Hats Off to Nico

Hats off to Nico Pitney at Huffington Post for his sleepless liveblogging on the events unfolding in Iran.  He is doing great work.  Check in with him often.   From one of his overnight posts:

2:01 AM ET -- Aslan: Rafsanjani calls "emergency" meeting of Assembly of Experts. If true, this is a bombshell. Appearing on CNN last night (video below), Iran expert Reza Aslan reported this:

There are very interesting things that are taking place right now. Some of my sources in Iran have told me that Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who is the head of the Assembly of Experts -- the eighty-six member clerical body that decides who will be the next Supreme Leader, and is, by the way, the only group that is empowered to remove the Supreme Leader from power -- that they have issued an emergency meeting in Qom.

Now, Anderson, I have to tell you, there's only one reason for the Assembly of Experts to meet at this point, and that is to actually talk about what to do about Khamenei. So, this is what I'm saying, is that we're talking about the very legitimacy, the very foundation of the Islamic Republic is up in the air right now. It's hard to say what this is going to go.

Aslan's scoop is also reported by the Farsi-language Rooyeh.

The reader in Iran who tipped me off to this sent a follow-up note:

jesus christ dude,

I'm [in my 30s] and never thought of it, let alone witnessing it as it unfolds.

I'm going nuts.


An informed Iranian-American had a different take. "I think Rafasanjani is not going to ask for Khamenei's removal, but is bluffing to force Khamenei to drop support of Ahmadinejad."

How Do We Define the Obama Doctrine?

This morning on the NDN Blog and the Huffington Post, Simon laid out an argument, to which he urged me to respond, concluding that, due to the rapidly changing nature of the global landscape, the “rise of the rest,” and the ability of America’s very unique new president to speak directly to the world’s peoples, Barack Obama will not be able to be a realist, and will instead have to base his foreign policy on the politics of global aspiration.

Simon’s argument is powerful, and the points he makes about the changing global landscape are on the mark. Obama does indeed have a unique ability to communicate to the world’s peoples, both from a personal and technological standpoint, that is unparalleled. But if Obama is not a realist, what is he?

I would argue that he is certainly not a foreign policy liberal and certainly not a neo-liberal (indisputably the ideological predecessor to neo-conservatism). We will not see an emphasis on democracy promotion as a panacea, and I doubt very much that Obama advisers will be heard calling America “the indispensible nation.”

Rather, much like his domestic policy, Obama’s foreign policy defies labels.

In his almost six months in office, Obama has crafted a middle road, one that has America’s interests at heart, but defines American interests more broadly. It rejects the easily caricatured cynical realism of Kissinger and the narrow realism of Scowcroft/Baker. As Simon argues, he embraces the so called “rise of the rest,” which is not necessarily contrary to American interests – more markets for our goods, greater stability, and fewer failed states all work in our favor.

While Obama often speaks about ideals, we have not seen him subordinate them to interests. In this, Obama has already been the consummate realist – avoiding Carter-esque handwringing about human rights in China, rebuffing Israel – our democratic ally – on settlements, and, most recently, offering very cautious comments on Iran that have sought to avoid pro-democracy pontificating, while still noting that self-determination is a universal value.

The moment that Obama faces and the challenges that come with it, from terrorism, to global poverty, to the rise of new powers, demand this middle road that Obama is walking. America will use diplomacy, alleviate poverty, disease, and strife, and build international institutions all because these serve the American interests that Obama will redefine. He can talk about values, but it will come with the historical knowledge that some of our most disastrous foreign policy moments have come out of liberalism, and that blindly insisting on liberal ideals will, in many cases, backfire.

I’d imagine that, over the next few years, we will find that Obama’s foreign policy will be something that looks like a realism of a more liberal variety, just as Obama’s brand of pragmatism is progressive. And just as a term like pragmatic progressive barely serves as a good descriptor of the Obama domestic policy, nor will whatever term emerges like “liberal realist” be a good descriptor of Obama’s foreign policy. Suffice it to say that the great challenge for this man, in this moment, is to bring America closer to the rest of the world, and the world closer to America, than either has been in a long time – in a manner that serves America’s interests. And he might just be able to do it.

