In response to the unfathomably stupid conclusion of the unfathomably stupid James Taranto in the Wall Steet Journal, who states that "We are all neocons now" favoring intervention in Iran, one of my colleagues has written a must-read editorial for a Pakistani newspaper. It makes a strong case for doing exactly what we're doing about the current situation in Iran – sitting on our asses and watching. Let's stick with what we're good at.
Unsurprisingly, the conservative wailing and gnashing of teeth about the President's inaction has been predictable, banal, and thoroughly uninformed. Stop me if you've heard any of that before. Two months ago, and for the past five, ten, twenty years for that matter, the right have demanded that we bomb the sovereign nation of Iran into the Stone Age. It was a nation led by lunatic Islamic fundamentalists and composed almost entirely of bloodthirsty terrorists desperate to wipe Israel off the map and rain death upon the Great Satan. The urgency with which we needed to start killing Iranians was difficult to put into words. Now – almost literally overnight – Iran is America circa 1775, a noble people yearning desperately for sweet, sweet democracy while being oppressed by the Commies or Terrorists or Whigs or whoever the boogeyman of the moment happens to be. Due to this sudden change of heart the right have decided that we don't need to bomb Iran, we need to execute some sort of intervention to overthrow their government in favor of an alternative which, I believe, they are just assuming will be better.
American intervention in the domestic politics of faraway nations has a long, well-documented history of failure that I won't recount here. The fundamental problem with any intervention more intrusive than a strongly-worded statement from the White House is that social and political change must happen independently of foreign meddling in order to be legitimate. This is rooted in common sense – I'm sure a new Iranian government would love to be known as the one Uncle Sam and the Big Green put into power – and in basic psychology. Everyone wants to be the knight-hero of the fairy tale and no one wants to be the helpless damsel in distress. Everyone wants to be the fireman rushing into the burning building, not the trapped person in need of rescue. Everyone wants to be the hero who saves a bystander's life, not the guy laying on the sidewalk having a heart attack.
The American Revolution might well have failed if not for the support the Colonists received from the French and other nations in continental Europe. How prominent is that fact when the Revolution is taught to American school kids? How often do we give three cheers and a big merci to France during our Fourth of July celebrations? We don't remember it because we want the story to be one of our triumph as a nation. We were David and we slew Goliath. We, like every country, need to have a creation myth in which to believe. Iran needs to write its own mythology by determining the outcome of this crisis on its own. If that means thousands of people are beaten or perhaps even killed, that is often what happens when a nation rids itself of a repressive government. Yes, it's sad. Yes, it's terrible. But our knee-jerk reaction to rush in and save the day will accomplish nothing in the long run except to entangle ourselves in another domestic clusterfuck in the Middle East. Even if the opposition leaders in Iran explicitly ask – or beg – for military intervention by the United States, we should decline.
There is a threshold, of course, and it's difficult to say exactly where it lies. Intervention would be called for if the Iranian government starts rounding up its people by the tens of thousands and gassing them in death camps, but short of that I don't think we could justify unilateral intervention. Violence and political upheaval accompany one another. We want to see a situation in which no one gets hurt, but that is rarely reality in political revolutions. The Iranian people are the only ones who can decide what price they are willing to pay to achieve their desired end. I suspect it is quite a high one. It will hurt the rest of us to watch, but the nation which emerges will be a far stronger one than an interventionist American President could ever hope to construct.