The Iranian events have produced a veritable flood of commentary, most of which tells us more about ourselves than it does about what is really going on in the land of the Persians.
On the one hand, we have the cheerleaders – Andrew Sullivan comes to mind – who uncritically support the student-led "Green Revolution," and are now demanding… what?
Well, with Sullivan it’s not so clear: one minute he’s telling us the U.S. ought to withhold any kind of recognition of Iranian "President" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the next he’s hailing President Barack Obama for his restraint in not declaring all-out support for the Green Wave. His teetering between these two positions is reflected in the actions of his idol, our sainted president, who, on the one hand, initially refused to say anything much beyond hoping the crisis could be abated without resort to violence, and then – under pressure from Hillary and Joe Biden – issued a much stronger statement, calling for "justice," quoting Martin Luther King, and ending with a conjuration of some of that old-time Sixties rhetoric: "The whole world is watching." As indeed it is.
As a statement of concern, Obama’s message to the Iranians could have been a lot worse: he might have issued a not-so-veiled threat, and even pulled back from his election promise of meeting with Iranian officials without preconditions to negotiate the nuclear issue. This he did not do, and so we – at least those of us who anticipate with horror the prospect of war with Iran – can breathe a sigh of relief.
On the other hand, one has to wonder why it was necessary to say anything at all, beyond what had already been said: why is it that American chief executives feel compelled to pontificate on all matters, large and small, especially in this case? Everyone knows what Obama – and most Americans – feel and hope for when it comes to the Iranian crisis: he’s hoping Ahmadinejad is gone, replaced by his chief challenger, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, a veteran of the 1979 Iranian revolution, and – up until now – a mainstay of the regime. No statement beyond Obama’s first response was necessary, and one gets the impression the president allowed himself to be pushed into it, against his better judgment.
In any case, the cheerleaders have been getting louder as the protests continue and blood is shed: leading the charge are our old "friends," the neoconservatives, most of whom had been keeping a low profile (except on the op-ed page of the Washington Post). After the humiliation of having been proved totally wrong about Iraq, relative silence was the only viable option, at least for the moment.
Prompted by the Iranian turmoil, however, they have come out of hiding to claim an ersatz vindication. After all, didn’t they say that the "liberation" of Iraq would spark revolutions across the region, and specifically in Iran? Well, yes, but to attribute the Green Revolution to the presence of 120,000 American soldiers to the south, and more to the east in Afghanistan, is Bizarro World logic, at best.
The fact that Iran is nearly surrounded by enemies empowers and emboldens the hard-liners – Ahmadinejad’s faction – and cripples the opposition with a rather large albatross hung ’round its neck: the suspicion that they are a fifth column, agents of the Yankees and the hated Brits. Ahmadinejad and his supporters are now taking this line, including the supreme leader, Khamenei, who – in a weird, rambling speech – labeled them "terrorists," demanded an end to the demonstrations, and warned that failure to get with the program will end badly for the protesters.
Insofar as America’s impact on events in Iran is concerned, it’s a lot closer to the truth to say it was the Obama effect, rather than the "axis of evil" rhetoric, that loosened up the Iranian status quo enough to cause a split in the ruling elite and pit the moderates – Mousavi, Rafsanjani, the Ayatollah Montazeri – against Khamenei and his ally, Ahmadinejad.
The military threat to Iran posed by the presence of American troops in large numbers right across the border strengthens the Ahmadinejad faction, and it’s only the prospect of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq that depressurizes the situation. There have been signs that the military is acting to protect the demonstrators from the Basij and other pro-Ahmadinejad paramilitary gangs, such as Ansar Hezbollah (not the Lebanese outfit, but a homegrown Persian hard-liner militia). This development – not yet fully unfolded – directly threatens the stability of the present regime and calls into question the authority of the supreme leader.
Khamenei’s legitimacy has already been undermined, perhaps fatally, by his ridiculous assertion that the election "results" amounted to a "divine assessment." If there is a divine assessment of Khamenei’s role in all this, he’ll wind up smack dab in the midst of the fires of Gehenna – and, if this goes on much longer, perhaps a lot sooner than he or anyone else thinks.
Although Flynt and Hillary Leverett think otherwise, there seems little doubt that the election results announced by the regime were completely fake. As one Iranian woman contemptuously remarked: "They didn’t even bother to count the votes. They just made it all up." Indeed they did, as this statistical analysis proves.
