Iran and Liberals
The recent elections in Iran have gotten a great deal of worldwide attention, and rightly so. Iran’s mullah’s handled the election horribly—they chose which candidates would be eligible to run, and of those candidates handpicked Mamoud Ahmadinejad to win. It didn’t do a very good job of doing so, and apparently didn’t anticipate any unrest following the election. These oversights gave the world an excellent glimpse of a brutal dictatorship in action.
Nobody much is defending Iran’s leaders. Conservatives, moderates and liberals are united in their disgust and anger over the brutality of Iran’s ruling class. But America’s newfound distaste for Iran raises some questions of consistency. For example, a year ago many liberals and moderates were saying that Iran was worth talking to, and that its ruling class are rational actors. And while Iran rates condemnatory 24/7 news coverage, other countries, countries that are every bit as dictatorial and brutal as Iran, are allowed to skate by without criticism.
When George W. Bush inserted Iran into his “axis of evil,” many, perhaps most, liberals were horrified. Some, perhaps rightly, pointed out that very publicly singling out three widely separated countries as “evil” might not be smart diplomacy. (And in hindsight, Bush was only able to deal with one of them; the one that was the least dangerous, and allowed the more dangerous two to continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons). But most were outraged that Bush called Iran evil at all, at any time.
These critics thought that Iran, if not a Western style liberal democracy, was essentially a benign country. Matt Yglesias (who is a fairly mainstream liberal, far from the lunatic fringe) wrote blog posts suggesting that any attempts by Iran to appease the United States would be unwise, since the U.S. (this was during the Bush Administration) was run by neocons (with ties to AIPAC) who would be perfectly willing to attack Iran without provocation. Yglesias also penned a surreal post in which he said that Ahmadinejad had a “pretty sweet hipster style” (because he addressed the U.N. General Assembly tieless), and suggested that Bush might want to try some Iran-style diplomacy.
Yglesias is hardly the only liberal writer to have been so ridiculously easy on Iran—such attitudes were the rule rather than the exception on the Left until the Iran elections made Iran persona non grata in the West. But when considering the Left’s angry denunciations of Iran (now, Yglesias goes so far as to compare Admadinejad to Sarah Palin), it should be remembered that until a few weeks ago, most on the Left were making excuses for the same brutal regime.
Everyone condemns Iran’s brutality. But it is far too often forgotten that in most of the world, such violence is the rule, not the exception. Most countries on Earth are dictatorships; few are democracies. But most Americans are content to shut their eyes to that fact, unless the occasional foreign PR disaster ensures that evidence of dictatorship is thrust in their faces.
China’s government, for instance, is far more evil than Iran’s. (China’s one child policy is just one example). But it also has the capacity (achieved by using what often amounts to slave labor) to manufacture goods cheaply and efficiently. So Americans ignore China’s abysmal human rights record, and happily consume Chinese products.
Or take Cuba. Fidel Castro has ruled that country with an iron first for a half century. But he is admired by many on the Left, apparently for no other reason than that he looked cool forty years ago. Or take Saudi Arabia, whose human rights abuses are tolerated because it supplies U.S. demand for oil. Or Libya, whose human rights abuses are ignored because it is obscure and unimportant.
What is going on in Iran is the norm in most of the world. Those who live in the West forget that the rights they enjoy are very uncommon, and rarely found outside of Europe and America. They are the exception—in most places, dictatorship, corruption, and brutality are the norm.