freedom and neoconservatism

“Iran’s green awakening may end awfully. But if it succeeds, it will be everything the neocons had hoped to achieve in Iraq – and also a demonstration of neoconservatism’s core fallacy, which is that freedom can be forced on anyone; or somehow force-fed into maturity. It thus vindicates and refutes neoconservatism at the same time.” ~ Andrew Sullivan on the vindication and refutation of neoconservatism

A lot of things jump to mind after reading this post.  First of all, I fail to see how any of neoconservatism’s tenets are actually vindicated by a successful Iranian revolution.  None of the neoconservative strategy would have entered into the overthrow of Ahmadenijad, and perhaps just as importantly, none of the neocons’ goals would have been achieved by such a revolution.  A somewhat more moderate Moussavi in charge of a still theocratic republic still intent on nuclear armament hardly qualifies as a victory for the hawks.

And even if actual reforms did take place and a freer and more democratic and less hostile Iran did emerge, all of it would have happened without U.S. intervention or use of force, further undercutting the neoconservative claim to the necessity of hard power to overthrow dictatorial and anti-democratic regimes.  The fact that Iran could “promote” its own democracy should be enough of a refutation in and of itself to the neoconservative agenda.

But, of course, they will spin it to their advantage no matter how the chips fall.  If the revolution succeeds, then surely they will claim it was thanks to the hard stance of Bush and the Iraq war “trickling down.”   Only later will we learn how insufficient even that success is – and how much more needs to be done to deter the still undemocratic, nuclear ambitious regime in Tehran.  Moussavi will make a less powerful nemesis than his predecessor, of course, but with enough spin-doctoring anyone can be an enemy – even our own President.

If the whole enterprise fails, the lack of a forceful U.S. response will be the culprit, and Obama the culprit in chief.  A more despotic Ahmadenijad will play an even greater villain on the world stage.  Saber rattling of all sorts will ensue.

In other words, this whole Iranian revolt won’t matter at all in the long run, at least to the larger neoconservative vision.  It will be just flawed enough no matter how it turns out to provide a leaping point for further talks of war or sanctions or meddling of one variety or another.  If any silver lining exists it is that a successful “green revolution” would provide diplomatic realists on both sides with a good excuse for reopening diplomatic relations, but I hold very little hope at this point that the revolution will succeed.  And in any case, we should strive toward opening diplomatic relations with Iran no matter who is in power.

I also find myself confused when Andrew writes, “this democratic flowering follows the best version of the neoconservative inheritance, if not its recent descent into a bitter ideology of naked power.”  Does he mean to say that any movement across the globe toward democracy or a free society is in some way a vindication of the philosophy of neoconservatism?  So from this point forward any time a people decide to rise up and fight for something better they are somehow representing a vision loyal to the origins and supposedly uncorrupted version of neoconservatism?

I think this is giving far too much credit even to the best of the neocons.  It seems to me that people of all ideological frameworks would like to see people the world over become freer, more democratic.  This inclination is hardly unique to neoconservatism.  What separates the neocons from the rest is the belief that American power can be used to get to these results, that through force we can spread democracy and peace and Western values to the world.  Thus Iraq, and not Iran, best exemplifies neoconservatism in action, and it is there that the real vindication or refutation will occur.

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62 thoughts on “freedom and neoconservatism

  1. “First of all, I fail to see how any of neoconservatism’s tenets are actually vindicated by a successful Iranian revolution.”

    Well, the argument (one of the legion) that freeing Iraq would lead to people all over the Middle East throwing off their chains might be claimed by the Neocons with regards to Iran.

    The question comes: Would Iran be doing this today had Saddam remained in power (perhaps had the sanctions lifted)? Of course we don’t know… but the argument that it wouldn’t can’t be automatically laughed away.

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  2. I found this over at Obsidian Wings last week, 6/18/09. Hilzoy quotes Daniel Finkelstein:

    “I am a neocon. Given all that has happened over the past ten years, I am sure my PR consultant would advise me to drop this label. But I don’t employ a PR consultant. So, stubbornly, I cling on to the designation. It declares my belief in two things — that in every country in the world, wherever it may be and whatever its traditions, the people yearn for liberty, for free expression and for democracy; and that the spread of liberty and democracy (not necessarily through the barrel of a gun) is the only real way to bring peace to the world. I believe that what we are seeing on the streets of Iran now is a vindication of these neoconservative ideas.”

    Your point E.D. is correct. The spinning to vindicate neocon philosophy is well underway.