The devil, it appears, is in the last two digits of the numbers provided by Iran’s Interior Ministry, broken down by province. While the last two digits don’t usually make the difference and are considered "random noise," as statisticians Bernd Beber and Alexandra Scacco put it:
"But that’s exactly why they can serve as a litmus test for election fraud. For example, an election in which a majority of provincial vote counts ended in 5 would surely raise red flags. Why would fraudulent numbers look any different? The reason is that humans are bad at making up numbers. Cognitive psychologists have found that study participants in lab experiments asked to write sequences of random digits will tend to select some digits more frequently than others."
So what about Ahmadinejad’s "landslide"?
"The numbers look suspicious. We find too many 7s and not enough 5s in the last digit. We expect each digit (0, 1, 2, and so on) to appear at the end of 10 percent of the vote counts. But in Iran’s provincial results, the digit 7 appears 17 percent of the time, and only 4 percent of the results end in the number 5. Two such departures from the average – a spike of 17 percent or more in one digit and a drop to 4 percent or less in another – are extremely unlikely. Fewer than four in a hundred non-fraudulent elections would produce such numbers."
It gets worse, however, for the Ahmadinejad camp once we get into the frequency of adjacent numbers, which, apparently, human beings also have a penchant for when asked to generate random digits:
"On average, if the results had not been manipulated, 70 percent of these pairs should consist of distinct, non-adjacent digits.
"Not so in the data from Iran: Only 62 percent of the pairs contain non-adjacent digits. This may not sound so different from 70 percent, but the probability that a fair election would produce a difference this large is less than 4.2 percent. And while our first test – variation in last-digit frequencies – suggests that Rezai’s vote counts are the most irregular, the lack of non-adjacent digits is most striking in the results reported for Ahmadinejad."
Mathematics is an exact science, unlike politics, which is not a science at all, but statistical proofs don’t deter dogmatists, i.e., people whose minds are already made up and whose agenda is going to be pursued no matter what the facts are. And while the numbers don’t lie, governments do. This is particularly true of repressive regimes, such as the one presently lording it over the Iranian people, and yet there are some who defend the election "returns" reported by the Ahmadinejad-controlled Interior Ministry – in spite of a strong statement by some ministry employees who explicitly accused the regime of committing a massive fraud.
Imagine if the same thing happened in the U.S. – the uproar would preclude even an attempt to defend such a clumsy fabrication. Yet the Leveretts have no problem with this, averring that the regime’s accusers have "no evidence" of election fraud. I guess those Interior Ministry employees – or, perhaps, ex-employees – don’t count. Nor does the statement by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor, issued right before the election, that rigging the vote would be okay, as long as it was for a good cause.
The Leveretts make some valid points. Yes, Western commentators preferred Mousavi. Yes, "they were oblivious – as in 2005 – to Ahmadinejad’s effectiveness as a populist politician and campaigner." They’re right that Ahmadinejad cleaned Mousavi’s clock in the televised presidential debate, where the pious son of a blacksmith accused his opponent of being part of Iran’s pervasive culture of corruption. The average Iranian really identifies with this kind of rhetoric, and Ahmadinejad no doubt enjoyed a surge of support that was missed by most Western commentators.
Yet the Leveretts ignore the atmospherics that accompanied the announcement of Ahmadinejad’s "victory." As the indispensable Pepe Escobar describes the sequence of events:
"Phones, SMS, text messaging, YouTube, political blogs, opposition websites, foreign media websites, all communication networks, in a cascade, were shutting down fast. Military and police forces started to take over Tehran’s streets. The Ahmadinejad-controlled Ministry of Interior – doubling as election headquarters – was isolated by concrete barriers. Iranian TV switched to old Iron Curtain-style ‘messages of national unity.’ And the mind-boggling semi-final numbers of Ahmadinejad’s landslide were announced (Ahmadinejad 64%, Mousavi 32%, Rezai 2%, and Karroubi less than 1%."
Ahmadinejad supposedly won a majority of the votes in Tehran, where he is clearly hated. Leverett fails to mention this, although he does mention the Azeri issue. Much has been made of Mousavi’s big loss in Azeri areas, since he is an Azeri, and the Leveretts take out after this talking point with alacrity. Well, they aver, Ahmadinejad speaks fluent Azeri and made a special appeal to that ethnic group, which seems plausible. However, what doesn’t seem so plausible is the fate of the other reform candidate, Karroubi, who supposedly lost in Oligudarz, his hometown. According to the Interior Ministry’s numbers, Karroubi lost his native province of Lorestan, and, says Escobar, "had less votes than volunteers helping in his campaign"!
