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January 29, 2006

A Bit of a Stretch

Glenn Reynolds notes:

WRITING IN THE NEW YORK TIMES, Hossein Derakshan blames Bush for the rise of Ahmadinejad. Seems like a bit of a stretch, to me.

A bit of a stretch is right! But that's not even the problem with the article: Derakshan fundamentally does not understand democracy. In order to demonstrate, I'm going to take a bunch of quotes without context. (For the original context, see the original article or the extended entry, where I quote Derakshan's entire article against the day when it falls off the Times' web site.)
Iran's electoral process "ignores the basic requirements of democracy," Mr. Bush declared, and these elections would be "sadly consistent" with the country's "oppressive record."

An American administration that had called on other Middle Eastern populaces to vote in flawed elections greeted the Iranian electoral process with nothing but open disdain.

Can anyone now doubt that Iranian elections, however flawed, really do matter?

It's true that Iranian elections are not quite democratic, because the unelected Guardian Council reserves the right to bar candidates. But the real problem here is that boycotting semi-democratic elections ultimately will not make such a system more democratic.

[P]romoting apathy in a semi-democratic system can only strengthen the radical anti-democracy forces.

Contrast the "don't vote" message that President Bush sent to Iranians to the one delivered to Iraqis through a major media campaign and other costly means: "Your destiny is in your own hands. Disappoint the anti-democracy radicals and go out and vote."

If the United States is serious about promoting democratic change in Iran, it needs to try the same approach that brought Iraqis to the polls despite mortal danger. Mr. Bush and his supporters should encourage the people of Iran to participate in the next election.

Derakshan seems to think that elections — any elections under any circumstances — define democracy: they do not. Democracy is about institutions of governing that respond to popular will. Elections are one way of determining the will of the people, but if those elections are rigged, as in Iran's case where the candidate pool is limited by the existing governing bodies, the ability of the people to voice their will in that manner is circumscribed, and thus the results are likely not to be an accurate reflection of popular will. That's not democracy: it's just voting.

In other words, Derakshan seems to think that Iran's democracy is flawed because its voting system is flawed. In reality, Iran's voting system is flawed because Iran is not a democracy. Crucial distinction, that.


OK, from here down is the entire NY Times article:

THE day before Iran's ninth presidential elections last June, President Bush sent a discouraging message to potential voters. Iran's electoral process "ignores the basic requirements of democracy," Mr. Bush declared, and these elections would be "sadly consistent" with the country's "oppressive record." For Iranians, there was no mistaking the American president's point: he was tacitly sanctioning the call that some Iranian exiles and activists had issued for an election boycott, based on exactly this logic.

An American administration that had called on other Middle Eastern populaces to vote in flawed elections greeted the Iranian electoral process with nothing but open disdain. It is worth revisiting this odd judgment call at a time when Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections has raised even more questions about Washington's confused strategy of democracy promotion.

In Iran last June, the call for a boycott resonated with frustrated and apathetic voters. Many, if not most, moderates and reform advocates stayed home from the polls. And we all know what followed: the philosophy-loving moderate, Mohammad Khatami, was replaced as president by a radical militant, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a former military commander who presides over one of the most extreme governments post-revolutionary Iran has yet had.

That's right: with what appeared to be the endorsement of President Bush and dozens of American-backed satellite television channels that broadcast in Farsi, the disillusioned young people of Iran effectively took one of the world's most closely watched nuclear programs out of the hands of a reformer and placed it into the hands of a hard-line reactionary.

Can anyone now doubt that Iranian elections, however flawed, really do matter? When Mr. Khatami came to power, his declared goals were to establish the rule of law, demand equal rights for all citizens and reconcile Iran with the world. He may not have succeeded in all of those endeavors, but Mr. Ahmadinejad has entered government with manifestly opposite priorities.

The new president's allies in Parliament recently concluded that nearly 80 percent of the books published under President Khatami violated revolutionary values and should be placed under restrictions. Films that promote feminism, secularism and liberalism are to be banned. And while President Khatami built his international reputation on his call for a "dialogue among civilizations," President Ahmadinejad has reached out to racists and anti-Semites instead.