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  3. It seems to me that people of all ideological frameworks would like to see people the world over become freer, more democratic. This inclination is hardly unique to neoconservatism. What separates the neocons from the rest is the belief that American power can be used to get to these results, that through force we can spread democracy and peace and Western values to the world.

    I’m not sure. At least not without some serious qualification.

    Daniel L. is today writing–good realist that he is–about potentials for separatist movements coming out of the potential fall of the Iranian regime. Realism, as a school, valorizes stability an intra-national level and assumes anarchy (generally speaking) at the int’l level. Hence the fear of the change of regime leading to anarchy, spillover into the international stage.

    Neoconservatism as it has come to be practiced during the Bush years was as you say about the use of Power. (As in: America, F@#! Yeah!!!).

    What Andrew is talking about I assume is the more foundational view of neoconservatism which is an attack on both realism and liberal internationalism.

    Realism in that it can promote or at least lengthen the lifespan of dictatorships (stability over freedom). Vs. Liberal Internationalism in that neocon. does not assume that simply by extending markets and technology people will be given political rights. [Those are a bit of caricatures of all three schools but for the purposes of what I’m doing here that’s alright].

    Obviously neoconservatissm floundered in its inability to distinguish between liberal rule of law and having elections. Esp but not limited to Iraq. Or worse choosing sides and saying that every time ‘our side’ wins an election it is a victory for freedom (see recent Lebanese elections).

    But at least in principle it doesn’t have to be that way (I think Scott is channeling me at this point). Neoconservatism could distinguish between rule of law/political rights and democratic process. It would then be a school promoting the former across the planet. That would still leave it open to critiques from realists and liberal internationalists–i.e. what about the instability (realists)? And you need markets and middle class before you get rule of law (lib int’l)?

    But it would at least fill a void in that case.

    As it stands now it’s just naked moronic ideology with hackneyed talking points and an unfalsifiable mindset that can turn any event into refutation of its opponents and validation of its own views.

    And you’re right that whether Iran ends up moving in a freer direction is an open question.

    At base, maybe all Andrew means is that when human beings become unafraid of tyrannical governments and stand up it’s something to behold. It’s always better than the reverse–at least in that moment.

    I think one of the problems is that human rights have become so enmeshed with democractic process (and also now ethnic nationalism) that it is essentially impossible to separate them out.

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    • Daniel L. is today writing–good realist that he is–about potentials for separatist movements coming out of the potential fall of the Iranian regime.

      And we should be grateful that he is. What ill does Daniel do to the discourse here, or protesters abroad, by raising these questions? Even someone less skeptical about the potential of this unrest for an improved situation in Iran would be well-advised to make such considerations.

      Realists tend to focus on the impact on regional stability of internal developments for humane, in addition to critical geopolitical, reasons (reasons which Larison constantly reiterates). Hence in their rhetoric they tend to downplay their valorization of the glory of populations rising up internally, in part out of a reasonable skepticism about both their prospects and actual intentions for “greater freedoms,” and in part out of concern for human life (including that of those rising up, as well as that of those potentially peripherally affected down the road. These tendencies are born out of observation of the course of many uprisings throughout history. all in addition to close attention to international effects. It’s not indifference to peoples’ right to seek to change their relationship to their government, but out of awareness of costs and a desire to offer useful analysis to policymakers in places far removed from the events in question that they choose to focus on such aspects of the picture.

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  4. These protests have already heavily damaged the neoconservative goal of bombing Iran into smithereens like Iraq. It’ll be a lot harder to get the American population on board with a military campaign now that we’ve seen Iranians don’t live up to the neocon caricature of bloodthirsty holocaust deniers.

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  5. I can appreciate your confusion.

    The cause of this is quite simple: the Neoconservatives adore strawmen & smears above all things. Their favourite of the former was “Iraqis don’t want democracy.” There were, of course, next to zero people who actually said this. It’s an immensely easy argument to argue against, though, so Neocons made sure to claim as often as they could that this was what their opponents thought.

    (This is the premise that that entire Danny Finkelstein article is based around, incidentally.)

    So now, it turns out that the Iranians want democracy. Who would have thought!! The Neocons declare themselves vindicated, because what they have said all along (people don’t like living under a thuggish theocracy/tyranny) has been demonstrated to be correct.

    Unfortunately, no one argued against this point, besides in their convenient fantasies…

    But, so far as I can determine, that’s the origin of “Neocons Woz Ritt!” meme.

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  6. Chris…

    If the neocons got their way, and Iran was to be invaded, the spin wouldn’t be that the Iranian people are bloodthirsty holocaust deniers.

