Monday, June 22, 2009

The World is Watching, but Should not be Caring


More than just a sneaker made by Steve Jobs.

This political hotbed has turned into a media darling for coverage following thier most recent elections. The followers of former Prime Minister Mousavi insist that the election was rigged, and that there's no way current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could have won re-election, especially by so convincing a margin. There are protests in the streets. People are wearing green to demonstrate their spirit for Mousavi. Rallies are formed by both pro-government and pro-reform factions.

And it doesn't really mean anything.

Imagine this scenario: We go through a hotly contested election here in the United States. At the end of it, a new President is put in office. He has promised to be a complete about face from the previous administration. He's swept into office on a sea of good feeling and the promise of change.

Oh wait, we did that.

Okay, imagine this scenario: Barack Obama cannot actually enforce any policy without first consulting the Pope.

Iran may be a democracy, but only in the sense that your High School was a democracy. Elections were held, supporters came out to hotly defend their candidate for President of the Student Council. But at the end of the day, when all the votes are tallied, you're still not allowed to do anything the principal says you can't.

The country of Iran has popular elections, true. However, it is Ayatollah Khomeini who holds the title of Supreme Leader. He and the Guardian Council form Iran's ruling elite. The position of President and his cabinet are merely there to enforce Khomeini's policies and put up a figurehead front to the public. Mousavi would be no different. Even if he were in office, there is nothing he could actually influence or change if Ruhollah Khomeini does not wish it so.

So it's all well and good to want to investigate Iran's political process to make sure everybody's vote was tallied correctly. We should always strive to make sure democracy means representation for the people and by the people. However, in the case of Iran, never forget that their democracy is the lesser form of government. It is the religious leader and his unelected council which hold the true power.

Meanwhile, as we focus on that, North Korea is selling weapons. Can we please focus on North Korea now?


Scotty said...

Perhaps this deserves comment from someone who understands the Middle East a bit better than I, but maybe Iran just isn't meant to be a democracy after all.

Matt Lindeboom said...

Iran is considered a theocracy rather than democracy, though their elections are -- pathetically -- the ones that have historically been closest to being legitimate in the Middle East. Which is why with an unpopular leader like Ahmadinejad and an election so brazenly cheated, we see this reaction from a people who see possibility for hope (buzz word for the next decade).

As for the attention: Iran is openly competing with us for influence in the middle east -- that accounts for all the interest, not to mention the protests make for a seriously dramatic news cycle. In addition, America still hasn't seen it's due from the Iran-hostage crisis. We're looking at Iran's political crisis and seeking some sign of divine partisan providence. North Korea is another matter.

North Korea is a hermit regime of which Americans and news media know very little about, except that we fought a war with N. Korea fifty years ago -- a war that technically is still not over -- and that now they have nuclear weapons. Complicating the situation is that China -- one of our largest trading partners, holder of vast amounts of American monetary reserves, present and future rival -- backs N. Korea.

Part of the reason why we continually concentrate on other flash points over N. Korea is that N. Korea is scarily complex. We invaded Iraq over WMDs -- Saddam was an easy target for many Americans to swallow. Now, we have another Good vs. Evil scenario being portrayed -- democratic protesters against a totalitarian theocracy -- and the world is rapt.

The narrative problem with N. Korea is that you can't make it simple. So we lose interest.

Personally I'm glad that the N. Korea issue is not becoming a popular media darling. Because for it to do so would mean dangerously diluting the context.

I support engaging journalism and analysis to help people get a better sense of what's happening. That happens despite CNN, thankfully.

That said, I disagree with David. I do think Iran is an important issue, and I'm glad people care. The media orgy is, well, an orgy. Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker wrote a great post on the subject with some suggested spots to get good coverage here:

In the end, the Iran protests might be engaging, but if N. Korea starts lobbing missiles towards Hawaii, I gaurantee that coverage will shift dramatically, and a new orgy will begin with earnest.

Scotty said...

re: NK and China - my understanding is that Chinese foreign policy since time immemorial has been to keep a chain of fragmented states on its borders, and to prevent any of them from grouping into a prescient threat. If China is indeed backing North Korea, it may be just because it's in their best interest to keep Korea split.

Now, if they ever complete the Ryugyong Hotel, we should bomb it, just because it would be funny.

Max Nova said...

Y'know Scotty, I always figured that hotel would make a bitchin' final stage for a Final Fantasy game. I bet you there are probably some earth-saving crystals trapped in that building right now, as we speak!

lindsay said...

I agree that N. Korea deserves more attention than it's been getting, but the whole issue with Iran is that these protests are showing more than just the dissatisfaction with the election results. The protests are the biggest thing to happen since they went "democratic," and with these demonstrations, the people are saying that they are tired of the system that is in place. They no longer want to have to listen to the Supreme Leader. For most of them, they want more than just a recount of the ballots.