Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tehran's Tiananmen?

One of my favorite sources for China news, China Digital Times, has a new post that looks at the various comparisons between what is happening in Iran today and the events in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, leading with the piece on this subject in the NYT today.  It also analyzes how events in Iran are playing in China.  I was particular interested in the piece by Evan Osnos in the New Yorker on how the Chinese blogosphere is commenting on events in Iran: 

There is an engaged, relatively mainstream population that is thinking seriously about what Iran’s experience says about China. Several bloggers, for instance, are using the unrest in Iran as a way to benchmark China’s movement toward democracy. Wu Jiaxiang, an intellectual and former researcher in the General Office of the Communist Party Central Committee wrote the other day:

For over ten years, Iran’s presidential elections have had turnout exceeding seventy percent, so much so that the closing hours had to be delayed until midnight. What does that show? It means that indifference towards democracy comes from the lack of democracy. There is no excuse for non-democracy.

Mao Anlin, another blogger, goes one step further:

Even Iran, such a religious country, has had so many years of elections. Candidates can squabble, the results can be questioned, the legislature can talk, and Khamenei can keep right on working. We [in China] insist on appointing every single candidate in advance, even for the chief of Macau. This is more than a little lagging behind Iran.

This is fascinating - Chinese "establishment" commentariat noticing that China has a democracy deficit IN COMPARISON TO IRAN.  

If nothing else, this kind of thing continues to give me some hope that the cramped realism that most policymakers fall into when it comes to China will prove as narrow and, ultimately, incorrect as it did predicting both political events in Iran and how US policy should look.
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Monday, June 22, 2009

Rot of western civilization?

Today's WSJ has a couple of thought-provoking pieces.  First from the opinion pages, the editors comment on how the reality of dealing with rogue regimes has not conformed to the much-vaunted "realist" theory of Obama's foreign policy approach, particularly dealing with rogue regimes such as North Korea, which has increased its nuclear sabre-rattling in recent months, and Iran, where the regime Obama planned to negotiate with is facing a massive internal crisis of legitimacy.  Key quotes: 

Regarding Iran, Mr. Obama will also have to rethink his hopes for a grand nuclear bargain with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This diplomatic desire explains the President's cautious refusal last week to take sides in the post-election standoff -- or, as a Washington Post headline put it, quoting Administration sources, "Obama Seeks Way to Acknowledge Protesters Without Alienating Ayatollah." It's impossible to imagine the Reagan Administration whispering something similar about Soviet dissidents and the Politburo.

Going forward, Mr. Obama will have to consider that any negotiations with the current government will lend it legitimacy at the expense of the Iranian people. That would be precisely the kind of "meddling" in Iran's politics that Mr. Obama says he wants to avoid. Opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi might not take any less a hard line on Iran's nuclear program than the current government, but he does now represent the aspirations of millions of Iranians. And there is even less chance that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei will bend on nukes now that nationalism and thuggish power are their main claims to legitimacy. 
It is endlessly fascinating to me that the "neo-realists" of the Obama left as well as the traditional Kissingerian realpolitik types manage to get themselves labeled as such, when so much of what they propose is based on a binary, Manichean world view that completely discounts for the fuzzyheaded forces that actually tend to drive history.  These "realists" are only able to see things in the most linear terms and are always surprised when people make the irrational (as they see it) choice to risk their own lives and comfort to stand up to tyranny.  

The second piece talks about how western corporations -- Siemens and Nokia to be exact -- helped the Iranian regime build their technological capabilities to curtail internet freedom and monitor those using the web.  Apparently the Iranian regime is able to control and monitor content more comprehensively than the Chinese.  I know these people are in business to make money and I am a committed capitalist, but come on!  This is so wrong.  Nokia actually justified it by saying they were helping provide people the ability to communicate.  Wow.
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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Message from friend in Iran

I just got a message from my friend who lives in Kermanshah, Iran, which is in the western part of the country near the border with Iraq.  Further proof that this is not just Tehran, but is a nationwide uprising. 

To be honest people are under pressure,no body knows the reality,the presidential election results are clearly manipulated and there is no reference to investigate,police attacks protesters and there is no more permission for any kind of meetings,so many young boys and girls have been injured and killed( I saw myself the funeral ceremony of a young boy around 22 ,killed by police of Kermanshah on last Wednesday,his family were under sever control of hidden security agents and no body could not take photo or ask sth)
news from Iranian authority is not true up to 90 percent,and sat channels are blocked,and SMS system still is off,Internet is censored and access to so many websites is not possible and speed is minimum,
Here is the deepest point of hell,))
We dont know want will happen,
generally life is normal but there is no F...dom here ,
Sorry 4 delay ,Internet has lots of problems during these days.
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

While Tehran Burns...

It has been both inspiring and difficult to watch events from Iran today.  The regime is striking back as predicted, but knowing this was going to happen doesn't make it any easier to watch.  