    The spin would be that the Iranian people were freedom-loving, civic-minded folk just like us, who were being ruthlessly oppressed by a totalitarian regime (composed of bloodthirsty holocaust deiners) and that our military, rather than being seen as occupiers, would be seen as liberators and greeted with roses, etc. and so on. The same line that was peddled in Iraq.

    Of course, an invasion of Iran is probably not forthcoming; Obama isn’t about to engage in such folly without a significant provokation or escalation on the Iranian side; and if the reformation of Iran is indeed successful, there is a good chance that the new government, if nothing else, will be less eager to interfere in Arab/Israeli affairs. Or perhaps not. The whole pretext for war with Iran is that it poses an existential threat to Israel; a claim that might be harder to make if the buffoonish Ahmadenijad is replaced by someone more practiced in the art of realpolitik.

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    • Scotty,
      I’m not so sure. In the run up to the Iraq War, the millions who lived in that country were made essentially invisible by our elite class (gov’t and the media). The once the war was under way, magically the only people getting killed were ‘insurgents’ or some other kind of undesirable.

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  7. President Obama made the following points during his recent speech in Cairo. Perhaps he should be given credit for the events in Iran. Or maybe Obama is just another Neocon, a Socialist-Neocon.

    “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap and share common principles, principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

    “I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years. And much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear. No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.”

    “But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people, the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas. They are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”

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  8. here goes my lunch hour.
    E.D. you and Larison are simply wrong. The reform movement will succeed eventually. The Shi’ia have a long history of civil disobediance. They would never have survived the Umayydd Caliphate if they didn’t, after Imam Ali was martyred. The Greens are using the same techniques that the Islamic revolutionaries used to overthrow the tyrant Shah. And they have a greater weapon than any available to the 1979 revolutionaries. Information.
    The images of Neda Soltani lying in her chadoor and a pool of her own blood will be the doom of the regime. 1.5 billion muslims can look at the pictures and say, my wife, my daughter, my sister. She was devout….she covered. Khameini cant paint her as a troublemaking westernized harlot.

    Like Obama said, the world is watching.

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  9. And here is the truthsay about neocon philosophy. They have bet the bank on the clash of civilizations. Their warped vision of the Iranian situ is freedom lovin’ peoples (just like them) rising up to overturn the mullahs. A cartoon rendering of a complex and ancient problem. The axis of idiots–Steyn, VDH, Malkin, Daniel “crack” Pipes, Robert Spencer have promoted their own version of Islam with Muhammed as the Great Satan. They are joined by the Eurabia Frothers like Spengler/Goldman, who thinkfully have finally been proven to be idiots with actual demographic data.
    Upper right-tailers like Krauthammer don’t actually believe their own schtick….it is just a gypsyhook to pull the left half of the bellcurve into their tent, like “life”, SSM, taxes, etc.
    Make no mistake, the neocons are wholly invested in portraying Islam as the ultimate evil. The war on terror really WAS a war on al-Islam. That is why Obama speaking to dar al harb drives them into a frenzy.

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  10. E.D……would you have bet on MLK?
    This is just the same.
    A civil rights movement defined by religious non-violent protest.
    Only the religion is al-Islam, and not christianity.

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      • James,
        Rigged elections would fly in the face of “justice” don’t you think?

        In any case, I think it’s unquestionably true that Iranians are looking for a say in their government. That doesn’t mean they want a Western style democracy.

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            • I don’t much care. If they’re protesting over their votes being ignored, then they’re protesting in favour of democracy. What variety of it exactly they’re after is of little importance.

              (I personally prefer proportional systems hybridized to allow for local representation over FPTP, the ideal being the AV+ suggested by the Jenkins reform over a decade ago but sadly implemented nowhere, but that’s a matter of minutiae. I’ve never seen someone riot over electoral reform).

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            • No one does deny it. It’s a hang-up of yours that you assume those who see a movement for democracy in Iran (myself not necessarily among them) are ipso facto asserting that Iranians would desire a “Western-style” democracy. I think it’s obvious that they wouldn’t, but far from obvious that given free reign to design a new polity-government balance, they wouldn’t opt for a far greater degree of democracy.

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            • From a Wiki article on the occupation of Japan following the war:

              “In Japan, the position was generally referred to as GHQ (General Headquarters), as SCAP also referred to the offices of the occupation, including a staff of several hundred U.S. civil servants as well as military personnel. Some of these personnel effectively wrote a first draft of the Japanese Constitution, which the Diet then ratified after a few amendments. Australian, British, Indian, Canadian, and New Zealand forces under SCAP were organized into a sub-command known as British Commonwealth Occupation Force.”

