Despite Reform Pledges, Rouhani’s Iran remains Human Rights Nightmare

(By Sarah Leah Whitson)

(Beirut) – Iranians are facing serious rights abuses, despite President Hassan Rouhani’s numerous promises to respect people’s rights following his June 14, 2013, electoral victory, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014.

Authorities have released some prominent political prisoners but executions continued at high rates. Officials continued to detain many civil society activists and leading opposition figures, including the 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi; and the government denied entry to the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

“Pushing for a moratorium on the death penalty should be one of President Rouhani’s top reform priorities,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “President Rouhani should also speak out publicly against serious violations by security and intelligence forces, and act on campaign promises to ease controls on freedom of information, including heavy censorship.”

In the 667-page world report, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.

Among the concerns is Iran’s discrimination in both law and practice against women and ethnic and religious minorities. Iran remained one of the largest prisons for journalists and bloggers in the world, with at least 40 in detention as of the end of December. The government also systematically blocks websites, slows Internet speeds, and jams foreign satellite broadcasts.

According to official sources, Iranian authorities executed at least 270 prisoners in 2013, though the real number is thought to be much higher. Penal code amendments removed the death penalty for child offenders for certain crimes, but a judge may still sentence juveniles to death for crimes such as rape, sodomy, and murder.

In September and October, authorities released a few dozen rights activists and political prisoners, many of whom had completed or were close to completing their prison terms. These included the rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. Dozens of other rights defenders, including the prominent lawyers Mohammad Seifzadeh and Abdolfattah Soltani, remain in prison on politically motivated charges.

On August 1, Human Rights Watch wrote to then President-elect Rouhani asking him to take concrete steps in several key reform areas, ranging from freeing political prisoners to cooperating with UN rights bodies. On November 26, President Rouhani’s official website published a draft Citizens’ Rights Charter, but many of its provisions fail to protect rights adequately or violate Iran’s legal obligations under international law. Among the problems are the absence of protections for members of religious minorities that are not officially recognized, including Baha’is, and limitations of rights based on seemingly subjective criteria such as “national security,” and “principles of Islam.”

Mirrored from Human Rights Watch
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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The New School & Amnesty International: “Iran: Silenced, Expelled, and Imprisoned”

31 Responses

  1. Well, see? Those sneaky Iranians say one thing, and do another. So by straight-line logic, we need to bomb them, right?

    Some here tell us Obama has to pay attention to politics-at-home, which limits the things he can do to make life, economy, environment, international conflict, etc. better for the ordinary people who pay for all of what’s done to them. Does the same pragmatic principle apply to someone like Rouhani, or unlike with our rulers, are we to presume that he is just a skilled prevaricator with plutonium and hegemony on his real mind?

    That’s the cool thing about the whole complex Great Game: Nothing is honest, straightforward, guided by the general welfare. What is, is what power lets who has it feels like doing, usually without personal consequences. Add the technological bits like nuclear and other mass-murder weapons, internet vulnerabilities, increasingly autonomous weaponry, incentives that drive in the direction of instability and inequality and uninhabitability, and good old greed, and what is the endpoint and endgame again? Successful Players get to live lives of luxury and comfort, and depart before the consequences can affect them in any way…

    Regarding the death penalty, who’s worse, since we hardly have clean hands, we execute innocent people? Here’s some data:

    Despite more countries abolishing the death penalty, its practice remains commonplace.

    China, together with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US (the only G7 country to still execute people) carried out the most executions last year. Excluding China, the report says:

    “At least 1,722 people were sentenced to death in 58 countries in 2012. This is a decrease from 2011, when at least 1,923 people were known to have been sentenced in 63 countries worldwide, and a reduction for the second year running (2010: 2,024 death sentences in 67 countries).”

    Meanwhile, Latvia abolished the death penalty, meaning that there are nearly five times as many countries not executing prisoners as those that do in 2012. link to theguardian.com

    On this one point, who’s more, or less, less “civilized?”

  2. Rouhani is sticking his neck way out in engaging in talks with the United States. It is doubtful that he has the latitude to stick it out much further right now.

    However, should the talks succeed, he will emerge with a great deal of political capital – especially if he gets to go home with some nice goodies to spread around, and the Iranian public sees a meaningful improvement in their material standard of living. Then, he will be in a position to push domestic liberalization.

    • Domestic liberalization in Iran is an obviously important American interest.

      With whom must we struggle most violently within the confines of our own government to create conditions for that liberalization? Israel, of course, and her unregistered American lobby including AIPAC.

      Similar conflicting American and Israeli interests are replicated all over the region. The imprisonment and occupation of the Palestinians against our will, our policy and against common decency are primary examples. The Israeli annexation of the Golan is another.

      Are we ever to regain control of our own policy there? Or will this brutal bullying of our political class continue indefinitely?

