And the Evidence for This Proposition Is What, Exactly?
Michael Goldfarb writes:
Is it possible that the Iraqi election experience had something to do with Iranian expectations of an election? If critics of the war can for just a moment move beyond their own deeply held opinions about the invasion of Iraq — that this was a war of choice fought on false premises to lower gas prices or whatever — and examine the effect of that war on the region as a whole, they might see a connection to the current turmoil in Iran. After all, one of the intellectual arguments in favor of overthrowing Saddam Hussein was, in the words of Dick Cheney, to place “a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a nation that will be a positive force in influencing the world around it in the future.”
I think a case can be made that Barack Obama’s election as president has also raised expectations of the democratic process in countries around the world. It is certainly possible that we are seeing an Obama effect in Iran as young people there look to replicate the excitement and enthusiasm of young people here during last year’s election. But any honest assessment of events in Iran would also have to consider the effect of having a functioning democracy right next door — a democracy that millions of Iranians have seen for themselves as they make religious pilgrimages and conduct business in Iraq. Iran has had a tremendous influence on Iraq these last few years, usually to the detriment of peace and security there. Perhaps the current protests in Iran are evidence that influence doesn’t just cross the border in one direction.
I’ll play ball. But the evidence presented for the proposition that Iraq’s nascent democracy (let’s be charitable) influenced what’s happening in Iran is that (a) there’s a nascent democracy in Iraq, (b) Iran is next to Iraq, (c) Iranians make “religious pilgrimages and conduct business” in Iraq and (d) there’s something amazing and hopeful going on in Iran. By contrast, no Iranian on the #IranElection hashtag, for instance, has mentioned Iraq as an inspiration for the demonstrations, nor has any leader of the opposition cited their Iraqi neighbors as a model or a source of guidance. Instead, they talk about internal, domestic provocations provided by Ahmadinejad and the clerical regime. If we’re going to go by, say, business ties, Iran’s main trading partners are China, India, Germany, South Korea, France, Russia and Italy. Which of those countries inspired the Iranian protests we’re seeing now?
If there’s additional evidence for believing that Iraq’s nascent democracy is influencing the Iranian opposition, I’d consider it, but assertion isn’t a compelling argument. It’s probably best to look to what the Iranian opposition is actually saying if we’re to understand it.