I appreciate Andrew Sullivan’s series of links on the Iranian election (both today and over the last week or so). So I don’t want to be too harsh here but this sticks in my craw a bit.
All reports suggest a massive turn-out in Iran, itself an indication of democracy’s potential there.
Democracy and even democratic culture is not ‘potentially there’. There is and has been a real democratic culture in Iran for some time. Like other democratic elections some years are more compelling than others (say in the US 2008 versus 1996). There’s also potential for fraud (see US 2000). The potential that lies in Iran is that it could very easily become the first secular liberal (rule of law) democracy in the Muslim Middle East. The democracy that exists there is simply subsumed by an illiberal parasitic theocratic authoritarian state. But within the relative levels it has, the Iranian democracy usually functions as a democracy. Ahmadinejad for example got a number of his cabinet appointees shot down by the Iranian Parliament who refused to confirm them–and it stuck. If the clerical authoritarian state were to fall, the already existing democratic/liberal frame could rise to the surface in Iran. Compare the Iranian situation to say the Palestinians who also have a strong democratic culture but set within a completely illiberal framework (that’s not imposed by a clerical regime but just is the water it swims in, whether Fatah or Hamas).
Maybe liberal democracy is what Andrew means, and if so then we agree. But I’m not entirely sure. It may seem like I’m hairsplitting but I’m not. It’s very important that the West grasp that if the Reformers win, that doesn’t automatically mean they will be pro-Western (or pro-US policy in the region). They could still go for a nuclear deterrent capacity and want talks at the same time as relaxing in some areas and opening up in others. I think Andrew still has a little too much of his neo-con left in him.
Update I: (Day Later). See my followup (mini)post on the elections.