by Maria Rohaly & Siavash Sayid (Ahmad Fatemi)
An opinion editorial by former US President George W. Bush’s speechwriter and senior policy advisor Michael Gerson appeared in the Wednesday February 3, 2010 edition of the Washington Post.
Entitled “U.S. solidarity could boost Iran’s Green Revolution,” Gerson’s opinion piece seems, on the surface, to advance once again the idea that moral support from the United States to the ongoing revolution in Iran would not only be the right thing to do from a human rights perspective (1) but would be shrewd foreign policy as well.
We too believe that after 8 years of Bush’s “axis of evil” campaign – formulated by Gerson himself – to dehumanize Iran as a political precondition to wage another war, it would be gratifying to see the US government finally rectify the American position by morally supporting freedom-seeking Iranian people and decrying the monstrous criminality of the Islamic Republic regime. Morally supporting the movement for freedom and democracy in Iran is of critical importance not only to Iranian people themselves, but to the majority of the world’s citizens, including Americans. Should this revolution succeed in its aims, a free and democratic Iran can be expected to foster a climate of stability and peace in the region in the long run.
Given this importance, it is frustrating that the unique characteristics of the current Iranian uprising seem to have created confusion for policymakers and political strategists: at the same time that the revolution in Iran is signaling the way it should be treated through clarity in its demands (no to theocracy; yes to equality, social and economic justice, humane governance, freedom and equality), the West, and the United States in particular, is still trying to understand events in Iran while entangled by a classical “regime change”-oriented conceptual framework.
Through his article in the Washington Post, Gerson contributes to this entanglement. His need to portray the current Iranian revolution in a light that advances a specific set of political objectives requires him to attempt to fuse key concepts regarding the situation in Iran that fundamentally cannot be soldered together. These attempts create confusion and constitute a falsification of reality that undermines the very objective that Gerson claims he is aiming for.
Fusion for the purpose of confusion is evident in Gerson’s article in at least three instances: his manipulative fusion of the terms “green” and “revolution,” facilitated by his tactical refusal to disambiguate the meaning of “green” in the broader context of the June 2009 elections in Iran; Gerson’s use of terms such as “solidarity” and “revolution” (implying popular support of peoples’ freedom movements), to advance his arguments for “regime change,” a concept that implies undemocratic third-party manipulative intervention; and his conflation of the ideas of “solidarity with” and “leverage over” as regards the ongoing struggle in Iran.
In this analysis, we clarify what Gerson has tried so hard to obfuscate, beginning with a disambiguation of “green,” which Gerson has tactically refused to provide for his readership, and continuing with an analysis of the aforementioned three examples of Gerson’s attempts at fusion for the purpose of confusion: “green revolution,” revolution vs regime change, and support vs leverage.
II. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF “GREEN”? The problem with seeing contradictory social and political forces as one
“Green” in the context of the June 2009 elections and all that has come after has never had a single meaning. Of course it is the color of Mousavi’s reformist campaign, and it is the color of the “Where is my vote?” signs that were broadcast to the world in the wake of those elections. But even in those early days in June, before peoples’ protests began to convince the world of the depth of their conviction, green meant one thing to the Mousavi/reformist camp and something else to many if not most of those who came to the streets. For Mousavi, green was the color of the reform package he was peddling: a package that he and the other inside-the-regime opposition leaders have promoted as the only way to preserve the existence of their crumbling regime, which for 30 years has been in constant political and economic crisis and has never succeeded in achieving the status of a normal government. For many Iranians who protested, Mousavi’s green was the color of hope for a somewhat freer Iran – at least for a short period of time. This brief interlude of naïve hope came to an end as soon as the regime savagely attacked the peaceful protests.
The abject violence of the Islamic regime’s crackdown on protesters in the streets, the dark monstrosities inflicted upon protesters once the doors of Evin or Kahrizak clanked closed behind them, and the arbitrary executions of people who asked for nothing more than their rights have served not to suppress these democratic protests but to sharpen their demands, clarify the true nature of the movement, and consolidate the Iranian peoples’ conviction to rid themselves once and for all of the nightmare known as the Islamic Republic.
