospect of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remaining the Iranian president for another 4 years.

Why all this fuss about Iran?

We're being told that the results of the election have been "stolen."  (Although signs of massive election fraud in favor of Ahmadinejad is impossible to ignore — even the Guardian Council has tacitly acknowledged that — there is no evidence, either, of the victory of his major rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi).  So?  Elections are being stolen everywhere.  Some irresponsible folks even claimed that a presidential election was stolen in the United States in 2000.   What should one then expect from Iran, with its lack of democratic traditions and a murky political process?  Besides, one of our best friends, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, doesn't allow any elections at all; yet I don't remember this fact being chewed up by political analysts 24/7.

We're also being told that after all, it's not about elections, but rather about "freedom and democracy."  I'm all for freedom and democracy, but I simply want to make sure that we're talking exactly about those two things.  For now, what I see on my TV screen is a crowd of people wearing green ribbons and scarfs — and we all know that in this part of the world, green doesn't symbolize clean energy — setting on fire trash cans, bicycles, and buses and chanting "Allah Akbar" and "Death to Dictator" (please, note: not "Down with Dictator" and not "Trial for Dictator", but  "Death to Dictator").   

(True, we also see "Where is my vote?" signs in English, reminding me of Russian "democrats" who always switch to English before being arrested for violation of public order.)

I thus applaud the honesty of the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who in his June 21 interview with Fox News spared us from pulling a fast one about freedom and democracy and called for what he and his neocon pals have been calling all along: the "regime change" in Iran.

The major reason why so many in Washington cannot take their eyes aways from the images of Iran is that deep down, they dream that the street protests in Tehran will miraculously morph into the 2003 Rose Revolution in Tbilisi or the 2004 Orange Revolution in Kiev, eventually transforming Iran into a U.S.-friendly state.  A "reformer" Mir Hossein Mousavi as an Iranian Mikheil Saakashvili? Or Victor Yushchenko?  Wouldn't that be great? 

The Tbilisi allusion is especially appealing.  Here we have the Georgian president Saakashvili who, in November 2007, sent riot police to violently disperse peaceful street protesters and then, in January 2008, won a second term in office in what many in Georgia called  a "rigged" election.  

Since the beginning of April, the opposition to the Saakashvili regime has been holding street protests accusing Saakashvili of creating a "police state."  Our reaction?  We have assured him of our support and pretty much told the opposition to get lost.

(A lesson to all aspiring leaders of "democratic" states:  attend Columbia University and speak "fluent English").

The Iran media coverage serves one additional, however tactical, purpose: it allows the media to ignore the recently increased violence in Iraq, a country that is an Exhibition A of our "freedom and democracy" export project.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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19 Responses to The Iran Syndrome

  1. Hi Eugene:
    John Bolton has drifted from some otherwise core neocon slants:
    http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/index.php/2008/02/17/kosovo-a-new-day-of-infamy-for-a-new-century/
    Like with the last vote in Moldova, the color coded revolution analogy concerning the just completed Iranian election is simplistically played out.
    IMO, Obama was perceptive when he noted how the differences between the two Iranian presidential candidates might not be as great as suggested by some. Besides that, the power of the Iranian presidency is very limited.
    Among savvy Israeli foreign policy observers, there’s the somewhat joking comment that Ahmadinejad is a Mossad agent, because his rhetorical comments make his presidency an easier target for criticism among Israelis and their staunchest of supporters.
    Columbia U experiences have had mixed results. (I better leave it at that.)