Ahmadinejad, according to the official numbers, also took Kurdistan, one of Karroubi’s bastions of support. The official numbers, however, have Karroubi getting about 1 percent of the vote. Another suspicious detail: the ultra-conservative candidate, Rezai, is from Khuzestan, yet he was supposedly beaten by Ahmadinejad here, too.
The Leveretts don’t address these odd anomalies, but – in the fantastical context of the Interior Ministry’s numbers – they aren’t anomalies, because, as Escobar points out,
"Everywhere, all over the country, Ahmadinejad got between a steady 66% and 69%, no matter the region, no matter the predominant ethnic group, no matter the demographics."
How they arrived at the official numbers* over at Iran’s Interior Ministry is anybody’s guess. It’s just another indication of their supreme incompetence that they couldn’t even cobble together a semi-plausible lie. Their manipulation of the vote is so painfully obvious that it boggles the mind: how in the name of Allah the most merciful did they imagine they’d get away with it? They likely didn’t care, yet they clearly didn’t expect such an outburst of popular rage. They thought they could contain it. They were wrong.
Now we have the final verdict on the Interior Ministry’s numbers, coming from the Iranian government itself:
"Iran’s Guardian Council has admitted that the number of votes collected
in 50 cities surpass the number of those eligible to cast ballot in those areas.
"The council’s Spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, who was speaking on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2 on Sunday, made the remarks in response to complaints filed by Mohsen Rezai – a defeated candidate in the June 12 Presidential election.
“‘Statistics provided by Mohsen Rezai in which he claims more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 170 cities are not accurate – the incident has happened in only 50 cities,’ Kadkhodaei said."
Yeah, that Rezai character is such a drama queen! What’s he getting so excited about? After all, as Kadkhodaei assures us, “it has yet to be determined whether the amount is decisive in the election results." Oh, well, then, never mind! Move along – nothing to see here!
Backed into a corner, Ahmadinejad and his supporters are playing their trump card, and that is labeling the demonstrators "terrorists." In their typically incompetent fashion, however, they’re accusing Mousavi of being a "criminal" in league with a tiny cultish "opposition" group known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). I’ve written about these jokers at length, and you can refer to those pieces for more information, but suffice to say here that they have next to zero support in Iran. Indeed, their main base of support seems to be in Washington, D.C., where the more perfervid neocons have been agitating for the U.S. government to take MEK off the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations (where they’ve been ever since they bombed U.S. offices in Iran before the Revolution and killed and injured several U.S. citizens). The neocons, in their heyday during the Bush years, were pushing to use MEK the way they used Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC) – those "heroes in error" who infamously lied us into war and ripped us off (in more ways than one) in the bargain. Significantly, MEK has been "credited" with funneling the same sort of phony evidence of Iranian "weapons programs" that the INC stove-piped to the Bush White House in the runup to war with Iraq.
The Ahmadinejad-Khamenei faction is calling this just another U.S.-engineered "color revolution," created and controlled by the Americans, and, unfortunately, some libertarians – in an excess of anti-interventionist zeal – are taking exactly the same line. Writing on the blog of LewRockwell.com, Daniel McAdams – a great guy, who has written for Antiwar.com and done good work for the anti-interventionist cause – asks "Who put the green in the Green Revolution?" His answer: "The United States, of course."
The demonstrators, you see, have adopted the color green as their theme, and so it must be a "color revolution" along the lines of those seen in the former Soviet bloc. What is the evidence for this?
Well, it seems that last year congressional leaders approved $400 million to effect regime-change in Iran, "plenty of lead time" to lay the groundwork for the Green Revolutionaries, but in fact this money, as the Washington Post (and Seymour Hersh, much earlier) reported, went to "rebel groups," such as Jundallah, armed groups who want to overthrow the regime by force. McAdams makes sure to boldface the words "rebel groups," but he doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of this phrase in plain English. The Iranian Greenies aren’t a "rebel group" like the MEK or Jundallah: they exist inside the Islamic system set up by Ayatollah Khomeini and the 1979 Revolution, as even the supreme leader acknowledged in his speech.
But that is just the beginning of McAdams’ errors. He writes:
"As in the previous ‘color revolutions’ that seem to tirelessly capture the romantic imagination of U.S. journalists, elites, and the propagandized population, the warm embrace of the U.S. empire is firmly guiding the ‘spontaneous’ Iranian uprising against last week’s election results. While I do not and should not – nor should any other American – care in the slightest who rules a country some seven thousand miles away, when the fingerprints of the U.S. empire show up on these dramatic events overseas it is very much my business."
