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Universalism, Support, Passivity and Iran « The Washington Independent

I’m something like 90 percent on board with Chris Brose’s proposals for a U.S. agenda toward the Iranian opposition.

Let’s demand that foreign journalists in Iran be free to report on events, not confined to their bureaus or have their press credentials revoked. Let’s put some of our new cyber-warfare capabilities to the test, quietly and covertly of course, to disrupt Tehran’s ability to shut off the flow of information to Iranians and between them. Let’s start trying to rally and unify the community of nations — the democratic ones, if nothing else — to start speaking with one voice: to condemn the violence against peaceful Iranians, to call on Iran’s government to address allegations of voter fraud, and to state that supportive nations will continue to support Iran’s dissidents in this internal Iranian matter as long as they feel that justice has not been done. Let’s start defining some broad international expectations for Iran’s government — how it should and should not treat its people. The only person in the world who can orchestrate this kind of diplomatic effort to build international consensus in support of Iran’s dissidents is the President of the United States, and it’s high time that he start.

About those bolded parts. I see where Chris is coming from and I like the sentiment. Where I’d tweak this is to say that the United States. does better here to set the international agenda on terms that favor the substantive concerns of the Iranian opposition — insisting on respect for human life and dignity; insisting on fair, open, internationally-monitored elections — rather than explicit support for that opposition. (Since they haven’t asked and we don’t wish to be either presumptuous or counterproductive.)

Similarly, we don’t merely wish to set expectations of the Iranian government for how it ought to treat its people. We should wish to set universal expectations for how every government, including our own, ought to treat its people. Singling out Iran will probably complicate the opposition’s efforts, dividing it internally (”Well, you know, screw Ahmedinejad, but those Americans want to disrespect Iran? These colors don’t run!”) and limiting its ability to attract adherents (”You want me to side with you when you’re the ones giving the Americans the pretext they’ve been dying for to persecute us?”) If we insist on a universal standard, it’ll do the work we want in the Iranian case anyway. And it’s, you know, principled.

I suspect Chris knows all this and, as I say, our differences here are minor ones of calibration.

Update: To be clear, I don’t think the *U.S. *ought to use its “new cyber-warfare capabilities,” since that’s a provocative act that gets out ahead of the opposition, but I took Chris to mean that some of the freelance guys doing that, whom Noah wrote about at Danger Room, ought to do such things.

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