Pragmatic Liberalism in Iran

Simon wrote this morning:

[President Obama] has already been cast in a different role by history -- one of inspiring champion of all those throughout the world who need someone to speak for them… Our president, as chief global advocate of free and open societies, cannot sit on the sidelines as people attempt to throw off the shackles of old and anti-democratic regimes. This moment is too important, this particular leader too powerful, for America not to ambitiously re-assert itself as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples.

I think Simon is right that this will be the central challenge of the Obama Doctrine—to lead the world by example and not by fear. To stand for our values without shoving them down the throats of our partners overseas. To hold America up as a paragon of liberty and justice while, of course, keeping the country safe and secure.

It has been extraordinary to watch the fallout from the hijacking of the Iranian government by President Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Supreme Council. The massive protests we have read about on Twitter, watched on YouTube, and seen in so many incredible photographs continue to gain steam, and there’s no telling where they could lead.

And here we have a situation where our interests and our ideals converge. Moussavi and his followers clearly carry the twin banners of freedom and self-rule in the face of what is, in effect, a military coup. The reformists would, it seems, be more likely to cut a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, and would certainly be easier to work with on the global stage.

But what can we do? What can President Obama say?

The last time our country got involved in Iranian politics, we helped overthrow a democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadeq, and enabled a decade of autocratic rule by the Shah. That misadventure led directly to the 1979 Revolution, and our image hasn’t much improved among the Iranian people since then. Any bold statement by the American president in support of Moussavi would be turned against us as fodder for Ahmadinejad’s populist, anti-American rhetoric. Any evidence of covert American involvement in Iran would shatter the legitimacy of the reformist movement.

President Obama’s challenge is to support this movement in Iran without undermining it, and in this objective, he has been right to hang back and quietly offer an ongoing commitment to negotiations with Iran. As I wrote above, his task is not to enforce democracy, but to enable it when he can, and lead by example when he cannot. Guided by this pragmatic Liberalism, he will have the chance to "ambitiously re-assert America as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples."

What Is the Best Way for Americans to Help Iranians Now?

As we watch the situation in Iran unfold here in the United States, many of us feel a desire to do something to help - the human struggle for freedom is one of the most powerful things we can witness. In the past few days, much has been made of the Iranian opposition's use of Twitter to organize internally and communicate with the outside world. But what is equally remarkable is the response internationally, and particularly in the United States. Many users have made their icons green in a show of solidarity. And as Iranian authorities attempt to block Twitter as well, a cyber-battle has broken out, with activists inside Iran asking people to use simple hacks to overload Iranian government websites. Many Americans are trying to get involved this way, and are also setting up mirror proxies that allow people inside Iran to tweet without being blocked by the government's firewall.

As I said, the desire to help the people of Iran is a natural reaction for anyone observing the situation there. But I'm not really sure that this is the best way to go about it. Today, President Ahmadinejad

... sat side-by-side with world leaders at a summit in Russia, defiantly proclaiming the age of empires had ended and attacking the United States.

In a show of confidence after the worst riots in his country in a decade, Ahmadinejad made no mention of the violence or his hotly disputed reelection victory in his address to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

State-controlled Iranian newspapers are running headlines like "The vote of the Iranian people made U.S. and Israel's work much harder." It's great that Iranians have found a way to help ordinary people fight back online in a distributed fashion, both inside Iran and without, but I also worry that the more we get involved in this, the more Ahmadinejad and his ilk will capitalize on our "interference." 

Citizens here who want to help face the same difficult question that President Obama does - how can we support democracy and justice in Iran without fanning the flames of anti-Americanism? I think he played it just right in his comments today:

"When I see violence directed at peaceful protesters, when I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, wherever that takes place, it is of concern to me and it is of concern to the American people. That is not how governments should interact with their people."

Mr. Obama also said that "something has happened in Iran," leading to "a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures towards the international community that have taken place in the past. That there are people who want to see greater openness and greater debate and want to see greater democracy. How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something for the Iranian people to decide."

By all means, the rest of the world can and should show solidarity with the people of Iran. But if we are serious about the ideals of democracy and self-determination, we must also remember that in the end, this is Iran's fight, and we cannot fight it for them.

