Tuesday, June 21, 2005

 

"George Bush" and his impact on the Iranian election

The name George Bush should normally appear in quotes. Only in circumstances where there is incontrovertible evidence from at least two identified sources that the President personally made a statement or performed an action such as falling off his bicycle should the President be identified as George Bush without the quotes.

—The Simply Appalling Editor's Guide:

Reports of the condemnation of the Iranian election by "George Bush" offers a made-to-order example of the need for our new editorial policy.

Here's the opening to Brian Murphy's story in the AP—

Iran's spy chief used just two words to respond to White House ridicule of last week's presidential election: "Thank you." His sarcasm was barely hidden. The backfire on Washington was more evident.

The sharp barbs from President Bush were widely seen in Iran as damaging to pro-reform groups because the comments appeared to have boosted turnout among hard-liners in Friday's election with the result being that an ultraconservative now is in a two-way showdown for the presidency.

This latest "revelation" in the press has Bush-haters chortling. "Bush has done it again!" "Foot in mouth..." And so forth. I'm sorry, but they've triangulated themselves somewhere between naive and dumb—though they're hardly to blame.

I didn't read Murphy's opening carefully enough either. I wasted time trying to figure out which podium Bush had used to issue his denunciation—Was it in "his" radio address? In off-the-cuff remarks to reporters? In an interview? No. It was a White House press release. Bush didn't say it and there's damned little chance he even thought it.

If I had read more carefully I should have picked up the phrase "White House ridicule" in the lede sentence. But the second paragraph threw me off. After all, when you read a phrase such as "the sharp barbs from President Bush ...," you can't escape the impression that his mouth was moving.

Here's Robin Wright and Michael A. Fletcher's pre-election version in the Washington Post—

On the eve of Iran's presidential election, President Bush yesterday denounced Tehran's theocracy for manipulating the vote by eliminating candidates and ignoring the "basic requirements" of democracy. Whatever the election's outcome, power will continue to be held by "an unelected few" who are out of step with political changes sweeping the rest of the region, Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

The tough White House comment comes at a pivotal juncture in U.S.-Iranian relations and in Iran's political evolution....

Isn't that an interesting progression? First "President Bush ... denounced." Then "Bush said in a statement." And finally the nebulous "White House comment."

Ah, you object. This is simply a "convention" of the press to liven up the report. Everybody in Washington understands what's going on here.

I would reply that "everybody in Washington" is itself code for "Washington insiders"—those who understand how the great news-propaganda system works. Are these the people for whom the Associated Press and the Washington Post are writing the news? Unfortunately, yes.

But why does it need to be coded? Wouldn't it be better just to write "The White House issued a press release today under the name of President Bush denouncing the Iranian election"? Wouldn't that serve "Washington insiders" just as well?

Well, no. You see, there's the propaganda element (psy-ops) to be considered. First, even the careless reader might get the point that Bush quite probably had nothing to do with the statement. Second, it might make Bush appear to be the knot on the log that he is. And third, it might occur to at least some readers that this was at a minimum an attempt to manipulate public opinion on the Iranian election, which could lead to the question of who was doing this and why.

That really wouldn't do, now would it?

The Iranian election and the state of democracy in Iran

You may have been able to glean, despite the sneers and condemnations from the White House and State Department, that Iran has just held a presidential election. And if democracy in the United States be the measure, it was a genuine election.

It was not a thing of beauty. First, as in the U.S., the candidates were vetted to ensure their religious orthodoxy. Then there were instances of intimidation by religious hardliners of both the reformist candidates and their supporters. And finally there were allegations of vote fraud in the aftermath. A limited recount was held and the election declared valid. The turnout was 63% despite calls by some reformist leaders to boycott. Since no candidate received a majority of the vote, there will be a runoff.

Terrible, huh? Yet in today's Iran there is more genuine democracy than in the American allied governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. There is simply no question that the young people of Iran are interested in their political destiny and have the level of education necessary to participate in a democratic state. It's also clear that—absent outside interference—that movement is likely to continue. The one thing on which reformists and hardliners agree is that interference from the United States is unwelcome.

So why, you may wonder, isn't the "Bush" administration cheering them on? Aren't we supposed to be bringing democracy to the Middle East? Well, as they like to say in The Hamptons, it's not our kind of democracy. Our kind of democracy recognizes first and foremost the needs of our plutocrats, and Iran has been failing them miserably.

Bush described the election as an exercise in futility because Iran's real power rests with the non-elected Islamic clerics, who can override the president and parliament. Many agree with that description of a regime that allowed just eight presidential candidates from more than 1,000 hopefuls.

... Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the election shows that the country is out of step with democratic reforms in the Middle East.

"I just don't see the Iranian elections as being a serious attempt to move Iran closer to a democratic future," she said in an interview on ABC's "This Week."

The true purposes of the "Bush" statement

When the administration issues a diplomatically sensitive statement, it is vetted (one hopes) at a minimum from three perspectives: its impact on the ruling class of the country in question, its impact on the people of that country, and its impact on the American public and the media. Such a declaration is optimal when it furthers U.S. plutocratic interests in all three respects. Let's see how "Bush" has fared this time.