      The Justice Department has the tools with which to bring AIPAC and the rest of the Lobby to heel under the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act. It can not bring itself to do it though presented with everything it needs in the evidentiary sense and historically by IRmep and other sources.

      It simply can not be said that Justice is unaware that it fails to enforce the law and why. A few months ago a very smart and courageous guy, Grant Smith, the founder of IRmep, took all the necessary material to a meeting with administrators in the Department. They have not acted. I don’t know whether he has written-up the history of that effort or not but he concludes that they will do nothing.

      In the early 20th Century we broke up the then most powerful trusts and combinations which threatened the future of the country. Today we collectively face far greater dangers but for the most part can’t even speak openly about defending ourselves.

      • “With whom must we struggle most violently within the confines of our own government to create conditions for that liberalization? Israel, of course, and her unregistered American lobby including AIPAC.

        I agree with the sentiment you attempted to express in your comment, cited above, Mr. Watson. Nevertheless, I disagree with your conclusion. Israel and AIPAC are not the elements with whom we must struggle within the confines of our own government. Israel and AIPAC are just acting in what they see as their interest, and they are succeeding. The real struggle within our own government is with our own politicians in both the highest levels of the Executive Branch and in Congress who acquiesce in and enable Israel and AIPAC in having their way.

        Many years ago (some may be old enough to remember) Walt Kelly produced a comic strip called “Pogo.” The salient phrase that appeared in that strip applies in our relationship with Israel and our acquiescence in policies that go against our own national interests: “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” I find it difficult to place all the blame on Israel and AIPAC when it really should be placed on our enabling politicians that allow it to happen.

        • Bill said:

          ” Israel and AIPAC are not the elements with whom we must struggle within the confines of our own government. Israel and AIPAC are just acting in what they see as their interest, and they are succeeding.”

          They are certainly succeeding. I’m very pleased that you don’t dispute that.

          But what you don’t seem aware of is that they are acting illegally with impunity, which impunity has in their case destroyed the protections against corruption of our political system through foreign intervention within it. Everyone should read the history of it at IRmep, especially materials written by Grant Smith. I believe him to be the deepest expert on this matter in the U.S. He is certainly the most courageous.

          I had provided specific context regarding a particular issue:

          “Domestic liberalization in Iran is an obviously important American interest.

          “With whom must we struggle most violently within the confines of our own government to create conditions for that liberalization? Israel, of course, and her unregistered American lobby including AIPAC.”

          Surely you don’t disagree that domestic liberalization in Iran is an American national interest?
          And I would add that normal diplomatic relations should be a goal too. So I’ll pass those matters for the moment so that you may respond.

          Of course you are perfectly correct about the failure of our political class to look after the country’s interests in the face of a powerful domestic lobby for a foreign country. But you don’t take the circumstances into account.

          That failure of statesmanship is lamentable, but the flesh is weak and most congressmen and women like their work and would like to send their kids to Harvard and to stay in their positions until retirement time.

          By speaking out in opposition to Israeli policy or resisting AIPAC-backed legislation or resolutions they endanger their very careers. There is no question about how it works, including campaign donations filtered in from the outside, primary challenges, recruitment of opponents,
          whispering campaigns and accusations of the ultimate social kiss of death, anti-Semitism. The classic study is Mearsheimer and Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy.”

          And so it IS a two-sided coin. First the political class as individuals swear an oath which, loosely interpreted, requires them to do the right thing for the American people despite political pressure by, for example, agents of a foreign power and, second, the Israel and AIPAC gentlemen who organize against Congress to accomplish something very different on behalf of a Foreign country are obliged to obey the Foreign Agents Registration Act which requires them to Register and to keep out of electoral politics including the flow of “campaign contributions,” but they DON’T because as to THEM it is not enforced and hasn’t been since the 1960s.

          Compare the two. The politicians who stand up in the American interest are at personal risk of loss of their professions and, I suppose, violate their oaths, but neither Israel nor AIPAC bear any consequences for violating FARA or in Israel’s case for running a huge espionage effort against their “ally and closest friend.” Neither the oaths nor the law being violated by Israel’s agents working in our Congress are enforced as they should be. Again, Grant Smith, IRmep.

          Think about it, the politicians are at serious risk, but the Lobby and the spies are almost immune due to the immense power deployed by the Lobby against our government.

          As to the latter, recall again that FARA has not been enforced against the unregistered Israel Lobby since the time of Jack Kennedy. And that matter was simply dropped by the LBJ Administration after Kennedy’s death.

        • US interests in Iran, the Arab World,, as well as any number of other issues, could be pursued if our leaders in the Executive and Legislative branches demonstrated the courage to stand up to Israel and AIPAC. Contrary to what you write, I do take the “circumstances” into account. What I do not do is let our leaders off the hook by absolving them of blame because they place their careers above the US interest. The US interest is the number one element of their job description!

