don’t just do something, sit there

mousaviProps on the title go to Eunomia commenter Grumpy Old Man who was commenting on the second of two very strong posts from Daniel Larison regarding the Iranian riots.   Larison worries that too much enthusiasm over these elections will invariably lead to our doing something stupid – some statement or symbolic gesture, such as Obama wearing a green tie (the color of political Islam) out of solidarity and thereby further propagating the myth that he is in fact a Muslim.  Obama’s a sharp guy, though.  I doubt he’d do anything quite so silly, though he really ought to wear a green tie next St. Patrick’s Day.  In any case, as Larison notes:

One of the great problems with a foreign policy that takes global “leadership” as a given is that it seems to compel the U.S. government to have an official view on every event and crisis around the world. The idea that there are events that have nothing to do with us, and which we have no business concerning ourselves with, is so alien to our policymakers that I am fairly sure that it never occurs to them. Certainly, if it ever did, they would dismiss it immediately as unacceptable “inaction” in a “time of crisis.” Discretion sometimes truly is the better part of valor.

Now, I admit to having been very caught up in these elections and the subsequent protests, riots, and so forth.  I felt that a less hostile Iranian regime would put a damper on all this talk of invasion – both in Israel and in the United States.  Then, too, despite my generally non-interventionist stance, I nonetheless feel a great deal of empathy for the people in other parts of the world who feel powerless in their political process.  I sympathize with a populace who cares enough to go to these lengths after what they perceive to be a stolen election.  Once upon a time Americans had this passion, but we’ve lost it along the way.

My enthusiasm, I think, was mainly one of contrasts.  I was enthralled with the flood of information – however scattered and incomplete it may have been – that came in via youtube, twitter and the blogs.  The silence on mainstream outlets was deafening.  The lack of interest in so many of my fellow citizens was startling.  Then again, I remember talking to a young lady just before elections and asking her who she was voting for and she shrugged her shoulders and said she wasn’t interested in politics.  So apathy over Iranian elections is hardly surprising.

Then again, I don’t share in the calls for the U.S. to “do something” or make grand, assumptive statements about the gross fraudulence and freedom-hatred of the Iranian state – though obviously Obama was obliged to say something and I think he handled it quite well.  There is always room to denounce violence.  Whether or not we take the skeptical stance, as Mark has, the fact remains that this is an Iranian affair.  I think solidarity and support should be given by devoting our airwaves to actually reporting on what happens.  That’s enough.  That’s the only way that we can, in the end, form reasonable opinions ourselves.

Between Mark, Daniel, and Sonny you’ve got a pretty strong case for proceeding with caution.  I’d only add that we should also proceed with enthusiasm – a healthy enthusiastic pursuit of information.  So long as we also understand that we are only observing this as it unfolds – not “leading” or “doing” anything.  Enthusiasm for knowledge is exactly what’s led the Dish to such heights these past few days, even if Andrew has made a couple bad policy decisions, and we’re all better informed because of it.   And that’s enough.

Update.

Pat Buchanan is right on the money here:

The dilemma for America is that the theocracy defines itself and grounds its claim to leadership through its unyielding resistance to the Great Satan — the United States — and to Israel.

Nevertheless, Obama, with his outstretched hand, his message to Iran on its national day, his admission that the United States had a hand in the 1953 coup in Tehran, his assurances that we recognize Iran’s right to nuclear power, succeeded. He stripped the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad of their clinching argument — that America is out to destroy Iran and they are indispensable to Iran’s defense.

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10 thoughts on “don’t just do something, sit there

  1. I don’t think you need to worry about the Obama administration doing anything rash to show support for the opposition. The foreign policy team is realistic enough to understand that in the end they will still be dealing with the same Theocracy that is in charge today, regardless of the outcome. Making public gestures, or pronouncements in support of the opposition is only counter productive to future dialogue.

    There’s an old adage in politics that when your opponent is struggling with a scandal the best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut, or risk deflecting attention away from the scandal. I think the same applies here.

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  2. ED, taking Buchanan at face value here is a mistake – exactly the mistake that Daniel warns against. Buchanan says “The dilemma for America is that the theocracy defines itself and grounds its claim to leadership through its unyielding resistance to the Great Satan — the United States — and to Israel.” In fact, the theocracy grounds itself in Islam and in Iran. The US is an issue, certainly, and resistance to western influence is a lovely tool for defining “other’, which Buchanan should well recognize, but here all Buchanan has done is to affirm American Exceptionalism – it’s always about us, isn’t it?

    Except it isn’t.

    Jake

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    • Jake –

      Here’s what you’re missing. What Buchanan is saying is that the regime in Tehran uses us as a propaganda tool by which it can define itself favorably to the Iranian people. He is not saying that it is all about us, but rather that if we do involve ourselves in this mess Tehran will be able to manipulate that to its advantage. That says nothing at all about whether or not this has a thing to do with the West in any way – only that if we open our big mouths and make it so, they’ll spin it to their advantage. What Daniel warns against is seeing all of this through an American prism – but the two theories are not mutually exclusive. The one speaks to perspective, the other to consequence.

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  3. ED, on one level I agree with you – Buchanan is saying stay OUT OF THIS MESS!!! My point is that the language he uses displays his own version of exceptionalism, the very thing he argues against in this particular instance. “Defines itself” and “grounds its claim” are phrases that are ALL about America.

    Being on the right side of an issue is good. Being on the right side of an issue with a warped understanding, less so, but still good.

    Jake

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  4. it really creates dissonance when a racist sleaze like Buchanan says something so obviously sensible. Aside from the fact that he is correct, we actually cannot do anything to effect the situation there. Making grand pronouncements would be for our own consumption. It might make the good people standing up in the streets feel better, but it wouldn’t change the situation. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t root for the fall of Achmenasneezegaurd.

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  5. love the title, miss the green. Was that your doing, E.D.?

    Also, I completely agree with your point about the reporting. While it’s questionable just how receptive even opposition supporters would be to any level of American interference/condemnation, I think it’s pretty clear they at least want to be heard. In Iran and outside of Tehran.

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  6. One day we will all realize that it doesn’t matter what our president or government does, whether we do something, or something other, or nothing – the irrationality inherent in this country, and other countries just as irrational, will portray us negatively for their own purposes. To be honest, though, I agree — it would probably be good if Obama says nothing, but this is not about Obama or our government. The important movement here is below the Theocracy of Iran or the statism of the US, it’s a human movement in a technological, connected age we can all speak to, and many in Iran will hear — what I say is go for freedom with everything available and with all the courage possible — don’t fight for just a different, more friendly form of tyranny. As we take our freedom for granted, show us what it means to have to fight for it when it’s lost.

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  7. When I was a kid, we did the whole “so-and-so found a cocoon” thing for science class. The cocoon never opened, having been excessively handled (it was the 80’s, we were allowed to kill stuff inadvertently) and that was one thing that the teacher explained to us… I seem to recall her also explaining that, if we saw the cocoon opening in the woods, we might see the butterfly really, really struggling to get out but we shouldn’t do *ANYTHING* to help… because the fight to emerge from the chrysalis was a necessary one for the butterfly and taking it away would result in the butterfly’s death despite our best intentions.

    Seeing what’s going on in Iran makes me remember that.

    Seeing what’s going on in Iraq makes me remember that too.

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