Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Fearful Asymmetry

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

In the context of all the sabre-rattling going-on these days, a quotation is gaining some traction:

The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don't know each other, but we talk and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you.

And our governments are very much the same.
Marjane Satrapi
(Iranian graphic novelist)

I don't know what the original context of Ms Satrapi's remarks were, but now they are now being used as-if she were a proxy for the Iranian people and the listener for the American people. If either person is admitted to be exceptional in some relevant way, then there is no general lesson to be drawn! Ms Satrapi in fact lives in France, rather than in Iran; there wouldn't be much reason to fear her being bombed qua Iranian by Western military forces. So we're to take it that the typical American and the typical Iranian are so similar as to be able each perfectly to understand the other.

We're also told that our respective states are pretty much the same. With the previous claim about people, this would imply that very similar relationships obtain between the peoples and their respective states. But, more than this, we are further told that the differences between the peoples and their respective states is greater than the difference between the peoples.

Well, logical alarm bells go-off in my head. This set of claims of similarity is not consistent with direction of such remarks more to one people than to another. If the relationships are as claimed, then such remarks should and could be directed to both populations. But they're not, and for good reason.

The claims of similarity between peoples and of differences between peoples and states being greater than differences between peoples should at least be questioned, though they are not evidently false and might prove true.

My experience of non-Americans from almost anywhere is that they greatly over-estimate how well they understand Americans. However, though a claim of similarity of peoples being proved by mutual understanding is false, people can be quite similar each without understanding the other; perhaps indeed the differences between Americans and Iranians are not so great. I wouldn't simply reject the claim, but it would need some substantiation.

I'm not sure how to measure the difference between peoples and states relative to the difference between people and people, but let's accept the claim that that the former is greater than the latter.

The states are not very much the same. It would be hard to falsify a claim that the proportions or absolute numbers of knaves and of fools in each state are the same, but also hard to prove such a claim; in any case, the powers of the knaves and of the fools are not the same in one state as opposed to the other. While the United States indeed has got more repressive in some important respects, and unfortunately can be expected to continue to do so, it is simply not as repressive as is the Iranian state. For example, in America, one can still easily and openly criticize the state and social norms, and consume such attacks, without fear of being criminally charged. (I suspect that Ms Satrapi's claim that the states are very much the same results largely from a combination of nationalistic embarrassment and insufficiently critical consumption of French antipathy to America.)

(I note en passant that it would be a d_mn'd fine thing if the anti-war political left would remember the propensity to wickedness of the state when it starts to get excited by thoughts of expanding the state for the various purposes that the left favors. The anti-war political right and classical liberals don't lose sight of that propensity when talk shifts from war to other matters.)

The relationship between the Iranian people and the Iranian state is plainly quite different. The United States may have a very flawed democracy, even as democracies go, but neither major party in the United States is able to control elections to the extent that the Iranian regime has. (Elsewhere, Ms Satrapi has claimed that the ruling Iranian party actually received only 12% of the vote in the national elections of 2009.)

One makes the case for peace not to the Iranian people but to the people of the West because one can make the case to them, and because they can more readily insist upon peace to their respective states. I strongly suggest that, when the case is made, it be better made than by misrepresenting the relationship between state and state or between peoples and states. Proceeding with a reckless disregard for the truth persuades people that one is not to be trusted, and they may leap to the spurious conclusion that they should invest their trust in one's principal opponents.

Presidential Prognostications

Monday, 15 June 2009

I am not at all sanguine about the oppositional up-rising in Iran. Although it is evident that Ahmadinejad's faction rigged the counting of the vote, I think that he would have won, by approximately the same margin, had the votes been honestly counted. I see the up-rising as that of a minority, and of a minority that is considerably less thuggish than the majority whom they oppose.

Meanwhile, I am fairly sure that, by the end of the calendar year, the attempt by our own President to reëngineer America will have failed, and that the changes that he will have been able to effect will, over-all, be viewed by most Americans as wrong-headed in one way or another.

In some future entry, I'll have more to say about my perceptions of his programme.

Other Statistical Analysis

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan notes the The Results as They Came In for the Iranian Presidential election. Specifically, as the official figures were up-dated, they fell almost perfectly along a straight line. The fit has an R2 of .998, which is a virtual impossibility. So the official figures are a bald lie. That doesn't mean that Ahmadinejad wouldn't have won under a fair count, but it means that he chose to steal the election rather than to risk losing under a fair count.

Foreign Policy — Theory and Practice

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Proponents of a multilateralist foreign policy have treated the consequences of the post-9/11 foreign policy of the Administration of GW Bush as a sort of proof of the merits of multilateralism over unilateralism.

Part of the problem with this argument is that, while the invasion and occupation of Iraq was essentially unilateralist, the earlier invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was multilateralist, and that invasion doesn't seem to have been a comparative success.

Moreover, politically weakened when the Rumsfeld strategy failed, the Administration was compelled to pursue a multilateralist policy with respect to Iran and to North Korea. Again, the policy does not seem to have worked.

In fact, the war with Iraq was not begun under that Administration, nor was it begun unilaterally. It was begun in early 1991, as a multilateral policy under the Administration of GHW Bush, and continued as such under the Clinton Administration. After more than twelve years of undeclared multilateral warfare, forceably embargoing Iraq and lobbing missiles at them, and the deaths of an enormous number of Iraqis, with Saddam Hussein trying to bide his time until it became impossible for the United States to remain in Saudia Arabia, the United States switched to a unilateral war policy.

Also during the Administration of the elder Bush, the United States participated in the multilateral invasion and occupation of Somalia. (At its outset, the mainstream media celebrated it as a sort-of proof-by-expectation of the merits of the UN.) That wasn't exactly a success either. (But, somehow, not taken as proof-by-outcome of the deficiencies of the UN.)

Now, proponents of multilateralism variously argue that they just need(ed) more time, that the specific implementations have been defective but the general approach is none-the-less appropriate, or that their policy is imperfect but less of a failure than the alternative. Unilateralists present the isomorphic arguments got by swapping uni and multi.

The last form of argument, that the policy is better than the alternative hangs on the notion that the only one alternative exists; that we must have either unilateralist entanglements or multilateralist entanglements. Well, that's certainly not logically true. Logically, we might simply avoid entanglements altogether. Instead of having our diplomats author or co-author Strongly Worded Declarations, we might tell our diplomats to just shut-up. Instead of trying to police the world in-or-out-of NATO, we might send our troops over-seas exactly and only when specifically attacked within our own territory.

I don't know that military isolation would spare us any grief. While a very large share of the present problems of America are caused by the past misdeeds of the United States, I'm of the opinion that indeed a large part of the world hates America because they see its liberalism (tattered as it may be) as an obscene rebuke to their own cultures, and dread that, in the absence of violence, that liberalism would over-sweep their cultures. And that part of the world would use the past sins of the United States as an excuse to fly planes into our buildings for decades after the United States tried to withdraw. But, in spite of my practical doubt, and in spite of my not knowing just how to transition, I'm convinced that we need to move towards military isolation, and to keep moving until we get there and can stay there.

In any case, when you evaluate the foreign policy of the United States, consider the invasion of Iraq, but also consider the dozen years of war before that; consider Afghanistan, consider Iran, consider North Korea, consider Somalia, consider the Sudan. Don't compare practical unilateralism to mythical multilateralism.