TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

The Iranian Student Protestsand the Iraq Study Group

As noted previously here, the two points in the title need to be thought together: Baker’s ISG call to “talk” with Iran and the Iranian students’ protests against domestic repression in the Islamic Republic.

Critics of the ISG report regularly face the smarmy response: well, golly gee, what’s wrong with talking?

As a problem of theory, one could answer: plenty. Is talk a substitute for action? All talk and no action? Is talk a façade of comity designed to mask clandestine sins? Del dicho al hecho hay un gran trecho. Still, the advocates of talk can typically claim the moral high ground in a culture in which talk, discourse, and discussion are the ultimate values.

This valorization of discussion is pure enlightenment: Kant’s public use of reason. Yet the value of talk only holds if all the interlocutors participate in the public on equal terms. The moral standing of talk presumes that all arguments can be heard: otherwise the talk is conspiracy or “secret diplomacy.” The objection to the ISG’s call for talks is not a rejection of speech as such: it is an indication of the suspicion figures like Baker and Perry arouse. We suspect that they will use the moral (Kantian) resonance of talk in order to pursue immoral (Machiavellian) ends.

The Iranian student movement is the realized critique of the unrealism of the ISG. To the extent that there are no domestic public constraints on the actions of the Iranian government, it is not good for its word, so its words of “talk” cease to be of value.

Even the New York Times can no longer conceal the virulence of the emerging protest movement in Iran. True, the NYT characteristically still harbors illusions about the Khatami reforms and other minions of the Mullahs. Still, for whatever reasons, it has found it necessary to report on the growth of domestic criticism. Yet that criticism, the brave protestors, still faces the brute violence of the regime. (Will the critics of conditions in the West Bank have anything to say about repression in Iran? We’re waiting.)

To “talk” with the Iranian regime now or to pursue some “regional” arrangement would only mean an endorsement of the Ahmadinejad regime and a betrayal of democratic forces—reminiscent of the betrayal Bush Sr.’s administration accorded to the domestic Iraqi Rebellion in the wake of the Kuwait invasion. That was the betrayal of the Baker/Powell era that so deeply hurt American prestige in Iraq. Here they go again.

Betrayal of democratic forces is the real substance of appeasement. On this sorry problem, see this trenchant commentary making a rapid way through the internet.

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