Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Karim Sadjadpour & Trita Parsi on the meaning of the Ashura protests

For those who are interested in watching this sort of thing on-line, I recommend this clear, perceptive, and illuminating discussion of Iran's political crisis from the PBS News Hour a few days ago (December 28, 2009). The two discussants, Karim Sadjadpour (of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and Trita Parsi (of the National Iranian American Council), do an excellent job of spelling out the reasons for both (cautious) optimism in the long term and anxious uncertainty in the short term.

One point may be worth highlighting. They both argue that, at this point, it is both right and politically realistic (as opposed to 'realist') for the US to demonstrate its clear and solid "moral support" for democratic forces in Iran. "They should continue to express solidarity with the Iranian people and make it clear to the Iranian people that the United States is on the right side of history and the United States very much wants to see them them to succeed." Once, the regime could use such statements of support to paint reformists and dissidents as tools of the west, particularly the US, but "not any longer." The regime is now sufficiently discredited, and the opposition has sufficiently demonstrated its breadth and depth within Iran, that most Iranians will no longer swallow this line. That sounds right to me.

Karim Sadjadpour is someone whose judgment on these matters has been consistently excellent, informed, and intelligently pro-democratic. He merits very close attention whenever he talks about Iran.

With Trita Parsi (of the National Iranian American Council), the situation is slightly more complex. In the past--I want to put this carefully--Parsi has taken positions on foreign-policy issues that have sometimes brought him close, at least, to being a subtle apologist for the Iranian regime and its propaganda line. (One especially conspicuous example is his tendentious and misleading Israel-bashing book on the three-way relationship between Iran, Israel, and the US.) However, ever since the current political crisis in Iran blew up in June with the fraudulent election and the massive popular protests against it, Parsi's sympathies have been solidly and unequivocally with the democratic opposition, and his analyses of the unfolding dynamics of the situation have been generally on-target and often penetrating. That's true again in this discussion.

--Jeff Weintraub