As a result, demands from within the “green movement” have grown more decisively in favour of ending the Islamic regime in its entirety, in direct contradiction to reformist objectives. Evidence from videos uploaded to media sharing websites clearly show that the chants of protesters have moved from silently asking “Where is my vote?” to shouting “death to Khamenei” or “Khamenei ghatel e asl e velayat batele!” (2) Ahmadinejad has long been left behind as the target of the ire of demonstrators; protesters in the streets aim instead directly at the source of the problem: Ali Khamenei and what he represents – the Islamic regime. Azar 16 (Students’ Day – December 7 2009), with its vehemently anti-regime slogans and chants, provided incontrovertible evidence that the reformist agenda had no constituents among an increasing proportion of those in the streets.
In response to the shifting agenda of the “green movement,” Mousavi and the leading reformists (typically referred to by themselves and in the media as “green leadership”) have attempted to regain control over the meaning of green, and use it as a winning card in bargaining on the future of the Islamic regime. The revolutionary tenor of the protests of Tasoa and Ashoura at the end of December 2009 is precisely what caused prominent reformists such as Mousavi and Khatami (“green leadership”) to distance themselves from the protesters (“green movement”) by swearing their commitment to the Islamic regime. The peoples’ offensive mode against the foundation of the regime, “the principle of clerical supremacy,” forced Mousavi, Khatami, and Soroush and his 4 co-authors to further undermine their claim to “green leadership” by generating documents listing their version of the demands of the green movement – all of which were defined within the current constitutional framework. These documents should be interpreted as leading reformists’ attempts to wrest the definition of “green,” and the definition of the demands of the protesters, out of the control of the people themselves.
Thus we establish that there is not a singular meaning of “green” in the current political situation in Iran, and we observe that “green leadership” does not represent the “green movement.”
Gerson’s tactical refusal to disambiguate “green”
What Gerson chooses not to convey to his readership is the infusibility of the green leadership’s undemocratic platform with the democratic demands of the current revolution. Gerson has surely not missed the distinguished presence of women in the protests, and the fact that there is a constitutional gender apartheid issue to be solved by this revolution. Yet “green leadership” has been tasked with preserving this very constitution. Gerson pretends to ignorance when implicitly posing the question of why workers have not come under the green banner, conveniently forgetting that it was when “green” Khatami was in office and being praised by the western mass media for ”democratic” reforms that prominent labour leaders were arrested and condemned to long-term prison sentences, not to mention torture. Gerson pretends that such fusions of contradictory forces (demands for women’s equality vs constitutional gender apartheid; demands for workers’ rights vs the worker-oppressive reformist agenda) are possible, and if such fusion does not emerge organically, it could be coaxed into unnatural bloom through the use of “creative” measures. By refusing to disambiguate the objectives of fundamentally different movements all deliberately painted in green, Gerson extends an orchestrated confusion of the kind that poses a true threat to the Iranian reach for freedom. It is a confusion that is required in order to move his agenda forward.
III. FUSION AND CONFUSION: THREE EXAMPLES
In this section, we give three examples of the way that Gerson uses a method of fusing contradictory concepts in an effort to re-root popular support for the Iranian revolution into a path that is favourable to Gerson’s policy agenda.
A. Manipulative fusion of “green” with “revolution”
We have established that the “green movement” represents fundamentally different demands from the “green leadership,” and the demand of the “green movement” that has become louder and more insistent over time has been for freedom and a humane society. It is this demand that the public thinks of as we taste the words “green revolution” in our mouths, trying to decide if the flavour is right.
If the reform leaders and political observers both inside and outside of Iran have had difficulty in finding a logical way to fuse the reality of the “green movement” in the streets with the objectives of the “green leadership” prior to Azar 16, the Tasoa and Ashoura events of December 26 and 27 2009 made this fusion even more impossible.
The most recent attempt to salvage the illusion that “green leadership” has a viable constituency within the “green movement” has been to abandon the terminology of reform and replace it with the language of revolution, defanged. Gerson and others have settled on the oxymoronic formulation of “green revolution” to accomplish this task: to characterize such a revolution as green, thus conflating it with the reformist campaign of Mousavi, ultimately suppresses the voices calling for real political, social and economic changes for Iran. This is by no means accidental.
Gerson, as a former senior policy advisor to the President of the United States, does not have recourse to the defense that he is stymied by the complexity of Iranian politics: his conflation of the “greenness” of the peoples’ revolutionary impulse with the green of Mousavi’s reformist flag intentionally creates confusion rather than clarity. It serves as an obstacle for outside observers to achieve a correct understanding of what they see happening inside Iran. Diverting the popular understanding of the meaning of “green” from the reality of the situation on the ground to a phantom – an impossible fusion of “green revolution” – serves only to counter the freedom-seeking movement that is surging in Iran.
