Friday, June 19, 2009

No Cowboys, Please.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2009 at 12:35 PM


As I mentioned in my column in this week's Flyer, I've been following developments in Iran through Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog. Sullivan's site is providing an aggregation of links, twitter posts, and commentary from the frontlines and from various Middle East experts. It's one of the best uses of the Internet that I've seen, and may provide a model for the future of newsgathering: a combination of personal on-the-scene experiences, real-time news reporting, and analysis — all in one place.

Here's a piece of a commentary that Sullivan published today from a Muslim writer named As'ad AbuKhalil:

I am in no way sympathetic to Moussavi. He is a man who suddenly discovered the virtues of democracy. When he was prime minister back in the 1980s, he presided over a regime far more oppressive than Ahmadinajad's. And why has no Western media really commented on his rhetoric during his own campaign: the man kept saying that he wants a "return" to the teachings of Khomeini. I in no way support a man who wants a "return" to the teachings of Khomeini. But Western media are always quick to pick villains and heroes ...

And that, of course, is exactly what is happening in the U.S., as congressional Republicans use the Iranian unrest to disparage President Obama for not "supporting freedom." But, as anyone who's spent any time watching and reading about the situation would tell you, it's not simple. I'm no expert — far, far from it — but I've read enough in the past week to learn that it's not a simple matter of picking the "side of freedom." It's not black and white. It's not good versus evil. It's past versus future. It's fundamentalism versus secularism. Iran is a country wrestling with itself. As its vast middle-class populace becomes cyber-linked to the world at large, they see what appears to be green grass on the other side of the fundamentalist wall. But the struggle is ultimately theirs, not ours. We have our hands absurdly full in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do we really want to donate our dwindling blood and treasure to another Middle East quagmire?

We tried a president who kept things simple, who believed in swagger, in the cowboy way. We tried a military, interventionist approach in the MIddle East. We're still paying the cost of those follies. This time around, let's give the Iranians a chance to work out their own destiny. And let's grant the Obama administration room to monitor the situation as it unfolds, rather than demanding "action" or offering meaningless grandstanding for domestic political gain. Intervention should only occur to stem a bloodbath. And that may well happen; there's little doubt that a showdown looms. But if there is to be an intervention, it should be done by a (real) international coalition of the willing, not unilaterally.

More, much more, here. Events are in the saddle. In a few hours (Saturday, Iran time), we shall see if Iran is destined for a Tiananmen Square moment of truth.

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