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks as usual for your comments. First of all, I didn’t mean to offend in any way Columbia alumni (especially those speaking fluent/native English🙂. My point is how much superficial attention we pay to the fact that someone graduated from an American school.
    As a matter of a mental game, do you think that our reaction to the Iranian election would have been different had Ahmadinejad been considered “moderate”, but Mousavi “radical”?
    I do. I think that we practically take being “pro-American” for being a “democrat.” Hence my invoking the Saakashvili name. With “democrats” like him, who needs “authoritarians”?
    Best,
    Eugene

  3. Hi back Eugene
    One of your salient points reminds me of a recent piece concerning Tatyana Zhdanoka:
    http://www.moscowtory.com/home/discrimination-of-ethnic-russians-in-latvia-and-estonia
    Some years back, the Soros funded ICG discussed the need for (FYRO) Macedonia to be more respectful towards the Albanian community. Likewise, other Soros funded (or at the very least, Soros leaning, without his funding) orgs. have negatively highlighted Pridnestrovie’s (Transnistria’s) not making the Latin alphabet of the Moldovan language official.
    These are examples of double standards galore. Neolib/neocon preferred multi-lingual experts haven’t actively challenged this situation.
    From what I’ve seen, the mentioned ICG org. hasn’t been championing the idea of Russian language rights in Estonia and Latvia. As for the language issue point on Pridnestrovie, that disputed territory has three official languages (Russian, Ukrainian and Moldovan with the Cyrillic alphabet).
    So who is more intolerant? Moldova minus Pridnestrovie, which officially uses only the Moldovan language with the Latin script or Pridnestrovie. The same can be asked of Estonia and Latvia, relative to Pridnestrovie.
    At times, the “pro-American” or “pro-West” labelling has a degree of misleading hogwash to it.
    Note the spin some are putting on the recent polls showing how most Ukrainians have a positive image of Russia. (This is really nothing new, as there have been previous polls indicating the same.) Regarding Ukraine, it’s correctly pointed out that being pro-Russian doesn’t necessarily mean being anti-West.
    However, this thought isn’t complete. It’s not like Russia is so anti-West as much as it’s opposed to the neocon/neolib influenced Western policies that seem to get the upper hand. 90% of Ukraine’s population opposed the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. This point doesn’t make Ukrainians (by and large) anti-West, but against a certain policy which relates to some other questionable advocacy. In this sense, Russians aren’t generally different from Ukrainians.
    Best,
    Mike

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    First of all, let me confess that long ago, I gave up on complaining about double standards. I feel that for people writing about politics, being concerned about double standards is a sign of professional unpreparedness🙂
    There is obviously nothing wrong with being “pro-West” and “pro-American.” I myself am perfectly pro-Western and pro-American, which doesn’t prevent me from being pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian (ethnically, I’m ~3/4 Ukraininan).
    The problem arises when we begin forming our foreign policy based on public professions of being “pro-American.” You praise Washington all the time, you name a street after GWB, you send 500 troops to Afghanistan, and voila! — you’re democrat.
    Worse, you criticize Russia and you immediately qualified as “pro-American”, and viola! — well, no reason to repeat.
    Best,
    Eugene

  5. Hi back Eugene
    Understood and agree on the generality of such labels.
    On the other point, I’m often surprised at the number of intelligent and reasonably well informed folks who are either unaware or not fully aware of the double standards out there.
    In my own experiences, some of these individuals will change their outlook a bit when the double standards (which are often more than doubled) are detailed to them.
    IMO, the delivery for presenting this approach should be in an analytical way that can have some informality to it.
    Best,
    Mike

  6. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    On an unrelated issue: what’s your take on Zurabov’s appointment as the Ambassador to Ukraine?
    No, I’m not going to blame Lavrov first🙂 MID sounds like they were opposing Zurabov’s candidacy, which reportedly came directly from the Kremlin.
    Whatever the case, a horrible choice, IMHO.
    Best,
    Eugene

