As I write this column, it’s too early to tell whether or not the Iranian masses are truly in the process of putting together a revolution. If so, good on them … but don’t expect too much. To all appearances, they’re not rising up against the state as such, or even against the “Islamic” character of this particular state, but merely against the worst excesses of the regime.
By way of analogy to Russia, it looks a lot more like 1905 than 1917, and the outcome is likely to be similar as well: A few reforms, with the lion’s share of those reforms snatched back in short order and the real reckoning postponed for another day. That said, it’s always exciting to see the people taking to the streets, inspiring to watch as they face down truncheons, tear gas and even bullets, as they grasp toward whatever they’ve understood, for the moment, to represent freedom.
It’s also interesting to watch the reactions of politicians elsewhere. Incipient revolution, regardless of its ideological content or where it takes place, gives politicians the willies. It keeps them up nights, or else causes them to bolt awake with the irresistible urge to make sure the world outside their windows still believes it needs them.
Thus, even in a situation seemingly tailor-made to address the alleged complaints of the US government against the government of Iran, President Barack Obama finds himself unwilling to do much more than damn the people of Iran with faint praise.*
From the perspective of a man in Obama’s line of work, the worst of all possible outcomes is the “failed state” — a state where the political class experiences “loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate [sic] use of force.” Such a situation is always pregnant with possibility: The possibility that the dying state will be replaced, even temporarily and provisionally, by something other than a new state.
Six days a week and twice on Sunday, a Barack Obama will support any state — liberal democracy, communist dictatorship, Islamist theocracy, doesn’t matter — if the plausible alternative is no state. After all, if one country can manage itself without overhead in the form of his counterparts, people are bound to notice, and next thing you know he might find himself looking for real work instead of running a successful franchise of the Big Con.
Have you ever wondered why the United Nations and the United States have spent billions of dollars, over nearly 20 years, attempting to impose a state on Somalia? It certainly hasn’t been “for the people” — they’ve managed just fine (better than other populations in the region, as a matter of fact) between periodic armed, US/UN-financed invasions of new self-proclaimed rulers. Nor is the suppression of piracy a plausible excuse, the market for said piracy being largely a function of the sanctions and chaos that come with attempts to force a state on the Somalis in the first place.
Somalia requires a government, in the opinion of would-be governors, because the alternative is simply unthinkable.
Ditto Iran. While the “leaders” of other states might be willing to accommodate, might even wish for or be willing to tentatively support, a more “liberal” regime in Iran, they’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs if they foresee any risk at all that Iranians might take their lives into their own hands and dispense with the state altogether, even if only for a day.
* Yes, some Republicans have talked up the Iran situation, but I suggest that this is a special case of the rule, not an exception to it. The Republicans in question are affiliated with the GOP’s deranged War Party / “neoconservative” faction. Their rhetoric doesn’t signal an anti-state orientation; it signals their desire to feed Iran into the maw of the American state, or rather, the ruling class behind that state — the military-industrial (read: corporate welfare) complex, in the expectation that a new, more pliant, Iranian state will emerge from the far end of that complex’s alimentary canal. Just like Iraq and Afghanistan, only this time it will work, see?