Thus we observe that “green leadership” represents neither the “green movement” nor the phantom of “green revolution.” This observation establishes the foundation for understanding our next example of Gerson’s effort to fuse two antagonistic factors. In his effort to militate against the democratic revolution in Iran and advocate in favour of a “reformed” Islamic Republic that cannot respond to the democratic demands of the Iranian people, Gerson attempts to portray this “green revolution” as being led by a counter-revolutionary figure.
B. Regime change is not revolution: Gerson and Mohsen Sazegara, climax of political vulgarity
Gerson only superficially endorses the idea of a people-led democratic “green revolution.” Substantively, he promotes the idea that the US should pursue a policy of undemocratic regime change in Iran. An irrefutable indicator of this approach is Gerson’s choice to rely heavily on the testimony of Mohsen Sazegara in his article, who he positions as a “resistance leader in exile.” Gerson chooses not to reveal the reformist agenda that Sazegara represents, and in so doing, he deceives his readership. He chooses not to disclose the fact that Mohsen Sazegara is the founder of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – the violent security apparatus of the Islamic Regime responsible for much of the post-election violence and repression as well as numerous atrocities over the past 31 years, thus making it a party to heinous crimes against humanity. Sazegara can only be considered a revolutionary in the twisted minds of those who tried to sell Chalabi as a revolutionary to the Iraqi people. Sazegara is and always has been a counter-revolutionary figure who sooner or later has to answer for his crimes.
Gerson knows exactly what he is doing. He is explicit about it, in fact. Although he artfully uses words that suggest support for peoples’ movements such as “solidarity” and “revolution,” he elides that language with explicit advocacy from within a classic theoretical framework of regime change, with all of its implications of undemocratic third-party intervention.
Despite his “idealistic” talk of standing with Iranian people and letting them know that they are not alone, Gerson has not experienced a moral revolution of the heart since waging his “axis of evil” campaign against the Iranian people. Gerson dutifully mouths the advocacy for Iranian democracy and human rights that has been espoused by everyone inspired by the Iranian people rising in dignity. The difference lies in the fact that as he does so, he uses the well-known method of re-rooting popular support for freedom in Iran into a path that is more desirable from the perspective of his handlers, exactly in accordance with the “regime change” manual. He is not talking about supporting what that revolution is about, but rather he discusses nominating a “leader” and the use of various tactics such as “covert” operations, “finance” and “creative” plans to gain the leverage required to create his own version of “revolution” in Iran.
Thus, Gerson does not actually support the revolutionary emergence of a free and democratic government of the Iranian people, by the Iranian people and for the Iranian people. He is trying to convince the American public of the righteousness of yet another ill-advised effort at regime change implemented for American corporate interests, by the American government, and underwritten by the American people.
C. The difference between “solidarity with” and “leverage over”
Gerson seeks to set a particular tone for his argument from the outset, in the title of the article itself. He suggests that America should offer “solidarity” to the revolution in Iran, bringing to mind images of everyday citizens making common cause out of their very humanity. But once again the content of Gerson’s argument contradicts the appealing packaging with which it is presented. This time, he conflates the idea of standing in solidarity with the Iranian freedom movement with obtaining leverage over political events in Iran that may result in regime change.
Gerson seeks “American leverage” in Iran in order to influence the course of events there during this period of flux. But “to influence” is not synonymous with “to stand in solidarity with.” Standing in solidarity with Iranian people requires extraordinary openness; it cannot be fused to “covert financial assistance,” which the Iranian people have not asked for. Covert financial assistance, ironically a reminder of the Iran-Contra Affair, by its nature cannot be issued randomly: it follows a policy of preferences, and Gerson already has a list with Sazegara on the top of it. Yet Gerson knows that Sazegara is not Chalabi, and Iran is not Iraq. Standing in solidarity with Iranian people cannot share conceptual space with sanctions and more intensified militarization of the region, which result only in starving the people and keeping them perpetually under Damocles’ sword. Isn’t the place Gerson advocates America should go in terms of “creatively encouraging political change” the same place America recently went: Iraq, prior to the disastrous invasion?
