THE BLOG
06/15/2009 05:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Five Conservative Fallacies on Post-Election Iran

Amidst widespread speculation about whether the Obama administration is treating the situation in Iran correctly, it's important to point out that conservative commentary has not only been scattered and incoherent, but totally wrong on the substance.  From what I can tell, there are 5 strains of conservative arguments on Iran - none of them coming close to being credible:

1) Obama administration wrong about robust debate within Iran.  Using his appearance on ABC's 'This Week' as a soapbox, Mitt Romney blasted the Obama administration, remarking that "the comments by the President last week that there was a robust debate going on in Iran was obviously entirely wrong-headed."  Romney's argument doesn't square with the run-up to the elections, which showed a deep desire on the part of the Iranians for engagement and dialogue with the west.  Candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi himself called for Iran to embrace the Obama administration's offer of dialogue, saying that the "taboo in this country about talking to America had been lifted."  The fact that Iranians have protested the results so vigorously after elections widely seen as illegitimate is a testament to the strong desire for better relations with the West.


2) Obama administration must intervene on behalf of the demonstrators in Iran.  Of all the conservative arguments on Iran, this is the most compelling, as it plays on American's justified sympathy for the Iranian people.  Commentator Bill Kristol pushed this argument, urging the Obama administration to intervene:

"He should support the demonstrators. He should say that stealing elections is unacceptable, killing demonstrators in the streets of Tehran is unacceptable."

Leaving aside the fact that Kristol is probably setting himself up for a future broadside aimed at the Administration, his recommendations would be incredibly damaging to the Iranian opposition.  Iran expert Trita Parsi defends the policy of non-intervention an interview with the Washington Independent: "If the administration is saying things or
doing things before Mousavi and the opposition figures out what the
plan is, then that's a real problem, because then it seems like it's
between Ahmadinejad and the west and not Ahmadinejad and the
opposition. So the administration is doing exactly the right thing."

3) Demonstrations in Iran justify the invasion of Iraq.  I kid you not.  According to Al Kamen, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer made this flabbergasting claim in an email to Gless Kessler:

"Shiites in particular see Shiites in Iraq having more freedoms than they do. Bush's tough policies have helped give rise to the reformists and I think we're witnessing that today." 

Of course in real life, we know that Bush's invasion of Iraq strengthened hardliners in Iran, gave them the ability to "influence all the region's security dilemmas" and left the regime closer to nuclear breakout ability.  As former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns (a guy who spent the waining days of his career keeping Iran policy out of the clutches of guys like Fleischer) put it at last Thursday's CNAS conference, it was in all likelihood Obama's strategy of engagement, not the invasion of Iraq, that "effectively has put Ahmadinejad on [the] defensive prior to this election because of our ability now to open up the vista for the possibility of negotiations."

4) Only the toppling of the Islamic Republic can resolve the crisis between Iran and the West.  No surprise that John Bolton should use Iran's unrest to once again argue that the only solution is regime change.  In a piece for the Politico, Bolton seethes:

"Iranians across the board must resolve to change not just the rules but the entire system, overthrowing the Revolution and its superstructure, and creating institutions that truly allow for representative government."

Not anything new per-se, but the current climate in Iran makes Bolton's arguments especially tin-eared.  What Spencer observes, and what the excellent reporting from Nico Pitney confirms, is that "[t]he opposition to Ahmadinejad is portraying him and his supporters as a
corrupting figure, eating the Islamic Revolution at its core."  Intrinsic to the opposition's appeal is that it is seen as defending the 'Revolution,' not opposing it, which is just another way of saying that political change has to be legitimate in the eyes of the people for it to have any chance of succeeding. Bolton would prefer for western-leaning forces in Iran to pass his litmus test.  They won't, and th U.S. will have to deal with that complication going forward.

5) Ahmadinejad won fair and square.  Really Marty Paretz? Really?

"My impression is that the incumbent's margin of victory was too big to have been fraudulent and the loser's numbers also too big. Tyrannies don't play around with the numbers like this...Maybe the regime fiddled around a bit with the numbers at the polls and after the polling. Still, the outcome had a sense of authenticity." 

I'm speechless, but if you want good rebuttals, I'd suggest checking out these posts by Gary Sick and Juan Cole - two experts eminently more reliable than Paretz - which show why Paretz's arguments are in all likelihood baseless. (You wonder why Paretz didn't feel like reading consulting Sick or Cole's blogs before he posted? Their analyses were available hours before his)  Sullivan said it best - only a neocon would "desire an Ahamadinejad victory," but he forgets to add that only a neocon argue a point that so cynically justified his ideological perspective, in the face of sweeping evidence to the contrary.