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Soft, Geeky Power

June 17th, 2009 · 9 Comments

As you may have noticed, domestic hawks spent much of the weekend loudly demanding that Barack Obama, on behalf of the United States, bluntly take sides in a foreign electoral controversy. Victor David Hanson, without a trace of irony, tries to explain why this would be just dandy with some examples that are perhaps a bit more on-the-nose than he intended:

In 2004 the Kerry campaign made a big deal over the Iranians’ stated preference for Bush (e.g., the Kerry campaign responded: “It is telling that this president has received the endorsement of a member of the axis of evil.”) The same year British subjects were hectoring voters of swing-state Ohio not to vote for Bush. In 2008, Palestinians were manning phone banks on the West Bank to raise money for Obama.

And of course, none of his domestic political evidence concluded they could use this against him! Iranian dissidents themselves seemed conspicuously less eager for such overt “help,” but who were they to quibble with Bill Kristol?

It turns out that while all this was going on, the State Department was—quietly and without fanfare—calling up Twitter, which had effectively become critical infrastructure for the opposition, to delay a  maintenance outage scheduled for peek Iranian tweeting-hours. That may not have been why there was a delay, but it does suggest that perhaps the administration is finding subtle ways to support democratic openness without a lot of counterproductive bluster that would conjure bad memories of U.S. interference in other countries’ choice of leaders. They’d probably have more instruments for gentle pressure if we weren’t already totally disengaged from Iran—the trouble with making a big show of utterly shunning bad regimes is that you’ve got nowhere to go when there’s a propitious occasion to give them a nudge in a healthier direction—but for all we know they’re doing other similarly subtle, unobtrusive stuff behind the scenes. It’s almost as if they’re more concerned with what actually contributes to human rights in Iran than with what provides the best fap-fodder for hawks at home. Crazy.

Tags: Journalism & the Media



9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Daniel // Jun 17, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    And that’s why socialism doesn’t work! lol.

  • 2 Dan Summers // Jun 17, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Huh. Didn’t know that about the State Department and Twitter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more pithy example of “soft power.”

  • 3 B. Kennedy // Jun 17, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    At last an example of FP intelligence from the Executive Branch. After all his various gaffes, blunders, and deplorable diplomatic gifts, someone finally has their head on straight.

    That being said, Iran’s propaganda machine will blame “The Great Satan” for any unrest anyhow. In fact, even after Obama’s tapdance on eggshells, Iran still used his mere speaking shiftily at length as confirmation of a sinister Great Satan-esque plot to undermine the mullacracy.

    In the endgame it won’t make much difference. Mousavi is still going to be largely a puppet for the mullahs, and rigged elections will probably remain par for the course.

    Does North Korea have Twitter, or does the electrical grid only service Kim Jong-Il’s Playstation3?

  • 4 Julian Sanchez // Jun 17, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Iran will blame The Great Satan no matter what, but in an interconnected world where people there effectively have access to international media, our actions can affect how credible that strategy is.

  • 5 neil // Jun 18, 2009 at 11:39 am

    No Internet in North Korea at all.

  • 6 iran (cont) « unconquerable gladness // Jun 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    […] 18, 2009 · Leave a Comment julian sanchez (via sully natch): It turns out that while all this was going on, the State Department […]

  • 7 Alice AN // Jun 18, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Exactly right! Not to mention that claims of the great satan in the form of a black man named Barack Hussein Obama, packs very little negative emotional punch even they do try it out of desperation.

    The thing to watch is how much Obama’s response to this situation boosts his credibility in the Muslim world. Dissident Arab populations can presume they won’t be undermined by international political grandstanding and any aid will remain covert and not obvious enough to be used against them. Implicitly Obama has earned strips with words, and deeds – or rather lack thereof – taking the political hits from those not too long ago advocating we bomb Iran to shreds. How will all the moving parts of this puzzle line up?

    On the international stage, Obama’s stature is being established through this moment as well – the silence from all western powers is too synchronized not to have been coordinated. After all, the impulse for political grandstanding is not purely an American one…

  • 8 The Crossed Pond » Soft Power // Jun 18, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    […] first is simply a quote from Julian Sanchez: [P]erhaps the administration is finding subtle ways to support democratic openness without a lot […]

  • 9 Andrew // Jun 20, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    This reminds me of the argument for giving harm reduction strategies a place in addiction treatment. If you do nothing except criminalize drug use, and insist that the ONLY help you’ll give someone is to put them on a path to abstinence-based cure, then you tend to have no opportunity to interact with them and nudge them along the path to being ready to accept that cure. I just think you’ve touched on a very broad and general principle here. It bears thinking about how it applies elsewhere. Others have framed it as a choice between a strategy of control, or a strategy of relationship.