  7. Hi again Eugene
    Assuming there’re no rough edges, I generally like the idea of appointing a qualified ambassador with ties to the given country in question. The Israelis have periodically done this with some of their ambassadorial appointments to the former USSR.
    As you know, Russia isn’t short of competent diplomatic types with ties to Ukraine. As you probably know, there were reports saying that the Ukrainian born Matviyenko was among those being considered for the post. A possible issue with her not getting that position has to do with the prospect that she’d have to give up her current role.
    On this one, my views are quite distant. I’m not aware of any ties (direct or otherwise) Zurabov has to Ukraine. He’s known for other matters (not pertaining to Ukraine – at least directly), which come with some criticism (perhaps put mildly). At least one Russian foreign policy eilte (Zatulin) is quoted for not being enthusiastic about Zurabov appointment. Said person also stated that Zurabov would likely get approved despite whatever the misgivings about his getting nominated.
    Two factors could be at play. In the form of a hunch, there could be something positive seen in Zurabov that isn’t so well known or has yet to be actually proven. Another possibility could involve the seemingly crony like manner relating to how a good number of ambassadorial appointments are given out the world over.
    Please let me know of any other findings. In the meantime, I’ll see what comes up on my end (it might be blank for a bit, due to some early fourth of July prep work)
    Best,
    Mike

  8. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    My feelings exactly. You know, I’m a fan of Matvienko and was very hopeful that she’ll get the job. (My dream actually is that she’ll replace Lavrov some day). In both positions, she could provide a perfect personal touch vis-a-vis Timoshenko and/or HRC.
    As for Zurabov, I saw you smiling when you wrote “…there could be something positive seen in Zurabov that isn’t so well known or has yet to be actually proven.” Sure, in Russia, they always appoint a person whose greatness is yet to be recognized🙂
    In case we don’t talk soon, keep up your excellent job and have a great ID weekend!
    Best,
    Eugene

  9. Hi again Eugene
    Some additional thoughts on the Zurabov appointment:
    http://talk.guardian.co.uk/WebX?14@704.8jYegIQztJz@.7760b692/1810
    I’ll see if I can come up with some added insight.
    Latest Grenade fishing material:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/27/AR2009062702303.html
    For now, I’ll leave out my immediate thoughts on this one.
    Best,
    Mike

  10. Hi again Eugene
    Some additional thoughts on the Zurabov appointment:
    http://talk.guardian.co.uk/WebX?14@704.8jYegIQztJz@.7760b692/1810
    I’ll see if I can come up with some added insight.
    Latest Grenade fishing material:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/27/AR2009062702303.html
    For now, I’ll leave out my immediate thoughts on this one.
    Best,
    Mike

  11. Back again Eugene
    In case you missed this one:
    http://www.rferl.org/content/What_Georgians_Really_Think_About_Russia_/1752380.html
    It seems to support the view we discussed under your prior (to the above one) post (as well as at least one other) about how Russian policy can (when compared to some of Russia’s relations elsewhere) have a dramatic effect vis-a-vis Georgia.
    In case you missed it: at the last post to this one, I replied to your last point there. It was picked up on another page that was created (we went the limit on that one).
    Best,
    Mike

  12. Thanks for the links, Mike-
    I certainly didn’t miss the WP one, but did miss the other.
    “This indicates that Georgians are able to separate their personal feelings about Russians from their charged political feelings about the Kremlin,” said Dr. Hans Gutbrod, who conducted the national, face-to-face survey for the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC).”
    How perceptive! There are about one million ethnic Georgians living in Russia and being one of the most successful, economically speaking, ethnic minorities. Not to mention people with names like Svanidze forming the core of the national “Russian” identity.
    That was exactly the point of my previous piece on Georgia: there is no reason to “lose” it because of Saakashvili. It’s too bad that Medvedev prefers to “wait” until after the 2013 presidential election in Georgia.
    Best Regards,
    Eugene

