Shouldn't We Look Before We Leap?
One of the major reasons the Iraq war was such an early disaster was that its architects had almost no idea of how Iraqi society worked and what the outcome of regime change would be.
Sure, they thought they knew. We had confident assertions about how Iraq had a middle class, how they loathed Saddam Hussein, how nationalism would trump sectarianism, and how their oil wealth would enable a quick recovery.
It's worth recalling this history when listening to neoconservatives rush headlong to condemn President Obama for his handling of Iran's massive protests. In the Washington Post we have Robert Kagan retailing an oldie-but-goodie from the run-up to the Iraq war, claiming that the president is "objectively" on the side of the Supreme Leader against the protesters. Dan Senor and Christain Whiton suggest we wade in directly on the protestors behalf.
What's missing from these suggestions is any actual evidence that they understand what's going on on the ground in Iran and why our intervention is going to produce the outcome we want. Nowhere in either article is there any suggestion - much less evidence - that the protesters are looking to overturn the entire Islamic Revolution - clerics, Revolutionary Guard and all. Are they simply demanding a recount so they can vote in Mousavi - who is, we should all remember, a member in good standing in the Islamic Revolution, not a Western liberal.
The bottom line is that even if the protesters succeed in getting a total redo of the elections or even succeed in deposing Khamenei in favor of a new Supreme Leader, those decrying President Obama's reticence won't be happy. Imagine for a moment if Mousavi had won and Khamenei let the results stand. Would Robert Kagan and fellow neoconservatives be penning op-eds about how this signals the will of a more conciliatory Iran? Of course not.
The point is that no pundit or analyst has any firm understanding of how these protests are going to end and what they are going to produce. So it's worth recalling that in this debate, those urging for quick, decisive and bold intervention into Iran's domestic politics were utterly - disastrously - wrong when it came to Iraq.
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