Friday, December 18, 2009

Should We Forget the Iranians?

For the second time this year, the Iranian people have spoken through the ballot box. And once again, their voice was not heard.

As Michelle Moghtader over at niacINsight explains, Time Magazine has given the shaft to the Iranian people. According to Moghtader, more than 536,000 people voted that the Iranian protesters should be named Person of the Year, outnumbering the second and third runners up combined. Yet not only did Time overlook the Iranian protesters for Person of the Year, they didn't even include them on the shortlist of runners up.

Admittedly, Time never promised to adhere to the online poll and one could certainly argue that the eventual winner, Ben Bernanke, deserves the title. Nonetheless, to not even include the Iranian protesters on the shortlist seems, in the words of Moghtader, nothing short of "disheartening."

She continues:

Perhaps Time didn’t realize the impact that this award could have had for the Iranian people [...]Honoring them would have shown Iran that the world is still watching; as a result, putting pressure on the government to reform its behavior. The Iranian people want to be part of the international community, but how can they, especially if we fail to recognize them?

While I'm not certain it's the role of Time to make political points, they certainly missed an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of all Iranian people. I can't imagine what it's like to face down baton-wielding basij in the street, but I can imagine what it's like to know that you're not alone in this struggle for freedom, to know that the world is with you against tyranny.

Person of the Year or not, Iranians must know America is with them. All Americans have watched the Iranian people in their struggle for the very rights we have struggled for throughout our history: to live our lives, to enjoy our liberties, and to pursue our happiness.

Yet at the same time, I am concerned that we Americans might act brashly in a clumsy attempt to show our solidarity. Or even worse, some policymakers might seek to use the righteous cause of the Iranian people for unrighteous ends.

Already, the House has overwhelmingly passed the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act that Iran experts know won't work and the Green Movement has rejected as harmful to the Iranian people. Meanwhile, some are calling "the case for using force in Iran [...] a slam dunk." It's hard to imagine how the Iranian opposition could benefit from not being able to heat their homes, let alone when bombs are falling on their heads.

Of course, there are more nuanced and thoughtful policy ideas out there, but it's not clear that reason will win the day. Given the choice between doing something harmful and doing nothing at all, we must choose the latter. Ultimately, if America cannot express our solidarity wisely, then perhaps it would be better if, like Time Magazine, we forget all about the Iranian protesters.

For those interested, I lay out three principles for how we should proceed with Iran in a previous post here.

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