Iran is more like America than most Americans, including President Donald J. Trump, realize.
I was among far too few Western commentators who hailed Iranians for electing the moderate Hassan Rouhani as president in August 2013. But nothing vindicated our praise quite like Rouhani accepting President Obama’s overtures to strike a landmark nuclear deal.
Here in part is how I framed that deal in “One Small Step Towards De-Nuking Iran,” posted November 25, 2013:
Bear in mind that, notwithstanding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reckless protestations about American appeasement, no American president has done more to halt Iran’s march towards acquiring nuclear weapons than Obama has with this (temporary) agreement.
Not to mention that George W. Bush had more credibility when he was warmongering about Iraq’s WMDs than Netanyahu’s has with his warmongering about Iran’s nuclear weapons. After all, Netanyahu has been beating this drum for decades. What’s more, he has been trying every step of the way to get the United States to do his dirty work.
Here, for example, is how the Jerusalem Post reported on his dire warning about Iran’s nuclear program on January 12, 1995:
‘A SERIOUS (sic) threat of nuclear war hangs over Israel, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset plenum yesterday…
‘Within three to five years, we can assume that Iran will become autonomous in its ability to develop and produce a nuclear bomb, without having to import either the technology or the material,’ Netanyahu said. ‘[The nuclear threat] must be uprooted by an international front headed by the US.’
This is why I am constrained to reiterate that Netanyahu has given Obama just cause to be far more wary of him than the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.
It follows, therefore, that I was as heartened when Iranians reelected Rouhani in 2017 as I was when Americans reelected Obama in 2012.
More to the point, though, Obama promised a “post-racial” America. Yet Americans blotted his presidency by taking to the streets to protest all manner of racial injustice – not least the menace of White police killing Black men.
In a similar vein, Rouhani promised a less-sanctioned, thriving economy and greater political freedoms. Yet Iranians are now blotting his presidency by taking to the streets to protest all manner of economic hardship and political frustration.
A different issue
To be fair, Rouhani has granted greater freedoms. Notably, he has allowed virtually unfettered access to the social media protesters are using to galvanize their protests and gotten rid of the dreaded morals police. But this restiveness stems primarily from the fact that youth unemployment remains as high as 40 percent.
From the New York Times:
“Iranian security forces clamped down on Tehran on Monday after demonstrators across the country ignored calls for calm by President Hassan Rouhani in the most significant venting of pent-up economic and political frustrations in years.
“Since the protests began on Thursday, at least 12 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, according to the state television. …
“On Sunday, protesters tried to storm police stations, military installations, and also attacked a seminary, the state television reported, showing footage of burned cars and fires.”
Reports are that an additional nine people died overnight as these anti-government protests enter a sixth day.
But I am heartened that Rouhani is reacting there much as Obama reacted here. Specifically, Rouhani is acknowledging that protesters have legitimate grievances;
defending their right to protest; and calling on them to vent their frustrations without recourse to violence (i.e., of the kind that attended protests in places like Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md.
Moreover, Rouhani’s enlightened reaction stands in commendable contrast to the repressive way government officials reacted in 2009. Back then, Iranians mounted similar protests over the reelection of Islamic hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I duly commented in “Iranians Protest Ahmadinejad’s Re-ordination,” posted June 15, 2009:
No doubt Ahmadinejad was a religious zealot. In fact, he took perverse pride in hurling hollow threats about wiping Israel off the map (you know, the way Trump takes similar pride in hurling hollow threats about raining fire and fury down on North Korea). But a fair reading of that commentary makes clear that the election and reelection of Ahmadinejad in Iran were every bit as democratic as the election of Trump in America.
Not to mention this: The Islamic Republic of Iran elected a new president in democratic elections that would’ve made even George Washington, the father of American democracy, proud. Unfortunately, it did not please his presidential heir and namesake, George W. Bush. After all, this curious George only likes democratic elections when those elected share his political views and religious values. And, Iran’s president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clearly shares neither.
Another Trump blunder
This is why, with all due respect to the dead, the most disheartening thing about these American-style protests is the way Trump is exhorting Iranians to overthrow their democratically elected government.
Of course, Trump has blotted his own presidency by showing utter contempt for America’s democratic values, norms, and institutions. Therefore, nobody should be surprised that he is showing similar contempt for Iran’s.
Unfortunately, his ignorance and arrogance are such that he couldn’t care less that he’s playing right into the hands of Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his kitchen cabinet of hardline clerics. Because they would like nothing more than to blame him for inciting these protests. #IDIOT!
Still, it is noteworthy that even Khamenei had enough respect for democratic governance to resist exhorting protesters in America (think Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter) to overthrow their democratically elected government.
No less noteworthy, though, is that Trump is trying his damnedest to rule America in the autocratic way he’s accusing Khamenei of ruling Iran.
Government won’t collapse
The hypocrisy this shows is brazen even for Trump. That’s why there is inherent “projection” – defined as people attributing to others traits, faults, and blame that inhere in themselves – in tweeting Iranians to do to their leader what he probably fears Americans might do to him.
For the record, there’s even less chance that these protests will cause the downfall of this Iranian government than there is that similar protests could cause the downfall of any American government. I suspect these protests in Iran will play out much as the Arab Spring protests in Egypt did.
Anthony L. Hall is a native of The Bahamas with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com.