  13. RFE/RL can have some decent to not as decent commentary Eugene.
    Concerning Georgia, there’s this recent piece:
    http://www.rferl.org/content/The_Moscow_Film_Festival__A_Celebration_Of_Obedience_/1763251.html
    A darned if you do, darned it you don’t situation. If Russian cinema/media doesn’t carry non-political/positive views of Georgia/Georgians, the former will be accused of a heavy-handed bias (and rightfully, were that evident). On the other hand, the non-political/positive Russian cinema/media presentation of Georgia/Georgians gets the suggestive criticism of being underhanded propaganda, along the lines of not disliking Georgia/Georgians, as opposed to the Georgian government.
    Like that’s so wrong a sentiment!
    This relates to the Captive Nations Committee mind-set that nurtures the it’s okay for non-Russian/now former Soviets to dislike Russia/Russians, whereas the indications to the contrary are looked at more as propaganda.
    Best,
    Mike

  14. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Mike,
    If RFE/RL is running a piece critical of Russian cinema, looks to me like they’re running out of bad things to say about Russia🙂
    Regards,
    Eugene

  15. Hi back Eugene
    I hope your readers, loved ones and yourself are enjoying this holiday weekend.
    You might’ve already seen this recently released piece on Zurabov’s appointment as Russian ambassador to Ukraine:
    http://www.russiaprofile.org/page.php?pageid=Politics&articleid=a1246613310
    It basically covers what has been discussed and linked at this thread.
    The following in part rehashes what has been expressed:
    Russo-Ukrainian relations had bumps when Dubinin and Chernomyrdin were in the position that Zurabov will take on. As the above linked Russia Profile piece suggests, ambassadors don’t often greatly influence foreign policy decision making.
    With this in mind, it’s (IMO) jumping the gun to assume that Zurabov’s appointment is an automatic disaster. If anything, it primarily highlights the frequent political patronage, regarding a number of ambassadorial appointments. Like I said, this matter isn’t exclusively relegated to Russia.
    That said, I once again concur with the view that Russia had (on the surface) better choices.
    To be continued with one closing point (a repeat of sorts). There’re times when a given personnel move appears faulty at first, followed by a pleasant surprise that the selection proved beneficial.
    Best,
    Mike

  16. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    I wish you a wonderful rest of the weekend too.
    I agree with you that Zurabov’s appointment might not turn out as disastrous as it seems today. I’m all for pleasant surprises — especially given the importance of the Ukraine ambassadorship.
    However, one aspect of this story attracted my interest: they say that Zurabov candidacy came directly from the Kremlin, so that even MID was surprised. To me this sounds like Medvedev is trying to assert some control over Lavrov’s head.
    Best,
    Eugene

  17. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Mike,
    I wish you a wonderful rest of the weekend too.
    I agree with you that Zurabov’s appointment might not turn out as disastrous as it seems today. I’m all for pleasant surprises — especially given the importance of the Ukraine ambassadorship.
    However, one aspect of this story attracted my interest: they say that Zurabov candidacy came directly from the Kremlin, so that even MID was surprised. To me this sounds like Medvedev is trying to assert some control over Lavrov’s head.
    Best,
    Eugene

  18. Perhaps Eugene.
    If so, this relates to how a number of “Kremlin connected” foreign policy elites (if I correctly recall this included Nikonov) were somewhat shocked at the Russian government’s decision to recognize South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence. Babich had a Russia Profile article detailing some of the particulars on this matter.
    This leads to the topic of how the foreign policy of a given country can be essentially taken over by folks who aren’t known for being so foreign policy savvy, while going against a good number of foreign policy elites within their country – which can include folks in government.
    You should have a good deal of ammmo to fire away this week. Enjoy!
    Best,
    Mike

  19. Perhaps Eugene.
    If so, this relates to how a number of “Kremlin connected” foreign policy elites (if I correctly recall this included Nikonov) were somewhat shocked at the Russian government’s decision to recognize South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence. Babich had a Russia Profile article detailing some of the particulars on this matter.
    This leads to the topic of how the foreign policy of a given country can be essentially taken over by folks who aren’t known for being so foreign policy savvy, while going against a good number of foreign policy elites within their country – which can include folks in government.
    You should have a good deal of ammmo to fire away this week. Enjoy!
    Best,
    Mike

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