The error McAdams makes here is that there is a difference between "caring" about the freedom (or lack of it) in a country seven thousand miles away and organizing a U.S.-government-backed attempt to overthrow a sovereign government. I would argue that if one truly cares about spreading freedom overseas, the last agency to put in charge of the effort should be the U.S. government – especially when it comes to Iran, given the history of U.S. meddling in that country’s affairs. U.S. intervention, in nearly every case, has led to the betrayal and defeat of the pro-freedom forces. Our allies became mere instruments of U.S. foreign policy instead of a truly indigenous movement with roots in the population.
I have no doubt that the U.S. is covertly trying to effect regime-change in Iran and that some of that $400 million found its way into the hands of the Green Revolutionaries, but that doesn’t mean the movement is controlled or has been created by the CIA, as McAdams (and Ahmadinejad) claim. Yes, they’ve adopted green as their official color, but so what? Green stands for Islam, and this movement – like all movements in Iran – is based on religious principles. McAdams putting the Iranian events in the same league as Georgia’s U.S.-engineered Rose Revolution or the Orange Revolution in Ukraine is a facile explanation that doesn’t stand up under the most cursory examination.
It’s interesting that the neocons, or most of them, are saying essentially the same thing as McAdams and his fellows at the now nearly defunct British Helsinki Human Rights Group, albeit for an entirely different reason. The neocons aver that Ahmadinejad’s "victory" proves the hopelessness of dealing with the Iranians at all – except, of course, by bombing them from an altitude of 20,000 ft. They’re cheering Ahmadinejad’s dubious triumph because they want war; McAdams is rationalizing that same phony victory because he knows the U.S. is behind the whole thing. Stranger bedfellows have yet to cuddle. In both cases, however, there is a certain similarity insofar as facts are not allowed to get in the way of ideology.
Libertarians, of all people, should care about the freedom of peoples overseas, and, of all people, they should know that U.S. intervention will not aid but only hold back the legitimate aspirations of the oppressed.
Siding with dictators is not the way to ensure that the U.S. abandons its imperial pretensions and returns to the foreign policy of the Founders. The massive election fraud and de facto coup carried out by Ahmadinejad & Co. is very bad news indeed for advocates of non-interventionism. Iran under Ahmadinejad is simple to demonize, and the case for war will be far easier to make with that nut-job in power – which is precisely why the War Party is cheering him on. It’s too bad McAdams has joined their chorus, albeit singing counterpoint.
Yes, I’m cheering on the Green Revolutionaries, because the foreign policy positions taken by Mousavi will be conducive to negotiations with the U.S. over the issue of nuclear weapons. I agree with the Leveretts that no matter who wins, we need to start those talks now, with no preconditions, and in the context of Iran’s right – under the Non-Proliferation Treaty – to develop the peaceful uses of nuclear power. I agree with McAdams that the U.S. government should stay out of Iran’s internal affairs. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the Iranian people – who are even now being slaughtered and beaten in the streets of their own cities. The regime they suffer under is kept in power by the threat of U.S. imperialism, which has encircled the country and is even now preparing to strike – and it’s precisely because I understand this, and oppose it with all my being, that my heart goes out to the Green Revolutionaries.
No, I don’t want our president to declare his support, and I applaud Ron Paul for his lone vote in Congress against a grandstanding resolution endorsing the Mousavi movement. Our government should steer clear of this entirely. But that doesn’t mean that I, as an individual, can’t hope that the good guys win – for once.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I have to confess to having joined Facebook, and plenty of my readers have discovered this: it’s gotten to the point that I probably get ten-to-twenty "friend" requests every day. So please note that if I haven’t yet responded in the affirmative to your request, it’s not that I don’t want to be your friend – I do, really I do! – it’s just that time is limited, as is my patience with the somewhat plonky and unwieldy Facebook site. I’ll get to it eventually.
On the same subject: Facebook also has a feature that allows people to form groups – fans of this or that cause – and I get an equal number of such requests. I’ve established a firm policy, which is that I never join any of these groups, as appealing as some of them are. I simply don’t have the time or the energy to vet each and every group – and I don’t, as a general rule, join any groups, online or off. So please don’t be insulted if I don’t respond to your request to join – it’s just that I’m not a joiner.
*It has been pointed out that there is a discrepancy between Escobar’s figures and the ones in the link. If you follow the link, Mousavi has a majority or plurality in two districts and Ahmadinejad has below 60 percent in a total of eight, but Ahmadinejad’s numbers are incredibly high everywhere else.