Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iranian Regime Doesn't Watch MSNBC

For days now, the streets of Tehran have filled with unhappy people protesting what looks very much like a fraudulent election.

And for days, US Republicans -- being safely out of office, and not having to worry about the consequences of their actions -- have berated President Obama for his failure to denounce the election, and take sides with the supposed reform candidate, Mir Hossain Mousavi.

But for days, Obama, and the rest of his administration (even Biden) have stayed on message. Like a longish yogic mantra, they have repeated that (a) it is not the business of the US to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation; (b) that American interference, in this case, would surely provide political cover for the regime as it cracked down on protesters; and that (c) there was no strong evidence that replacing Ahmadinejad with Mousavi would make a difference in US/Iranian relations, which are ultimately shaped by the clerics anyway.

And for days, MSNBC has rebroadcast the administration's mantra. (Just a thought, but are Rachel Maddow's ratings really good enough to justify running her show for 18 hours a day?)

But it turns out that the Iranian government doesn't actually need American interference to provide cover for a crackdown, especially not when it can simply lie, and claim that such interference has already taken place. Which it is now doing.

We hate to say this, but there may be an important lesson here for Obama and his team. Republicans learned long ago (from Reagan, if not McCarthy) that the age of mass media obviates reasonable discourse. In a rapid news cycle, among people with short memories, there is remarkably little political penalty for saying anything that sounds good, no matter how false, stupid or illegal. You can lie, bluster, and even threaten, without ever being called to account. (Although there are some limits: you can't claim military victory in a flight suit onboard an battleship.)

And the reverse is true: an exercise in self-discipline is wasted energy. If you want to do something mischievous, why not go ahead and do it, since your enemies will claim that you have in any case?

At least, these are the things we imagine Dick Cheney whispered into W.'s ear, late at night. He clearly got the advice somewhere, and followed it. And we all know how that worked out.

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