Diehl Disappointed That Iranian Dissidents Failing To Follow Western Playbook

In an op-ed that reveals far more about him than about Iran’s Green Movement, Jackson Diehl expresses disappointment that Iran’s dissidents apparently aren’t all Western-style democrats. Diehl kicks things off with a bit of the dusty old Orientalism:

The enduring nature of Iran is to frustrate outsiders who work by the usual rules of political logic or who seek unambiguous commitments. The West relearned that truth last week as the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dragged a straightforward plan to swap its enriched uranium for fuel rods into a swamp of double talk and counterproposals.

Those crafty Iranians — they’re so crafty! Unlike we Westerners, who always do things that make perfect rational sense. In point of fact, the P5+1’s uranium swap plan was itself a response to Iran’s original idea “to refuel the Tehran research reactor through purchasing fuel assemblies from international providers, including the United States.” Iran has apparently refused the uranium swap plan, and that’s bad news, but it shouldn’t be too much to expect the Deputy Editorial Page Editor of The Washington Post to be able to analyze this without resorting to tired cultural stereotypes.


I was reminded of [Iran’s enduring nature] in a recent conversation with one of the leading representatives outside of Iran of the “green revolution,” who seemed determined to convince would-be Western supporters that they were wasting their time.

Ataollah Mohajerani, who has been a spokesman in Europe for presidential candidate-turned-dissident Mehdi Karroubi, came to Washington to address the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The mostly pro-Israel crowd was primed to cheer what they expected would be a harsh condemnation of Ahmadinejad and his bellicose rhetoric, and a promise of change by the green coalition.

I have to suspect most of the attendees at the WINEP conference were knowledgable enough about Mohajerani, and savvy about Iranian politics in general, not to expect “a harsh condemnation of Ahmadinejad” from one of Karroubi’s spokesmen traveling abroad. Iranian opposition leaders tend to be a bit more circumspect about trying to gain political advantage this way than, say, American conservatives.


What they heard, instead, was a speech that started with a rehashing of U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup in Tehran and went on to echo much of Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric about the United States and the nuclear program. Mohajerani, who served as culture minister in the liberal Iranian government of Mohammed Khatemi in the 1990s, distanced himself from the current president’s denial of the Holocaust and remarked at one point that Iran “should not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians.” […]

As for Western support for Iranian democracy and human rights, “the green movement has no expectations whatsoever,” Mohajerani declared with a sarcastic smile. “When we say we have no expectations, then our expectations will be met.” On the contrary, he warned against “taking advantage” of Ahmadinejad’s weak regime to strike a deal “that would not be in Iran’s interest.” The suggestion was that the opposition would consider any concessions to the West by Ahmadinejad illegitimate — a position that was borne out by statements last week by green-movement leaders attacking the uranium swap plan.

Like most similar dissident movements, including the movement that overthrew the Shah in 1979, Iran’s Green Movement is made up of a number of factions expressing a fair variety of ideas of what a future Iran should look like. Some of those want a reform of the Islamic Republic, others want to move toward a more explicitly secular system of government. But there is a pretty broad consensus among these groups, as among Iranians in general, in favor of Iranian nationalism, in favor of Iran’s right to nuclear power, and against historically interventionist Western powers seeking to exploit the continuing unrest for strategic gain. This seems to me to be very much in keeping with “the usual rules of political logic.”


To put it simply: Iran’s dissidents are, shockingly, not neoconservatives. Those who are expecting them to become so are the ones who are “wasting their time,” and ours. Give Diehl credit for one thing, though: At least, unlike Dick Cheney henchman John Hannah, Diehl didn’t discover anonymous Iranians who would welcome us as liberators.