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          • Perhaps a better term, than “western style”, would be the observation that the Iranian resistance doesn’t object to things like a state religion, or even many of the appartati of the Islamic Republic. I don’t think a pluralistic, secular society like the US, most of Western Europe, or Japan is coming to Iran anytime soon. Whether the current structures of the Islamic Republic will survive intact, or with power weakened, remains to be seen.

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  11. You have to wonder what they make of the fact that the protesters slogan is “Allahu Akbah!”…

    I heard one rightwing fundie at Hotair say that was “ironic”.
    They are capabale of vast confirmational bias.

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  12. “What separates the neocons from the rest is the belief that American power can be used to get to these results, that through force we can spread democracy and peace and Western values to the world. Thus Iraq, and not Iran, best exemplifies neoconservatism in action, and it is there that the real vindication or refutation will occur.”

    I do not believe the two events can be separated; these things don’t happen in a vacuum. The War in Iraq has had both positive and negative effects in the region; the negative ones have been discussed extensively at this point. But I find that the Iranian regime (assuming the military actually has firm control in the country) would have crushed these protests quickly if the Iranian government’s neighborhood enemy (Saddam) was still in power, and sitting on their border. The rise of Iran in the region is not a single directional trajectory; with their increased influence and role in the region means the inner workings of the state and the political society within it change too. So while the Iraq invasion has strengthened the Iranian position in their local, I believe these changes in Iran would not have come to be in the 2002 regional order.

    Nor is this to say the “neocons” you speak of are offering the correct way forward in dealing with Iran now (I personally think Obama has generally taken the right approach, and that folks like Krauthammer are wrong on this).

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    • Roland – Certainly there have been disagreements across the wider spectrum of “neocons” as you point out. Totten has been great. I think it is much too hard to say what would be different in the world without the Iraq war – would this have happened? Something else? Something worse, better? Too many variables exist.

      My larger point is that it doesn’t matter. It will be spun to fit the agenda, whatever that may be.

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      • Sure, it will be spun to fit someone’s world view. I see the same thing with Obama followers who believe all of this change in Iran is due to his speech in Cairo or his “conciliatory” nature. An argument I find highly unlikely.

        For better or worse however, the removal of Saddam’s regime and the elections in Iraq did change things in the ME. It is impossible to specify which variable in the whole equation is the most important at this moment in time, but I would be inclined to place the Iraq War high on the list of variables in creating the conditions in Iran, and not necessarily because Iranian protesters are looking to Iraq as a model. It has more to do with changes in structural power in the region due to the war.

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        • You can be of that opinion if you want, but until you offer some plausible theories for how it worked, along with some evidence to support those, you’re just making clear that you have a particular inclination with regard to how to interpret these events.

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          • “you’re just making clear that you have a particular inclination with regard to how to interpret these events.”

            It sure is, but anyone offering any kind of argument as to the cause of the rebellion is speculating, including everyone in this thread who believes the events in Iran are a refutation of the “neocon” persuasion.

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            • Neoconservatism as I understand it wants things like what is happening in Iran to happen, but prescribes the use of Western power to make it happen. That is E.D.’s point about how many people can support movements for freedom but are not neoconservatives. Perhaps you have a different understanding of neoconservatism, but my belief is that if you do you are wrong. So to say Iran does not refute the ideology, you must be saying that intervention somewhere (presumably Iraq) brought this about — and you say you are ‘strongly inclined’ to believe just that. Except you provide no evidence or reasonable theory about why we should believe that as well. So your claim that all points of view are equally speculative here — including that neoconservatism is refuted — begs the question.

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              • Shorter: we’re not saying we know exactly what is driving the protesters, but that doesn’t mean that absent evidence, your view holds any sway whatsoever. You must prove your contention — absent proof we are entitled to dismiss it.

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                • And you support this thesis with what exactly?

                  Again, I won’t go to bat for “neoconservatives” as a whole, but I don’t know many that argue military intervention is required to make change in all (if even most) situations. The Iranian state, its culture, and its political institutions are clearly different than those under Saddam’s regime; anyone who argues the same approach is required in both states is a fool. If that is the neocon line, then yes, they are wrong. I find that to be a strawman however.

                  But you can’t have it both ways on the Iraq War. We have been told by “realists” and the like that Iran’s position in the ME has changed significantly since the invasion, and to deny these huge changes in the region due to the war shows a rather selective way of assessing the international political system. If anything, I am relying on a realists understanding of power in the international system to make my claim that an Iran that is much more secure in its region (with its rival in Iraq gone) that enough clerics and politicians have tolerated and even accepted the recent uprising, without the fear that their neighbour could take advantage of the situation.