What the Iranian revolution demands from those in the outside world who would stand in solidarity with them is clear: the Islamic Republic should be treated as the criminal regime it is. The Islamic regime should be expelled from the UN, and the recognition of its legitimacy as the representative of Iranian people should be revoked. Iranian people do not – like any other nation – accept military intervention or economic sanctions. No “leverage” is required to support these demands ; yet Iranian peoples’ presence in the streets, around 150,000 executed over the past 30 years and buried in unmarked mass graveyards like Khavaran, hundreds of thousands imprisoned in places like Kahrizak and Evin to be tortured and raped, the daily brutalities of gender apartheid, the terrorist nature of the regime both inside and outside Iran… all of these are more than enough “leverage” if such is needed. The US, like any other country, has no limitation whatsoever if it wants to stand in solidarity with the Iranian revolution. The US is however very limited in its ability to convert this revolution to serve its own political ends, and this in fact is what Gerson means when he bemoans the limited American “leverage” over the situation in Iran.
IV. WHAT SHOULD AMERICAN CITIZENS DEMAND?
A. What Americans should demand as national policy towards Iran
We reject imposing sanctions or threatening Iran with weapons, both of which, if deployed, should be considered collective punishment of the Iranian people leading to extremely inhumane results. We argue instead that the best and most effective way of supporting the Iranian revolution is to cease to recognize this regime as legitimate. This is done by shuttering their embassies and closing off diplomatic relations with this illegitimate entity.
Today, the Islamic Republic, as a member of the UN, has a legitimized platform to stand on, to speak, address the world, and propagate its despotism. A further step that citizens and governments can take is to demand that the United Nations expels the Islamic Republic from its membership – while creating some mechanism to ensure that the people of Iran are represented at the UN’s table. Once that platform is taken away, the Islamic Republic – which does not in any case represent the people of Iran at the United Nations – no longer has that legitimized place from which to speak to the international community. To take that away weakens the regime. To any extent that we can weaken the regime politically from the outside, we contribute to a shift in the balance of power on the inside; we strengthen and legitimize the voice of freedom in Iran by refusing to grant the voice of repression legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. This international acknowledgement of the rightness of the Iranian people’s demands for a humane, secular, and democratic government is the best possible support that the United States, and the rest of the world, could give the Iranian revolution.
The events in Iran represent an opportunity for the United States to respect the revolution and show sympathy by supporting the will of the people implementing it. The US has not done this, and the failures of foreign policy in the Middle East have shown the incorrectness of this approach.
B. What Americans should demand of ourselves
The American people must resist seduction by the likes of Gerson and those he represents, who take the ideals that reflect the best impulses in Americans’ nature and twist them – fuse them – to reflections of the basest aspects of human nature. Do not be confused. We have been sold this bill of goods before. The price of our cheerful willingness to be swayed by the manipulative rhetoric of the Bush administration was paid with the blood of a million dead Iraqi children and hundreds of thousands Iraqis and American servicemen and women who gave their lives for the sake of weapons of mass destruction that existed not in the deserts of Iraq but in the imaginations of Gerson and his ilk. We voted Obama into office in an effort to assuage some of our national guilt, but our hands are still stained red. We have a responsibility as citizens of this country to choose to stand firm and refuse to be led astray by such manipulations. We must stand with those fighting for the same rights we should demand for ourselves: those who are struggling for freedom and a humane Iran.
Engaging in the fusion of contradictory concepts to intentionally create confusion about the realities of what is going on in Iran is a method used by Gerson throughout his article to further specific political aims. This kind of behaviour must stop: Gerson and other observers of the ongoing political situation in Iran need to be honest enough to disambiguate the concept of “green” for their readership as well as for our leadership. What has heretofore been called the “green movement” does not have the same aims as those who are called “green leadership.” The use of the term “green revolution” constitutes a deception and serves only to suppress the voices of the Iranian people demanding their human rights; it superimposes the reformist flag – representing only more of the same Islamic Republic – over the revolution. It is dangerous to the ongoing movement for freedom in Iran to deceptively position a professional counter-revolutionary such as Sazegara – or anyone, for that matter – as leaders of that movement. Iranian people and only Iranian people have the right to do this.
Taking a principled rather than pragmatic stand against dictatorship in Iran will set a precedent that our political leaders may eventually find difficult to accept – the United States has willingly allied itself with dictatorships for political and economic purposes. For this our nation has paid a high price and the US has lost respect and credibility. Respecting and supporting Iranian peoples’ revolutionary will is the right thing to do. It also constitutes a necessary first step towards revolutionizing our destructive approach to foreign policy.
(1) Examining Gerson’s perception of and record on human rights is beyond the scope of the present analysis but remains on the agenda for future analysis.
(2) ”Khamenei is a murderer, the principle of supremacy is terminated!”