Obama: No Realist He

I'm not going to have enough time to get this all out this morning, but to start, I want to agree with folks like Fareed Zakaria and Zbig Brzezinski that the central dynamic driving global politics today is the "rise of the rest," or the powerful aspiration of the rising peoples and nations of the world to have their shot at a version of what we call the American Dream. That dynamic, which Barack Obama began to address in his Cairo speech, involves many other strands of history - the end of colonialism and the Cold War, the transformative cultural impact of globalization, rising standards of living around the world, the rapid spread of the Internet and mobile devices putting ever more powerful tools in the hands of the world's people, the emergence of a global Millennial Generation comfortable with these tools, more affluent and educated and globally aware than their parents, eager to seek a better life for themselves and their countries. 

Informing and inspiring this global transformation of course is the radical promise of equal opportunity for all offered by the America's founding fathers. Obama discussed it this way in his recent Cairo speech: 

....Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

......I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

As Obama alludes to in his speech, the way President Bush attempted to "spread democracy" did much in recent years to undermine and degrade the American championed vision of democracy just as an enormous part of the world was awakening to its possibilities. This disappointment with the perceived anti-democratic leanings of an American President acting on the global stage - at this point in history - itself became a very powerful global dynamic, and was central to the global rejection of Bush and the neocons by peoples and governments around the world. 

Another factor in this "rise of the rest" is race, the emergence of non-white European global powers and peoples. Only about a billion of the world's seven billion people are of white European heritage, and there can be little doubt now that this century will see the America-European dominated global order give way to one more representative of the people of the world and its emerging demographic realities. We saw some of the first manifestations of this in the recent G-20 meetings with the discussion of how to reorganize the IMF.   The seats at the tables of power will be increasingly occupied by non-white, non-Europeans, which in and of itself will become a powerful visual, or as we call it, "optic," in the emerging global order of the 21st century. 

Which brings me to Barack Obama, a self-described racial "mutt," a man who grew up in multiracial societies in Indonesia and Hawaii, and who was elected with the very potent high-tech and democratizing "new tools" of the 21st century. In ways that I think we are only beginning to understand, he has himself become the extraordinary global symbol to those aspiring for more for themselves and their countries everywhere - the story of an outsider, a member of an oppressed class made good; of the overthrow of a oligarchical oppressive power through a popular democratic uprising; of the use of powerful new tools to give regular people a voice in their own futures; and one of the most powerful parts of this story, the emergence of a non-white leader as the leader of the most important nation in the world, at this time of the "rise of the rest." 

For all of these reasons I don't think Barack Obama has the option of becoming an advocate of the realist school of American foreign policy. He has already been cast in a different role by history - one of inspiring champion of all those throughout the world who need someone to speak for them. I will not argue that what we are seeing in Iran today is a direct result of the Cairo speech, or of Obama's direct inspiration to the forces of modernization and democratization inside Iran. But there can be no doubt that Obama's rise has injected a new inspiring dynamic into the rising world, and these forces, unleashed, have the potential to remake the world for good or ill. Our President, as chief global advocate of free and open societies, cannot sit on the sidelines as people attempt to throw off the shackles of old and anti-democratic regimes. This moment is too important, this particular leader too powerful, for America not to ambitiously re-assert itself as the great global champion of universal aspirations of all the world's peoples. 

Where this takes us it is too early to tell, but go there we must, as are witnessing the birth of a global "new politics" of the 21st century very different from the global politics of the century just past. And in Barack Obama, this "new politics" has found its first global leader and inspired champion. May he have the courage and vision to seize this global opportunity, as this may be, more so than any other, his ultimate calling.

Social Media and the Iranian Protests

Iran is the third-largest blogger nation in the world (see video below), and has a particularly vibrant social media environment. So it comes as no surprise that, as the Iranian government tries to clamp down on media coverage of the unrest there, students and activists are turning to social media to bypass the regime's censorship. Andrew Sullivan wrote a very excited post today titled "The Revolution Will Be Twittered," where he exclaims that the opposition's innovative use of Twitter

...reveals in Iran what the Obama campaign revealed in the United States. You cannot stop people any longer. You cannot control them any longer. They can bypass your established media; they can broadcast to one another; they can organize as never before.

