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What’s So Wrong About Openly Advocating for Democracy in Iran?

Morgen on June 24, 2009 at 7:56 pm

I was going to title this piece: “Did the CIA play a role in fomenting the protests in Iran?”. But of course I don’t know the answer to this, and if I did I wouldn’t be blogging about it. But the question itself led me to some interesting background information regarding the involvement of U.S. sponsored NGO’s in the Democratic reform movement in Iran. Information that I believe is worth sharing because it ended up clarifying my own instinctual reaction to the Administration’s handling of the Iranian crisis. Which is: what the hell is so wrong about openly advocating for Democratic reform in Iran and providing moral support to those who are risking their lives to achieve it?

Predictably, and regardless of the Administration’s attempt to distance themselves from the possible accusation, the Iranian regime has now officially accused the CIA of involvement in the protests over the recent election in Iran. And although they have not elaborated on the basis for this accusation, I think some interesting clues into their thinking can be ascertained from the views expressed by the regime of Hugo Chavez, a close Iranian/Ahmadinejad ally. Take a look at allegations made by the state media in Venezuela last weekend:

Sound familiar? As Venezuelans we’ve already lived three years with this scenario, without any doubt. The so-called color revolutions or “soft coup”, which began in Serbia in 2000, resulting in the overthrow and the demonization of Slobodan Milosovic, and then passed through Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Bielarrusia, Indonesia and Venezuela always with the intention of changing ”regimes” not favorable to the interests of Washington for more ”friendly” governments have now come to Iran. The script is identical. A color, a logo, a slogan, a group of young students and middle class, an electoral process, a pro-American candidate and a country full of strategic resources with a government not subject to the imperial agenda.

There are always the same agencies and foreign NGOs who support, fund and promote the strategy; providing financial and strategic training to student groups so that they execute the plan. Wherever there has been a ”color revolution” is also USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, CANVAS (OTPOR old), the Albert Einstein Institute, the Institute International Republican Institute and National Democratic, to name a few.

(Ed. Translation provided by Google, slightly edited for formatting and grammar)

Now I’m sure the Chavez regime in Venezuela sees a US conspiracy in just about everything; especially since it suits their domestic and foreign policy interests to foster the perception that they are an ongoing victim of a grand “imperialist conspiracy”. However, what’s interesting about these allegations is that it turns out that the organizations they name have in fact provided support for the non-violent protest movement in Iran. Let me highlight just a few examples.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED). A private, non-profit organization created in 1983 (Reagan era, baby!), funded by the U.S. government, with the charter to “strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts”. According to the NED’s own web site, they have provided grants to groups in Iran “to build solidarity and international support for local NGOs and human rights activists by raising public awareness of human rights, to facilitate the ability of Iranian civil society and media representatives to engage with the international community, and to invigorate democratic debate and the exchange of ideas among Iranian civil society activists. This includes human rights training, monitoring, and fact finding.”

Freedom House. An “independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world. [They] support nonviolent civic initiatives in societies where freedom is denied or under threat and [they] stand in opposition to ideas and forces that challenge the right of all people to be free.” Freedom House is a vast organization which is at least partially funded by organizations within the government including the State Department. With regards to Iran, Freedom House hosts a robust news site, blog, and discussion forum completely devoted to issues of Iranian democracy at Gozaar.org.

CANVAS (Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies). CANVAS is an organization which apparently spawned out of the Democratic movements in the Balkans (Serbia, Georgia, etc). Their stated mission is to provide a network of trainers and consultants in support of non-violent democratic movements throughout the world. Their web site includes a lot of substantial and useful information for planning and organizing protest movements, and I was able to confirm that their publication – Nonviolent Struggle: 50 Crucial Points – is in fact available in Farsi (the language spoken in Iran). Take a quick look – it’s a fascinating document. Especially for all of us who have never had to even think about organized resistance (perhaps this may come in handy in future years!).

Here are links to the International Center for Non-Violent Conflict and the Albert Einstein Institute. Both of these organizations make a point of emphasizing that they do not accept any direct U.S. government funding. However, they both focus on providing educational research and other instructional information to foster and support peaceful movements for Democracy around the world. Their materials are also available in Farsi (see here and here).

Now most of these organizations have been around for at least 20 years. And although ostensibly they are all “non-partisan”, it only took a cursory review to determine that they are mostly left-ward leaning in their political orientation (with perhaps the exception of Freedom House).

Here’s the point of all this: non-governmental organizations on the Democratic left have actively informed and encouraged (if not outright supported) the movement for Democratic reform in Iran over a period of many years.

And yet it took a week of violent and murderous suppression by the Iranian regime before our President was able to express even a modicum of support for those that are jeopardizing their very lives to achieve only an incremental step towards the freedom we take for granted!?

What could possibly explain this? Prior to the President’s comments this week, my personal theory was that the President was hoping to spare innocent life by not encouraging further protests, figuring that they had no chance of success. But I no longer think this is the case. Are we to take the President at his word that the chief policy goal behind his silence was to not serve as a “foil” for the Iranian regime in blaming external forces for the unrest? The President and other Democrats have pushed the meme that we can’t “meddle” in the affairs of Iran, that this is an Iranian, not a U.S. issue. Well, as highlighted above we ARE indisputably “meddling” in Iranian affairs, and have been for years. A fact which the President is undoubtably aware of.

The most charitable explanation I can come up with for the President’s approach is that he views the nuclear issue as the overriding foreign policy concern with Iran, and was reluctant to say or do anything which may undermine his chances for engaging the Iranian leadership directly on this issue. (A story in the Washington Times today provides support for this idea). However, I think even this is being too generous. I just can’t get past the idea that this Administration is so dead-set on distancing themselves from the Bush foreign policy, that they were willing to sit idly by while people died advancing values that we should be boldly and loudly promoting to the world’s oppressed.

This is “smart” foreign policy? Showing deference to murderous tyrants? This is not smart – it’s not even dumb. It’s pathetic, and yes – immoral. It’s a complete betrayal of the core values which have made America a beacon of hope and freedom throughout the world. And even if the President was of the opinion that it was strategically unwise to speak out in defense of freedom and democracy, if nothing else, he should have personally and forcefully spoke up at the first hint of violence on the part of the Iranian regime.

I for one and proud to say that I admire and wholeheartedly support those demonstrating for freedom in Iran. And I am proud that American NGO’s, if not our government, have played some role in providing tools and other support to the brave citizens of Iran who are standing up against their murderous, oppressive government. Would I demonstrate a fraction of their devotion and courage under threat of beatings, imprisonment, and even death? I don’t know, but I certainly hope so. What I do know is that I sincerely hope and pray for their success.

Update: Ace deconstructs the underlying tactical and strategic considerations of the President’s “feckless” response in typically brilliant fashion.

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Category: Foreign Affairs, Politics |

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