My friend Christian Whiton has co-authored another piece, today for Time.  Some key quotes (emphasis added by me): 

As for the notion that American silence is unhelpful to reformers, this simply contradicts historical experience. Successful movements to alter authoritarian and totalitarian regimes almost always depend on internal dissent backed by strong international support. Those key factors are often required to get a regime's enablers — including domestic security forces — to lose confidence and eventually succumb.

Time and again and around the world — from as recently as Tibet in 2008, to Egypt in 2005, to Tiananmen in 1989 — the prospects of reform dim considerably without international support. In fact, we know of no modern democratic evolution or revolution that has succeeded without some support and pressure from the west.

The job of an American president is not that of a history professor, but an actor in history. As masses march and bullets fly this weekend, a timeless question cannot be avoided. Even if we cannot know or control the outcome, we have a responsibility, through our actions as a nation, to answer clearly the question: whose side are we on?

 The statement issued by the White House today is getting closer.  Maybe by Monday, he'll be there.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Amazing Iran word cloud

This twitter word cloud is one of the coolest things I have seen in relation to the Green Revolution.  Notice that the biggest words are "Iran", "please" or some variation, "help" and "people".  CNN is apparently so large because of the complaints about their pathetic coverage.   Sphere: Related Content

Aung San Suu Kyi's Birthday and Iran, con't.

Today is the birthday of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  She will "celebrate" this birthday like she has so many others in confinement; the major difference this year is that she is confined to Burma's notorious Insein Prison, rather than her home.  My thoughts and prayers are with her today.  Having been privileged to spend nearly two days with The Lady, as she is known in Burma, I feel personally connected to her.  My meetings with her took place in the summer of 2002, when she was enjoying a brief period of freedom from her long-running house arrest.  She was focused on rebuilding her political party, which had been decimated by years of unrelenting pressure by Burma's brutal military regime.  When she traveled around the country, she was greeted by throngs of Burmese who braved the regime's network of spies and torturers to reassert their desire for freedom and democracy.  In person, Suu was warm and funny and almost comically small - she probably weighs 90 pounds wet - but you could sense the steel that lay beneath her elegant exterior.  The regime certainly has never been fooled by the pretty flowers she wears in her hair and her delicate manners - they know she is a force and fear her as such.  She is an inspirational person by any measure and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to know her even a little.  I hope that I will someday have the chance to renew our acquaintance under better circumstances.  For today, I am just going to light some incense and say a prayer for her well-being.

Which brings us to Iran.  David Brooks has written a good piece in the NYT today about the US response to the situation in Iran.  Money quote:

Foreign policy experts are trained in the art of analysis, extrapolation and linear thinking. They simply have no tools to analyze moments that are non-linear, paradigm-shifting and involve radical shifts in consciousness. As a result, they almost invariably underestimate how rapid change might be and how quickly it might come. As Michael McFaul, a democracy expert who serves on the National Security Council, once wrote: “In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.”

Worth thinking about as you listen to the "experts" talk about how we need to be "pragmatic" and "realistic" about what is happening.  While it is true that we should never get ahead of the protesters and the Iranian people, we most certainly need to make it clear to everyone that we are supporting them in their aspirations.  Moreover, as my former colleagues pointed out in the Wall Street Journal a few days back, there continues to be broad plain between the carefully worded statements coming from the Administration and the outer limits of appropriate support for these brave men and women.  While I hope that my former colleagues at the State Department are getting this right and doing the needful, my painful experience with them causes me to have grave doubts.  I had a ring-side seat on our failure to do everything we could to support Burma's democracy movement during the Saffron Revolution in 2007, a case where our public rhetoric far outpaced our private actions.  Again, I am hoping that the reverse is happening this time - the cautious remarks are masking a vigorous effort to figure out what needs to be done and do it - but the institutional bureaucratic barriers to this are high and the forces of the status quo are particularly tenacious among the Arabists who populate the professional ranks of the United States foreign policy community.    Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Amazing Iranians

This is my new blog.  I'll be writing about human rights and democracy, foreign policy -- especially in Asia, US politics, and whatever else catches my attention.  The topic de jour is what is happening in Iran.  I am totally obsessed with what these brave people are doing and can't stop reading about them (to the detriment of things I am supposed to be working on).  I don't have any illusions about the situation there, but I am still finding it totally inspiring and amazing.  I don't know how anyone could not be inspired by people who have the courage to walk out on the streets and face down thugs with guns, strictly because of an idea or a principle. 

It has also been fascinating to see how this has become a domestic political issue because of President Obama's response (or non-response, depending on who you ask).  I personally think he needs to start going over the heads of the mullahs and talk directly to the people of Iran, and do so in personal language about universal values of freedom and human rights, without all the lawyerly weasel words that sound like hedging even when they aren't.   Even the French have had better statements than BHO - not good!  Plus, if the mullahs are going to blame the US for the protests regardless of what we say or do, we should at least have the spine to stand up for the people who are being shot and beaten in the streets.  Should be interesting to see how this develops both there and here.

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