Impact on the Iranian ruling class:

The "Bush" statement made the hardliners hopping mad. This was the desired outcome. Its purpose was not unlike the increase in bombings of Saddam's Iraq prior to the invasion. The administration hoped to goad Saddam into a counteraggression that would justifiy the U.S. invasion.

Remember what they wrote in the WaPo article?

The tough White House comment comes at a pivotal juncture in U.S.-Iranian relations and in Iran's political evolution.

There was the danger that accommodations might be reached in U.S.-Iranian relations, at least from the point of view of the Iranians. "Bush" averted that risk.

Rafsanjani, Iran's president in 1989-1997, has said he is open to greater dialogue with the United States.

But Ahmadinejad [the hardliner] offered no such opening after the vote was tallied Saturday, and he could take a harsher stance toward the United States and its concerns especially accusations that Iran is secretly seeking nuclear arms. Iran denies the charges and puts them down to U.S. anger with the clerical regime.

"You only have to look at the comments" by Bush to understand that he "seeks hostility" against Iran, Ahmadinejad said.
....

Another political commentator, Davoud Hermidas Bavand, believed the fallout from Bush's statements went beyond the election by destroying lingering hopes that Washington policy-makers finally would accept Iran's regime.

There was also the danger of Iran continuing its evolution toward democracy. By subverting the reformists, that became less likely—

The Bush comments are an example of "the kind of American intervention" that often boomerangs in the region, said Egyptian political analyst Salama Ahmed Salama.

"Bush meant to discourage the hard-liners," he said, "but instead he mobilized their supporters."

This was no accident.

Impact on the Iranian public

"Bush" offered the Iranians this gobbledygook: "As you stand for your own liberty, the people of America stand with you." The last thing anybody in the Middle East wants is Bush standing anywhere near them. And that goes for the Iranian public—

The president's words sounded too much like the pre-war rhetoric against Saddam, and many on-the-fence voters were shocked into action, said Abdollah Momeni, a political affairs expert at Tehran University."People faced a dilemma," Momeni said.

"In people's minds it became a choice between voting or giving Bush an excuse to attack [by observing the boycott]."

The declaration may even have caused some voters to switch their support from the reformists to the hardliners. (It happens in the U.S. all the time.)
The unexpectedly strong turnout ... produced a true surprise in the No. 2 finish of hard-line Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Just as the Neocons had hoped.

Impact on the American public

Press accounts have almost universally portrayed the "Bush" statement as some sort of "mistake" or "misstep." Bush opponents will happily agree with that assessment, and Bush enthusiasts will be charmed by his "strong stance." But what about the Great Indifferent?

To the extent that anybody notices, "Bush" appears to be denouncing a harsh regime and supporting "the people" and "democracy." He also is insisting that Iran give up any development of nuclear weapons. What's so bad about that?

Overall impact

The press is insinuating that the "Bush" administration has made another foreign policy gaffe. But when you realize what our foreign policy toward Iran really is, nothing could be further from the truth.

The administration is continuing its preparations for the justification of regime change and destabilization of Israel's enemies as specified by the Neocons. Iran is in the administration's sights, and a victory for the reformist candidate in Iran—indeed the appearance of any democracy at all—is anathema to its goals.

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who earlier predicted an attack on Iran in July, writes that the attack on Iran has already begun, albeit covertly.

As with Iraq, the president has paved the way for the conditioning of the American public and an all-too-compliant media to accept at face value the merits of a regime change policy regarding Iran, linking the regime of the Mullah's to an "axis of evil" (together with the newly "liberated" Iraq and North Korea), and speaking of the absolute requirement for the spread of "democracy" to the Iranian people.

"Liberation" and the spread of "democracy" have become none-too-subtle code words within the neo-conservative cabal that formulates and executes American foreign policy today for militarism and war.

By the intensity of the "liberation/democracy" rhetoric alone, Americans should be put on notice that Iran is well-fixed in the cross-hairs as the next target for the illegal policy of regime change being implemented by the Bush administration.

I have some reservations as to Ritter's predictions of the timing and certainty of the next U.S. aggression. Iraq may be forcing some course adjustments upon the administration. But I'll save that for another post.

In the meantime I'll leave you to ponder these fine words of "George Bush"—

The Iranian people deserve a genuinely democratic system in which elections are honest - and in which their leaders answer to them instead of the other way around. The Iranian people deserve a truly free and democratic society with a vibrant free press that informs the public and ensures transparency. They deserve freedom of assembly, so Iranians can gather and press for reform and a peaceful, loyal opposition can keep the government in check. They deserve a free economy that delivers opportunity and prosperity and economic independence from the state. They deserve an independent judiciary that will guarantee the rule of law and ensure equal justice for all Iranians. And they deserve a system that guarantees religious freedom, so that they can build a society in which compassion and tolerance prevail.

Related post
Superfluous beliefs (6/10/05)

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