It's true that Iranian elections are not quite democratic, because the unelected Guardian Council reserves the right to bar candidates. But the real problem here is that boycotting semi-democratic elections ultimately will not make such a system more democratic.

The rise of Mr. Ahmadinejad, and the threat he poses to the stability of a volatile region, demonstrates that promoting apathy in a semi-democratic system can only strengthen the radical anti-democracy forces. And it raises a question as to whether that is what hawks in Washington actually wanted.

Contrast the "don't vote" message that President Bush sent to Iranians to the one delivered to Iraqis through a major media campaign and other costly means: "Your destiny is in your own hands. Disappoint the anti-democracy radicals and go out and vote."

If the United States is serious about promoting democratic change in Iran, it needs to try the same approach that brought Iraqis to the polls despite mortal danger. Mr. Bush and his supporters should encourage the people of Iran to participate in the next election. And they should urge Iranians to vote for someone who will make their country more open and democratic, rather than more threatening, as Iran under President Ahmadinejad has become.

Hossein Derakhshan writes the Farsi-English blog "Editor: Myself."

Posted by jeff at January 29, 2006 9:07 AM

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» Why Iranian Polls Were Worth Boycotting: Because Iran Wasn't a Democracy! from Centerfield
Hossein Derakshan wrote a NYT piece on democracy that just seems wrong to me (hat tip: Instapundit). Caedroia agrees with me THE day before Iran's ninth presidential elections last June, President Bush sent a discouraging message to potential voters.... [Read More]

Tracked on January 29, 2006 12:26 PM

» Why Iranian Polls Were Worth Boycotting: Because Iran Wasn't a Democracy! from Centerfield
Hossein Derakshan wrote a NYT piece on democracy that just seems wrong to me (hat tip: Instapundit). Caedroia agrees with me THE day before Iran's ninth presidential elections last June, President Bush sent a discouraging message to potential voters.... [Read More]

Tracked on January 29, 2006 12:29 PM

Comments

hey dude, no body in the Iranian community takes this clown serious.

He is a joke! You shouldnt waste your time responding to his BS

Posted by: Winston at January 29, 2006 10:04 AM

Perhaps, but his misapprehension is so common that it needs to be addressed. Education is never wasted.

Posted by: Jeff Medcalf [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2006 11:25 AM

many believe he either works as a regime proxy to identify vocal bloggers and hand them to the mullahs.

He is also hated for his impolite and rude language

Posted by: Winston at January 29, 2006 11:47 AM

I blame Carter.

Posted by: Lee at January 29, 2006 12:04 PM

"If the United States is serious about promoting democratic change in Iran, it needs to try the same approach that brought Iraqis to the polls despite mortal danger."

I take it, then, that Mr. Derakshan favors invasion of Iran?

Posted by: Jason at January 29, 2006 12:47 PM

Okay, power in Iran lies with the Council of Guardians, a group of Ayatollahs headed by Ali Khamenei. The election of 'President' Ahmadinejad clears the BS of 'reformer' Khatami out of the way and we see the true face of the regime. The other candidate Rafsanjani was no different, but more corrupt.

I think the election of Hamas also clearifies things. The islamo-fascists are coming out from under the covers. I think this helps to unite their enemies against them. Once Hamas 'talibanizes' Gaza and the West Bank, we'll see how much the Palis like it. No one else has liked it.

Posted by: Jabba the Tutt [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2006 12:54 PM

Conflating elections and democracy seems to be the fashion du jour. I can't tell you how many political opponents of Bush's I've heard remark snidely in the wake of the Palestinian election of Hamas, “I wonder how Bush likes democracy, now?”

Characterizing what's going on in Iran or Palestine as “democracy” is just plain silly. How is it democracy when the only parties in the running are those with enough force of arms to keep from getting killed by the thugs they're opposed to?

Giving people a choice between two different armed bands of thugs is not democracy.

Posted by: Dave Schuler [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2006 1:59 PM

I take it, then, that Mr. Derakshan favors invasion of Iran?
No, Hoder, apparently like the other democratic reformers in Iran believes in “the think system”. If they think hard enough about democracy in Iran, there will be democracy in Iran. It's fashionable in Europe, too.

