Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

Christopher Hitchens ventures an answer…

…to this question I asked a couple of weeks ago. To quote myself:

I was no fan of the invasion of Iraq, at least not in the way it was justified and undertaken, but would what we’ve seen in Iran over the last couple of days have been possible if Saddam Hussein hadn’t been toppled? I’m thinking analogously to the enabling effect the defeat of the French in North America had for the American revolutionaries.

Curious if anyone has any thoughts.

I’m going to take this article as proof that the Hitch is a religious reader of TTTM. Sample from his piece:

Which brings me to a question that I think deserves to be asked: Did the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, and the subsequent holding of competitive elections in which many rival Iraqi Shiite parties took part, have any germinal influence on the astonishing events in Iran? Certainly when I interviewed Sayeed Khomeini in Qum some years ago, where he spoke openly about “the liberation of Iraq,” he seemed to hope and believe that the example would spread. One swallow does not make a summer. But consider this: Many Iranians go as religious pilgrims to the holy sites of Najaf and Kerbala in southern Iraq. They have seen the way in which national and local elections have been held, more or less fairly and openly, with different Iraqi Shiite parties having to bid for votes (and with those parties aligned with Iran’s regime doing less and less well). They have seen an often turbulent Iraqi Parliament holding genuine debates that are reported with reasonable fairness in the Iraqi media. Meanwhile, an Iranian mullah caste that classifies its own people as children who are mere wards of the state puts on a “let’s pretend” election and even then tries to fix the outcome. Iranians by no means like to take their tune from Arabs—perhaps least of all from Iraqis—but watching something like the real thing next door may well have increased the appetite for the genuine article in Iran itself.

The affect that Hitchens here posits is much more than what I was suggesting. I was supposing that the mere absence of the blood-enemy of the Iran-Iraq war in the early 80s was enough to turn Iranians’ attention to their own affairs in the same way that the defeat of the French freed Americans to question their reliance on their British protectors. Thinking of the regime as primarily legitimated by its protective role seems performatively confirmed by its increasingly flailing aggression in its rhetoric towards Israel. The counterargument—that an equally aggressive America stands at Iran’s doorstep ready to invade—falls short, I think, since it become widely evident that there was no stomach in the US for a third military committment in the region.  The Iranians that have been marching on the streets are fully aware of these geopolitics. As such I still think there’s merit to this argument. Hitchens’ argument though, is quite different.

Of course Hitchens, as a long and unapologetic proponent and defender of the Bush’s war, has something of an axe to grind here. But I don’t think its legitimate to dismiss his argument merely on those grounds. In fact, I think the argument he’s making has some plausibility. Though how much, it’s impossible to say. Democracy is a demonstrable and inspiring thing. On the other hand, Iraqi democracy is still an unfamiliar and rapidly evolving beast; Iraqi civil society no less so, especially from the vantage point of my armchair. I’m curious to read more reactions.

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