Iran has been rocked by protests — now is it to be rocked by American bombs?
Anti-Iran warmongers — especially the neoconservatives at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — have seized on the recent spree of protests in the Islamic Republic to demand that the U.S. "support" the protesters, getting op-eds published in the The New York Times, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere.
They need to put a sock in it. American meddling can only make things worse.
So what are the protests about? The main cause, it seems, is economic problems. With high youth unemployment and economic stagnation, Iranians were inflamed when a draft budget was leaked that slashed subsidies to the poor. Protests have been much more widespread geographically than the ones over the 2009 election, but have not as yet involved the middle class so much, nor as many large groups.
But America needs to mind its own business. For one thing, it's long since time that Americans of any political stripe ditch the traditional hysterical chauvinism that often characterizes our statements about the rest of the world. One unstated premise behind Iran hawks' lectures about spreading freedom and such is that the United States is some unique bastion of democratic liberties.
It isn't. The United States is not a "city on a hill," it's not the greatest country on the planet, and it's not the only place where people can rise from humble origins. America is merely a very large and rich country with a hypertrophied military and a severe case of plutocratic inequality.
America's formal democratic institutions are the oldest still existing in the world, have been clearly outdated for well over a century, and have been overtly corrupted in many states for almost its entire history. Even setting aside slavery and 90 years of Jim Crow, just a couple months ago there was an election for the Virginia House of Delegates where Democrats won a 10-point landslide in terms of votes. But due to Republican messing with district boundaries, Democrats only won 49 out of 100 seats, and tied one more. That final tie — created when a judge decreed an arguably spoiled ballot be counted — was decided not by a runoff election, but by drawing lots (which the Republican won).
If we consider democracy as a sliding scale with Mobutu-style fake elections on one end, and, say, Norway on the other, America is somewhere in the middle. To provide support for the norm of democracy, the first and easiest step would be to bring American institutions up to the European standard of 1950 or better.
Second, the last thing that Iranian protesters need is the U.S. meddling in their internal affairs. The perception that protesters have foreign support will only unify the rest of Iranian society around the government and serve to justify a crackdown. That goes double if the meddling is perceived as a cynical front to justify airstrikes, or a war of aggression that would kill hundreds of thousands or millions of Iranians and make any economic problems that currently exist an order of magnitude worse.
And it very obviously is just such a cynical front. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies — perhaps the most Orwellian-named think tank in D.C. — is in reality a knee-jerk Israel partisan. It was originally incarnated as an Israeli lobbying group and it spends almost all of its time and energy on issues of Israeli concern — most recently, defeating the Iran nuclear deal and preventing even partial U.S.-Iran rapprochement.
Thus we get FDD's Reuel Marc Gerecht, who has been advocating for a pre-emptive strike on Iran since 2006, declaiming on the thinnest of evidence that there is zero chance the "current regime can be reformed or moderated," and that the Iranian government is best compared to communist Poland or apartheid South Africa; or FDD founder Mark Dubowitz, who co-writes with Daniel Shapiro that Iran must be further sanctioned for its own good.
One might argue for those things on the merits. But they have not much to do with Iranian problems as such and nothing whatsoever to do with democracy. This is about using American might to play power politics in the Middle East. The protests are merely a convenient pretext.
So let us leave well enough alone.