Posted by: Dave Schuler [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2006 2:01 PM

The New York Times will print anything if it criticizes Bush; that rag of a newspaper long ago forfeited its claims on credibility.

This article and its argument is indeed a joke for the reasons others have pointed out: the mere presence of elections do not make a democracy.

The author needs to understand that there is no such thing as "semi-democratic elections" any more than there is such a thing as being "semi-pregnant." Either an election is democratic or not; there's no in-between ground. The lack of democratic legitimacy is not just an ancillary flaw, as in a broken down voting machine or long lines at a voting booth. The lack of legitimacy is a deep structural defect that prevents the enterprise from being considered democratic in the first place.

By the NYTimes standards, the elections whereby Saddam Hussein "won" were democratic as well, in that many people participated and voted. No wonder why these liberals don't seem to care about the evils of tyrants like Hussein or Castro; because they stage bogus elections and have a "vote" they satisfy these left wing definitions of a "democracy."

Posted by: Thought at January 29, 2006 2:28 PM

What made me laugh about this was the implication that somehow Bush made the moderate electorate in Iran stay home. Never mind that Iran had "disqualified" anyone remotely resembling a moderate. Somehow, that fact gets overlooked. Anything to blame Bush and avoid putting responsibility where it truly lies: the corrupt Iranian mullahs.

Posted by: Nemo [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2006 2:56 PM

Nice post.

Is this Derakshan a moron?

First, Iran’s Council of Guardians (a bunch of mullahs) last year disqualified all "reformer" candidates for president.

And second, even if a liberal candidate could be elected, it wouldn’t matter. The president isn’t really the chief executive in Iran’s theocratic dictatorship. The chief is the appointed-for-life Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who took power in 1989.

Iran’s army and secret police answer to the Supreme Ruler and the Council of Guardians, and they are very effective thugs. Iran recently did have a progressive president, but he couldn’t get anything sensible past these religious boneheads.

In what way, then, is Iran a democracy? No elections for the Supreme Leader. No free elections for president because any party and any person who might disagree with the mullahs is disqualified. No independent courts. And only limited freedom of speech and press.

Derakshan wants to encourage Iranians to vote in that system? Why? Your candidate probably can’t run, and even if he won, he couldn’t rule. Voting would only sicken the democrats and embolden the tyrants.

Posted by: Frank Warner at January 30, 2006 12:18 AM

Frank, Derakhshan wants people to vote in the undemocratic system since his own survival and income is very depended on the regime and his mullahs in Tehran.
to him, the survival of the regime is more important than the democracy itself.
he wants the regime to survive so he can keep travelling by the money he gets from the ruling mullahs.

Posted by: Winston at January 30, 2006 11:38 AM

Hoder is an idiot. He doesn't have a job yet manages to live a comfortable life and travel. Hmmm....is he on Rafsanjani's payroll?

Posted by: chester at February 1, 2006 7:47 AM

without wanting to turn this into a cross-atlantic slanging match, whats Dave Schulers point about European democracy? democracy isnt perfect anywhere but surely voting is a step in the right direction for Iran. if the votes dont turn out right next time maybe they could get a load posted in, it worked in Florida.

Posted by: tony at February 2, 2006 6:43 PM

Tony, I believe you misconstrued Dave. Dave was saying that in Europe, the belief that "if they think hard enough about democracy in Iran, there will be democracy in Iran" is popular. He was not commenting on European democracy, which I cannot conceive of anyone disputing on its face. (Well, if you don't count the EU, anyway.) He was commenting on European means for bringing democracy elsewhere.

And while I realize you are just flinging out because you feel insulted, you should really read up on the history of the Florida 2000 vote count. It turns out that every method of counting ballots that was tried by the many media outfits (mostly friendly to Gore) and private organizations (mostly friendly to Gore) and watchdog agencies resulted in a Bush win, with more or less margin than the certified count, but with the same result. For all its warts and flaws, the American system worked, and produced a result everyone could accept. In fact, if Al Gore had not chosen to drag the issue out in the court the way he did (that is, by not asking for the available legal remedy of a statewide recount, but instead demanding a completely new way to count votes), it is likely that much of the recriminations and acrimony of the last 5 years would have been avoided.

Posted by: Jeff Medcalf [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 2, 2006 7:57 PM