                  Now, is the war in Iraq the most important variable? I can’t say, but probably not. But to avoid the verifiable changes in the region caused by it would be foolish. You argue that my position is not one born out of any evidence, but I have yet to see you make a scientific claim that the intervention in Iraq is irrelevant to what’s going on in Iran. Looking back at changes in Europe in the 20s and 30s, and then in Asia after the second World War, history often shows that major structural and political changes in one state greatly affects the inner workings of the neighbouring states.

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                  • And you support this thesis with what exactly?

                    My understanding of neoconservatism, logic, and the rules of discourse. You could assert that the moon is made of goat cheese and demand that we all say that it’s an open question because we can’t prove in blog comments that it’s not true. The guy who has the theory has to support it, it’s not everyone else’s task to refute the notion until a case is made. As I said, you can obviously hold the inclination to see things a certain way, but you can’t demand equal respect for your position until you offer something to support it.

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                    • I have presented you with more in the way of an argument than you have. You can crow on and on about logic and scientific theories, but until you have presented one, I will take your comments as little more than unverified assumptions masquerading as a theory. Hilariously, you make statements like this “It’s a hang-up of yours that you assume those who see a movement for democracy in Iran (myself not necessarily among them) are ipso facto asserting that Iranians would desire a “Western-style” democracy. I think it’s obvious that they wouldn’t, but far from obvious that given free reign to design a new polity-government balance, they wouldn’t opt for a far greater degree of democracy.” Again, you make base this on what? What evidence are you using to support any of your claims? I think your understanding of the rules of discourse are lacking when it comes to your own arguments.

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  13. This is appropriately uncompromising wrt neoconservatism (whatever n.c. might be in an ideal world of Mr. Dierkes’ creation), and vindicates everyone else’s (including realists’) non-ideological, non-interventionist desire to see people throughout the world achieve freedom in accordance with their cultural and societal make-up.

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  14. Well..you guyz know I dig teh empirical data. Like this guy says….

    “OK, let me see if I’ve got this right. Since Barack Obama has taken the presidential oath of office we have witnessed: a) Hezbollah lose a shoo-in election in Lebanon, b) Pakistan begin serious efforts to control the Taliban and al Qaeda elements inside its borders, c) Netanyahu of Israel mumble support about a two state solution and rethink settlements and, d) A major awakening of the Iranian citizenry against the heavy-handedness of the mullahs. What hasn’t changed? The simple-minded thuggery of the Right when it comes to foreign policy (and Grover Norquist, someone should gently remind him that it’s 2009, not 1989). They have long preferred a modified Teddy Roosevelt approach. Speak loudly and wail away with the biggest stick you can find. I don’t know if all this is the results of one speech in Cairo by the President but if it is I hope he gives a second, and soon,” – Carl Owen, Politico.

    And the truth is also, Bush is STILL universally loathed and despised in MENA. We had zero credibilty as promotors of “democracy” because we tried to impose it by force.

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    • As for empirical data, following the Iraq War, the Bush administration got Libya to give up its nuclear program, and Lebanon threw out Syria. Since these things are empirical and all, it surely means the loathed and despised Bush is responsible for them and should be given credit.

      Or heck, Reagan gave a speech where he said “tear down this wall” in 1987, and a few years later, the Wall fell! Surely those words were the cause!

      Or maybe all these events are more complicated and sorted than that.

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      • Obama gave a speech, then Iran erupted. Why is it the Iraq war then and not the more proximal speech that is the cause? I broadly support Obama’s approach to international affairs; I’m inclined to want make that claim. But I don’t. Why? Because I have no way to prove the causality. If I made the claim anyway, you would have every right to treat it as untrue.

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      • There is always the cost-viabilty question. The negative results of the Grand Misadventure of the Manifest Destiny of Judeoxian democracy in MENA far outweighed any benefits accrued from bullying Libya and Syria.
        Let me count the ways….
        1. Destroyed our credibility as democracy promotors by attempting to force democracy.
        2. Cost 1 trillion taxpayer dollars and 4228 AMERICAN soldier’s lives and around a cool million Iraqi citizen lives.
        3. Gave the local tyrants a cool propaganda opportunity to keep their boots on their populations throats.
        4. Played right back into Operation Ajax fearmongering, were the US was, indisputably, guilty as sin.
        5. Made a recruitment tool for Al-Qaeda.
        6. Debased our national character with torture.
        I could go on….but I don’t need to, do I?

