If you’ve ever read Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, you’ll understand why I’m a bit sheepish about offering pronouncements on issues related to international affairs. (A number of heroic former students are now serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, while I am safely ensconced in my prep school bunker, in Canada no less.)
But the Supreme Leader’s announcement on Friday that Iran’s election was fair (Whew — for a second there I thought we might have had a problem!), prompts two thoughts:
First, some conservatives have criticized President Obama for offering what they see as a tepid response to what’s going on in Iran. But if the president had blasted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and enthusiastically supported the uprising, theocratic hard liners there would surely have used this as an excuse to blame the West for all that is happening in Tehran. By taking a more nuanced approach and calling for the Iranian government to respect the rights of dissenters, the president is setting the kind of measured tone that will, in the long run, prove to be more effective than an impassioned plea for political freedom.
Second, after watching the throngs of Iranian citizens marching peacefully through the streets of Tehran, I found myself wondering how different this scene might have looked if hard liners had had their way with American foreign policy. If the USA had invoked the “right” to first strike and bombed Iran’s nuclear facility, it’s difficult to imagine Mr. Ahmadinejad’s having to endure anything close to a contested election. It would be even harder to imagine a growing democratic movement in Iran.
By the way, is it possible that Iraq’s experiment with democracy has had anything at all to do with the political aspirations of its next door neighbour?