The domestic debate over the administration’s response to the Iranian events underscores the defining characteristic of neoconservatives everywhere: their extreme narcissism. According to President Obama’s critics, the slaughter that’s said to be taking place in the streets of Iran’s cities, the mass arrests, the unrestrained violence is all about us. The President, say the neocons — and, yes, they’re back — is showing weakness in the face of authoritarian brutality and repression: he needs to speak out and flat out refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Iranian regime.
Never mind that this is completely irrelevant, a non-issue that won’t even come up in the real world — since we don’t have any diplomatic relations with the Iranians to begin with, not since the taking of the hostages at our embassy in 1979. So the issue of "recognition" will never come up. Not that this matters to the neocons: they have one agenda in mind, aside from undermining Obama’s presidency and scoring partisan points (most but not all are Republicans), and that is provoking an armed conflict between the US and Iran.
For all their inflated rhetoric about "exporting democracy" and launching a "global democratic revolution," as George W. Bush once phrased it, the neoconservatives could care less about the fate of the Iranian people. If they did care, they’d be advising Obama to keep quiet and let them handle it — because the regime is using the canard of foreign involvement in the protests to discredit and marginalize the opposition. Not only that, but they are preparing the way for the prosecution of the movement’s leaders, including Mousavi: already Iranian state television is featuring the "confessions" of jailed demonstrators who attribute their "terrorist" activities to instructions from Voice of America and the BBC.
Yet the neocons want Obama to ignore the danger posed to actual Iranians inside Iran, and grandstand it for the cameras. Everything must be sacrificed in pursuit of self-glorification: this is the core motivation of what I have called the neoconservative personality. As Professor Claes Ryn, an authentic conservative, pointedly put it:
"Only great conceit could inspire a dream of armed world hegemony. The ideology of benevolent American empire and global democracy dresses up a voracious appetite for power. It signifies the ascent to power of a new kind of American, one profoundly at odds with that older type who aspired to modesty and self-restraint. That former personality was inseparable from, indeed, the creator of, the notion of limited, decentralized government."
Robert Kagan, writing in the Washington Post, avers that, "objectively," Obama has no interest in the Iranian opposition, since he is supposedly so eager to negotiate with Tehran over the nuclear issue. This is nonsense, of course, since Mousavi is far more amenable to a compromise on the nuke question than Ahmadinejad: Kagan says "once Mousavi lost," the President lost interest in the opposition, but isn’t this writing off Mousavi a bit early? The more honest neocons, such as Daniel Pipes, openly came out and declared their support for Ahmadinejad, on the rather ditzy grounds that it’s better to keep the enemy you know, etc. ad nauseum. Kagan’s premature burial of the Mousavi movement sounds like wishful thinking to me — and he has the nerve to imply Obama is taking Ahmadinejad’s side!
Nerve is what the neocons have in excess: that they would even show their faces after authoring the most disastrous war in American history — never mind proffering advice to the White House — takes one’s breath away.
For all the palavering, the posturing by the US Congress, the endless discussions of what tenor the President of the United States ought to take in his remarks, one has to ask: what would they have him do?
Talk is cheap, and no one knows this better than the Iranians being beaten — and murdered — in the streets, but what I want to know is what concrete action is the US government supposed to take? I hear that the State Department has withdrawn the invitation to the Iranians to take part in Fourth of July celebrations at our embassies — and, oh boy, I just know that has the Iranian people jumping for joy! That’s about the level of effectiveness any action by the US can have at this point.
The neocons are an alien incursion inside the conservative movement, a foreign bacillus that mutated from its leftist origins as a schismatic brand of "Third Camp" Trotskyism, morphed into Scoop Jackson-style Social Democracy, and finally emerged as the reigning doctrine of the Republican party in the Bush era. American politics is not markedly ideological, and there is something un-American — dare I say European? — in their devotion to doctrine. As such, they have more in common with the enemies they perpetually berate: in the past, it was the Soviets, whose "revolutionary" pronouncements in support of "internationalism" bear an eerie resemblance to the ravings of the American Enterprise Institute. In the present day, the similarities carry over to the Iranian theocracy, which — like the neocons — is trying to portray the crisis of their regime as being all about us, i.e. the US government. It’s all a Western plot, they claim — even attributing the martyrdom of Neda Agha-Soltan to a "staged" murder by a Western photographer!
I have news for both Ahmadinejad and the neocons: it isn’t about us. It’s about the Iranian people and their heroic struggle against a parasitic State that is leeching their blood. They want their freedom, and the best way — the only way — we can help them is to stand aside and let them go for it. Obama has already said too much: it’s time for the American President to zip it, so the Iranian people can win it.