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  15. I have presented you with more in the way of an argument than you have. You can crow on and on about logic and scientific theories, but until you have presented one, I will take your comments as little more than unverified assumptions masquerading as a theory. Hilariously, you make statements like this “It’s a hang-up of yours that you assume those who see a movement for democracy in Iran (myself not necessarily among them) are ipso facto asserting that Iranians would desire a “Western-style” democracy. I think it’s obvious that they wouldn’t, but far from obvious that given free reign to design a new polity-government balance, they wouldn’t opt for a far greater degree of democracy.” Again, you make base this on what? What evidence are you using to support any of your claims? I think your understanding of the rules of discourse are lacking when it comes to your own arguments.

    I’m not advancing any theory of what these events are connected to. I’m reacting to the one you have advanced without evidence. I am saying that if you want to say the uprising in Iran is dependent on the Iraq war, that is yours to prove. Until you offer us a reason to think there is a connection, we do not have to treat the possibility that there is one on equal footing with the assumption that there isn’t. We are not under the obligation to prove a negative. Otherwise you could just advance any old crazy idea and we’d all be stuck disproving or having to accept it.

    I don’t mind continuing this debate with Roland, because I think it is instructive, but I think it might benefit from some outside perspective. Takers?

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    • Yes, this discussion is an important one, but I am by no means asking you to prove a negative, or to prove things on my behalf. The problem with your premise and the line of reasoning you are using in this discussion, is that you are selectively applying your own rules. Take a look at this comment:

      “This is appropriately uncompromising wrt neoconservatism (whatever n.c. might be in an ideal world of Mr. Dierkes’ creation), and vindicates everyone else’s (including realists’) non-ideological, non-interventionist desire to see people throughout the world achieve freedom in accordance with their cultural and societal make-up”
      Not a logical and scientific argument. Clearly, I can’t prove the Iraq War has contributed to the recent unrest, anymore than you know that Obama’s speech or conciliatory nature created it. Both of which are unverifiable at the moment, yet you none the less jump to the later based on your ideological persuasion. An acceptable tactic, but it undercuts your argument that my point is without validity until it can be proven irrefutably.
      My argument (that a nation state may experience internal changes if a rival threatening state is removed from the equation) has a firmer grounding in history than the argument that a foreign leader’s speech caused the upheaval. I would put the weight of most IR theory (both of the realist and institutionalist variety) behind my assertion that power changes in a region can create political ramifications in neighboring states. Many “realists” were content to affirm Iran was emboldened by the invasion and chaos in Iraq, but are now unwilling to accept that it may also produce effects within the Iranian state that are unwanted by the regime? Selective application of the facts I say.
      But at this point, I can not prove that it explains why Iran is in a state of flux, so I will cede some ground on this front.

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      • Correction:

        I misstated your argument Michael. You wrote “Obama gave a speech, then Iran erupted. Why is it the Iraq war then and not the more proximal speech that is the cause? I broadly support Obama’s approach to international affairs; I’m inclined to want make that claim. But I don’t. Why? Because I have no way to prove the causality. If I made the claim anyway, you would have every right to treat it as untrue.”

        I meant to say that your sympathies for that argument show an ideological framework you view world affairs to, in the same way that my arguments about power relationships show mine. Not that you argued Obama’s speech was the source of the rebellion.

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        • I said I’d like to be able to believe that, and then proclaim it to be the case, but neither is so. And in any case, that was merely an example to illustrate the point, made long after you began your demands that I provide evidence for a claim I wouldn’t have at that time been able to identify, because I hadn’t made it. If you are now saying that mere wishfulness is the extent of your position vis a vis a connection between our Iraq war and Iran today (as opposed to previously, when your claim was that we shouldn’t downplay the likelihood of it), then we have no dispute.

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        • Also, I never said anything had to be proven indisputably. I merely said that a case made of some evidence and plausible reasoning has to made for any claim for its advocate to have any reasonable expectation of receiving attention for it.

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      • You are right that I can’t dismiss out of hand as impossible your theory about the emboldened Iranian state. If that were the extent of what you had been arguing, then you would be right to point out that I was making an assumption as much as you were. But you advanced your view as a statement of necessary conditions. Here is a reminder of what you wrote:

        I do not believe the two events can be separated; these things don’t happen in a vacuum. The War in Iraq has had both positive and negative effects in the region; the negative ones have been discussed extensively at this point. But I find that the Iranian regime (assuming the military actually has firm control in the country) would have crushed these protests quickly if the Iranian government’s neighborhood enemy (Saddam) was still in power, and sitting on their border. The rise of Iran in the region is not a single directional trajectory; with their increased influence and role in the region means the inner workings of the state and the political society within it change too. So while the Iraq invasion has strengthened the Iranian position in their local, I believe these changes in Iran would not have come to be in the 2002 regional order.

