Story Stream
recent articles

Weâ??the government and the people of the United Statesâ??need to stand up for the Iranian people. We need to make their goals our goals, their interests our interests, their work our work. - John McCain

For years, the primary U.S. interests in Iran were getting it to drop support for Hezbollah and Hamas and to ensure that its civilian nuclear program was not surreptitiously used to manufacturer a nuclear weapon. In Senator McCain's speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, from which the above is taken, there is no discussion at all as to what the Iranian people's goals are with respect to those American priorities. He does not argue that a democratic and free Iran would abandon Hezbollah or would forswear nuclear weapons. Both things, mind you, are possible (especially, I think, ditching nukes), but it seems strange to me that we are told to treat as one American and Iranian interests without evidence that they actually converge.

There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that Senator McCain believes it is more important for the Iranian people to be free than for the U.S. to get satisfaction on the issues it cares about. There's probably a constituency for that view among some proponents of human rights in the Middle East, but it definitely cuts against the mainstream view in U.S. foreign policy circles.

The second explanation is that Senator McCain believes that a free Iran will naturally conform its domestic and foreign policies in a manner that pleases the United States. Or if it doesn't, it will at least moderate the policies we don't like, which would be a positive step. In his speech, he does seem to lean in that direction. While that's not an unreasonable assumption, it's important to recognize that it is an assumption. There's no way to know how a free Iran chooses to conduct its foreign policy.

Look at Turkey. From the period of 2003-2010, Turkey was the freest country in the Middle East outside of Israel. But because it bucked American demands over Iraq and has taken to using demagogic language over Israel, a growing number of commentators (and, incidentally, McCain supporters and self-styled advocates for Iranian democracy) are calling on the U.S. to boot them out of NATO and warning in the starkest tones about Turkey's "slouching toward Islamism." Some have even claimed that Turkey has "gone mad."

If I were an Iranian protester observing American political discourse since the Green movement began, what would I notice? During the last 12 months, the voices who claimed they want to see democracy take root in Iran were vastly more concerned with the foreign policy of a free Turkey than an unfree Saudi Arabia. I would notice that the voluminous output of anti-Semitism in Saudi Arabia was ignored, while the demagoguery of Turkey's leaders was treated as evidence of a nascent Islamist rogue state and regional competitor.

I would conclude that the same voices professing solidarity with my cause are less concerned with political freedom than with geopolitical orientation.