...The key force behind this is the next generation, the Millennials, who elected Obama in America and may oust Ahmadinejad in Iran. They want freedom; they are sick of lies; they enjoy life and know hope.

Social networking sites have been helpful in mobilizing and organizing protests in a rapid and distributed fashion. They have also been crucial for getting information out of Iran to the rest of the world - the first word of today's shootings broke on Twitter, where today's top hashtag is #IranElections. Check out this firsthand account from @persiankiwi, or this one from mehran751 (translated):

RT: @nima68: RT: @mehran751: 4 shooted right in front of my eyes, i think 3 are dead #iranelection

Watching the footage of protesters in Iran today, it's impossible not to be moved - it reminds me in some ways of footage from the "velvet revolution" in the Czech Republic. But while I'm a strong proponent of the power of technology to affect social and political change, I do think that Sullivan's excitement about Twitter is a bit simplistic. As Tom Watson from TechPresident points out, "Twitter (and Facebook and text messaging and blog and YouTube) can be effective information outlets for revolutionaries, but it's utterly facile to suggest that information technology is driving the currents of unrest in Iran."

It may still be a bit of a stretch to call the use of Twitter itself a "revolution." That said, the Tweets and YouTube videos (and photos, like this one from the Boston Globe depicting a Mousavi supporter helping an injured riot policeman) that are streaming out of Iran are incredibly powerful, and we will continue to watch with acute interest to see how the online resistance takes shape there.

IRAN: A Nation Of Bloggers from ayrakus on Vimeo.

Al Qaeda Regroups, Israel Engages, the GOP Focuses on Obama's "Character"

Three more must reads this morning: 

Amid news reports that violence is rising in Afghanistan, the New York Times offers a major new look at how Bush Administration policies have contributed to the regrouping of Al Qaeda in the region. 

The New York Times editorial page reviews Israel's recent spate of diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, reminding us how these new bold initiatives are a direct repudiation of the now clearly failed Bush strategy for remaking the region.  

And the Washington Post offers an insightful piece on the growing conventional wisdom on how the GOP plans to go after U.S. Sen. Barack Obama - casting him as a politician without beliefs, willing to say and do anything to get elected. 

Hersh's "Preparing the Battlefield"

A link to the New Yorker story everyone is talking about.

The Bush-McCain attacks on Obama

In today's Washington Post, Jamie Rubin does a great take down on the increasingly silly John McCain, reminding us all what McCain said about Hamas two years ago:

Two years ago, just after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary
elections, I interviewed McCain for the British network Sky News's
"World News Tonight" program. Here is the crucial part of our exchange:

I asked: "Do you think that American diplomats should be operating
the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government
if Hamas is now in charge?"

McCain answered: "They're the government; sooner or later we are
going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand
why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy
towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things
that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new
reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security
and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

I will try to find more time to write about all this in the next few days, but see here for something I wrote about Bush-McCain attacks on Obama yesterday, and here for an essay I wrote recently on the terrible Bush Legacy in the Middle East. Note here the warm reception Bush received in Saudi Arabia today.

Update: TPM has the video of McCain on Hamas. 

Update Sat am: The Times reports on it all here

Bush's speech in Israel yesterday

There is so much wrong with what Bush said in Israel yesterday that it cannot fit in one blog post. The Huffington Post has this brief writeup, which includes the Secretary of Defense's repudiation of the Bush argument from earlier this week. But what galls me the most is that the cause of recent ascension is the Iraq war itself, and the placement of an Iranian-friendly Shiite-led Arab government in the heart of the Middle East; and that it has been this Administration who has been unable to do anything about the Iranian nuclear program. If there is any group responsible for the rise of Iran as a regional hegemon it is the neocons running the White House, not a Senator who opposed the Iraq war in the first place.

This speech was a dark moment in a terrible Presidency, one that has done so much to betray the core values that have made America a great and generous power. For more on the Bush legacy in the Middle East check out this essay I penned on returning from a 6 day long trip to Israel earlier this year.

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