Saturday, June 20, 2009

A few thoughts on Iran

There are many people who are writing far more effectively on this subject than I can right now, but here are a few scattered thoughts:

Just as we did after 9/11, America stands at a major crossroads. After the World Trade Center fell, we had the goodwill of the entire world on our side, and we completely squandered it. There was a brief moment just before the Iraq war when the UN inspectors were saying they needed more time to determine if Iraq had WMD, but instead, we invaded the country before they could complete their work, and of course found no WMD. At that moment, we had the opportunity to empower the UN to do its job of peacekeeping and insuring justice between nations, just like Washington does between all the different states in America. Now, it seems (one would hope) that our new President will continue to speak out on human rights, but I am also proud so far that he is not using US military power. There are many Americans right now who are wondering why Obama is not doing more - many of these are the same people who criticized Bush for invading Iraq. Though it was a proven lie, the justification for the Iraq War was the same as the current justification for wanting Obama to do more - human rights. We must never use military might or violence to achieve the ends of human rights. Not only that, but, as the BBC points out, it would actually be harmful to the protesters for Obama to do more than he's doing. Here's a quotation from their article:

But the BBC's Jon Donnison in Washington says the president is treading a fine line - he does not want to be seen to be interfering, which could stir up anti-American sentiment within Iran and work against the protesters.

As I was thinking about this tonight (and realizing that it's 20 years to the month after the Tiananmen Square Massacre), I finally got around to watching Obama's speech in Cairo. It was wonderful, and worth watching, so I've included it below. Here's a short paragraph, but you really should watch the whole speech.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

I've heard this type of thing before, in John Donne's Meditation 17.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

It's pretty amazing to be able to watch all this develop in the present moment on Twitter, but I think there's something to be said for the old style of journalism too - the kind that verified its facts before spreading them. Fox News and CNN are pretty much using only Twitter and Facebook as their sources, which is basically just relying on gossip. We have to be careful before we rush to action, careful about mob mentality, careful not to sacrifice our principles when we become outraged at violations of human rights. That is what led us into Iraq, and so many other atrocities throughout history. Obama is right to proceed slowly and carefully. It's what we elected him to do.

I've tried not to get my hopes up since we've stood at this same crossroads so many times before. The beginning of the Iraq War was pretty much the last blow to my optimism about this. But although it's more cautious this time, I can feel that hope starting to build again. Maybe this time we'll choose the right path...

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