        You did not say that there was a theory that could not be dismissed. You stated that one event was a necessary condition for the next. You now say that realists should acknowledge that the Iraq war “may also produce effects within the Iranian state that are unwanted by the regime.” I can acknowledge that possibility.

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            • To be honest, I’m still not clear where you stand on the question of a connection to the war. I’ve been clear that the speech is not the cause — that’s why I used the idea as an example of something I could claim, but be wrong about. Politicians like to take credit for things. I’d like to think that here we’re more interested in what is actually the case.

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              • This will likely get us back into well traveled territory at this point, but I do think the collapse of Saddam’s Iraqis a contributing factor to changes in Iran. Again, This is based on historical examples where as a rival state is removed for a regional equation, and it then produces changes both in that regional system, but also effects the inner workings of the states in that system. Take the end of the Napoleonic wars. After France’s defeat and the end of its control over Europe, Britain was able to rise to become a dominate power in the region (and the world). The drastic change in regional power politics also had a profound affect on the inner workings of the state and its society.

                I am doing the easy end of IR analysis however; looking at events that have already happened and finding similarities between them. It is much more difficult to make predictions as to what an act in the international system will actually produce before it occurs. If a neocon theorist were to say “Removal of Saddam’s regime (X) plus democratic Iraqi government (Y) = democratic revolution in Iran (Z)”, they may see some vindication now, but it could have easily (or could still produce) a completely different result. So I don’t know if their prediction is a strong one, but saying a change in the regional power structure produces changes in how neighbouring states operate seems pretty sound historical.

                The regime changes in Iraq, considering the country’s history and proximity to Iran, is simple to large a variable to avoid. Therefore, I put weight and emphasis on it.

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                • You seem be saying that the reason you believe the two things are connected is that they happened in proximity to each other; it is therefore possible that they are connected; and because it is possible you choose to believe it is so. You cite previous history as a reason to make this choice. My response is that that the history you have in mind (if it is applicable — you provide no specific examples) is there for you to appeal to precisely because scholars painstakingly over time amassed all available evidence and thereby concluded that in some situations a bit like what is going on now, something like what you describe happened. Certainly you’re not claiming every case in history has gone that way — the most you can argue is that scholars have shown it can happen. But the events in Iran are not immune to the same kind fine-grained analysis over time of the actions and motivations of the players involved. There will be a time, perhaps, when enough is known about these events to say definitively that they were connected or not. But at the moment, not enough is known to do that. You are clearly jumping to your conclusion.

                  You have said that I need to offer evidence for my skepticism of your theory. But my point all along has been that the way inquiry works is that the person who advances a theory needs to offer some evidence in order to be in a position to expect it to be refuted. There is no reason to give even enough credence to a theory to bother trying to refute it until there is evidence. Unspecified historical analogy is not evidence for a theory. So while neither of us can say for sure what the cause is (I am not even trying), it is not the case that skepticism of your claim is equivalent to advancing a separate claim of my own.

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                  • “But at the moment, not enough is known to do that. You are clearly jumping to your conclusion.”

                    Yes, but that is what making calls on social sciences entails as the events unfold in front of you. Perhaps enough information will be made available and pondered in the years to come of these events, and maybe they won’t. But if we at an internet blog are discussing an issue that is developing as we speak, we will go with the historical examples and information available. Otherwise, why even come to talk about this at all?

                    “Unspecified historical analogy is not evidence for a theory.”

                    You are right, and to be honest, I am not going to be putting the effort into going back into the books and pulling those historical documents here. My laziness is not a defense, but when it comes to discussing current events on a blog, I am not going to dedicate that effort.

                    I think you will find that every post on this site as well as most articles and pieces on current events is not going to contain the level of detail you are requesting in a comments section. Perhaps it is a greater criticism of this type of debate, but if you went through all of the threads here, you would likely encounter the same.

                    Nor do I think you have to believe anything I say on any of this; you can surely say all of this is hogwash. But I am more interested in hearing people’s theories on why things are happening in Iran, and while it’s fine you are holding off on making any kind of assessment, I am more interested in getting someone’s perspective on this and the reasons they came to their conclusion.

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                    • Roland: This seems like an interesting point. If I understand you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that assuming the realist theory that the Iraq War emboldened Ahmadinejad is accurate, that emboldening ==> Ahmadinejad and Khamenei overreach both domestically and regionally ==> enfuriated Iranian public ==> additional overreach (ie, election fraud) ==> mass protests. This sounds plausible, if not remotely how democracy was “supposed” to spread from Iraq. In each step, the preceding events are presumably just a significant contributing factor, not the sole contributing factor.

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  16. That is basically it Mark, but I wouldn’t say that it necessarily infuriated the regime or forced them to over-extend. Just that these changes in the region cause political ramifications. Even though I hate to take the “shit happens” approach, like my discussion with Michael shows, I don’t know how to weigh the variables we can observe, let alone the ones that we don’t even recognize yet. So I don’t know why this is happening. But I think it would be foolish to not take the large variable (a regime change in Iran’s rival state and on its border) as irrelevant.

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    • I didn’t mean to imply that you had suggested that, just that if, for purposes of this discussion, you assume the realist critique to be correct, then you still have to conclude that the Iraq war played some kind of not-insignificant role in the events in Iran right now. This does not provide any sort of justification for the Iraq war, and I don’t think you’re suggesting it does (whether or not you support the Iraq war for other reasons). It’s just that it’s an element that can’t be ignored, whether or not the most proximate cause of the anti-Ahmadi movement is essentially domestic.

      I’m pretty damn near a non-interventionist, but I think your point is tough to refute.

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      • I think you both have to acknowledge that when the claim Roland is making has the kind of potential for seriously affecting top-line political and policy debates in the future (ie, should we launch more wars of choice justified in part on domino theories of the spread of freedom) should it take hold, there is every reason to hold it to higher evidentiary standards than any other average claim made in a comments section.

        Now before Roland jumps down my throat for suggesting he is advancing his own domino theory, let me be clear I am not. I understand that he views what he is describing as unintended consequences. But if his claim were to be accepted as true in the popular imagination, it could serve as a substantial piece of the argument of those who might do that in the future. That isn’t reason to hardheadedly deny the possibility of what Roland suggests, but it is plenty of reason to challenge him to show evidence for it.

        To show evidence, it is not necessary for him to dig up historical tracts showing that what he is describing is possible, even plausible. I am stipulating that the literature establishes that such things happen. And even on the face of it, I stipulate that it is at least not a nonsensical speculation (Mark provides one possibility for how it might be fleshed out). So evidence for the broad historical theory is not what I am asking of Roland, but rather I am asking for some evidence from the ongoing events to which Roland is here trying to apply said historical/IR insight, showing that what those theories (I would surmise very cautiously and in a highly hedged way) predict is in fact going on in the case in question. If that sounds like a tall order, I have sympathy for that view, as I pointed out above that much of the information we have thus far is anectdotal and unreliable. That said, there is a lot of information coming out of Iran, and if Roland is inclined, he is free to comb through it to see if he can detect pieces or trends that might support his contention.

        Lastly, I am not sure how to treat the point that this is, after all, just Roland’s belief. That is the case for scholars everywhere. Some share the broad conensus on a question, others are outliers. But none withdraw their contentions from challenge by the scholarly community and still expect respect and acceptance for their views. Saying, “This is what I believe” in a public forum, and then following that up with “but I don’t expect you all to believe it too, so I am going to decline to offer evidence for my contentions” is simply to fold your tent and go home, with the effect being that you never spoke. I suppose if all Roland is asking is to be left alone and allowed to believe what he believes, we should allow him to do that. But posting your views in a public forum and tenaciously holding to them belies the notion that that is Roland’s intention. It is Roland’s right to assert his belief in an idea in a public space and stick by it as long as he likes, but by doing so the implication is that others should believe it as well. The alternatives are for him to say that he’s okay with us not believing the idea as long as we’re okay not believing the truth, or else admit that his idea is not true to the point where we should believe it.

        To sum up, Roland has asserted (and I for the purpose of the argument am stipulating) that there is sufficient IR literature to justify inquiring into whether the instability in Iraq created by the U.S. invasion led to or contributed to Iranian citizens rising (or being able to rise) against the certification of a disputed election in their country. What he has not offered is any evidence from the contemporary events to show to what extent that theoretical possibility is in fact a concrete reality. Absent any such evidence (he needn’t prove anything beyond doubt), my view is that extreme skepticism (pending evidence) is justified — on the merits in any case, but especially so given the highly political (politicizable?) nature of the claim he is making. That view, I admit, reflects my own judgement and can’t be shown to be inherently correct or mistaken.

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