          To place all of the blame on the perpetrators–Israel and AIPAC–and absolve the Executive and Legislative of responsibility because they fear for their “careers” is to misplace the blame. If enough of them demonstrated the courage to stand up to Israeli interests, the “circumstances” (your term) would change.

      • ” but neither Israel nor AIPAC bear any consequences for violating FARA or in Israel’s case for running a huge espionage effort against their ‘ally and closest friend.’”

        And why don’t they suffer consequences for their actions? Because the highest levels of the Executive branch (which has the authority to impose consequences) acquiesces in and enables Israel and AIPAC in their nefarious activities that run counter to US interests. You have just made my point for me. Until officials in our Executive and Legislative branches demonstrate the courage to stand up to Israel and its supporters, nothing will change. Walt Kelly and “Pogo” still have the last word: “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

        • Bill quoted Hunter:

          ” but neither Israel nor AIPAC bear any consequences for violating FARA or in Israel’s case for running a huge espionage effort against their ‘ally and closest friend.’”

          And Bill replied:

          And why don’t they suffer consequences for their actions? Because the highest levels of the Executive branch (which has the authority to impose consequences) acquiesces in and enables Israel and AIPAC in their nefarious activities that run counter to US interests.

          You have just made my point for me.

          Not exactly. You will recall that I explained in some detail how the oppressive system works. Today you agree with me while still maintaining your fatalism and making it seem even more impossible of remedy by lumping in the entire Executive and Legislative branches for fixing when all that’s needed is a strong President, or a President capable of being strong in a crisis. What we need is a real world solution, a way to break the stalemate. And the key to that is simplicity.

          We can’t instill spine into a thousand petty legislators and timorous professional administrators. They all worry first and last about tenure and want to hide, especially from the ferocity of the Israel Lobby. It’s something akin to a sociological law of nature set forth by Pareto. We shouldn’t see that as a barrier, an excuse to throw our hands in the air and slink off as you seem to want to here:

          “Until officials in our Executive and Legislative branches demonstrate the courage to stand up to Israel and its supporters, nothing will change.”

          What we need is no more than a single, strong and resolute President. And the jury is still out on whether Barack Obama can be that man in this ultimate test of wills. I believe he can, and one thing is quite clear. If he does intend to confront the Lobby and to redeem our democratic heritage he couldn’t be positioning himself much better to accomplish it.

          Walt Kelly and “Pogo” still have the last word: “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

          That’s why I’m insisting that the problem be put into context and the actual power relationships be determined and tested resolutely by the President of the United States. He is not “us”.

    • And you know that the Khomeinist Rouhani, essentially vetted by his boss the Supreme Leader-for-Life, is interested in”domestic liberalization” because of ….what exactly? Because of his speeches saying student protestors should be “crushed mercilessly” or that opponents of the ruling Islamist tyranny should be “hung in public after Friday Prayers”. Oh yeah, I am sure that cutting a deal with the Mollah Regimesand releasing $100 billion dollars of their blood money frozen abroad so that regime cronies can fill their pockets will lead to “political liberalization”. Let’s hold all our breaths for that one.

      • I suppose I do not actually know with any certainty that he does wish to see political liberalization, and I’m assuming that the same connection between foreign policy dovishness and liberalism that exists (and on the other side, between hawkishness and political authoritarianism) that one finds in American and other western nations’ politics is also present in Iran.

        We’ll see.

        • Rouhani’s so-called “foreign policy dovishness” is the fruit of sanctions, regime cronies’ theft, and mismanagement taking a toll on the Mollah Regime’s treasury. In fact, Rouhani said in a recent interview inside Iran that the regime’s treasury was running so low as to start jeopardizing the mollahs’ ability to pay civil servants. The so-called “foreign policy dovishness” on display is nothing more than their desire to see the nearly $100 billion frozen abroad freed up, as they hope/expect the nuclear deal to do so. This deal will, in fact, give the regime a new lease on life. BTW, the regime has been executing Iranians at an accelerating pace, over 600 in 2013 alone. So much for meaningful (as opposed to minimal and cosmetic) liberalization and Khomeinism existing together. The two are profoundly incompatible.

        • If Rouhani’s foreign policy stance is to pre-determined, so detached from his own political orientation, then why isn’t it universal among the Iranian political elite? Ahmedinejad and the hardliners in the Guards faced the same “sanctions, regime cronies’ theft, and mismanagement taking a toll on the Mollah Regime’s treasury,” but they’re still strongly opposed to Rouhani’s foreign policy.

          Do they not want to see $100 billion unfrozen? Or could it be that jamming every political figure in Iran into the same round hole doesn’t actually capture the reality of Iranian politics?

        • BTW, given that the “Green Revolution” was led by a Mullah and old comrade of Khomeini, perhaps this insistence that neither Mullahs nor “Khomeinists” could support political liberalization isn’t necessarily true.

        • First of all, there are different cliques in the Khomeinist system. None of these cliques can be described as liberal or democratic-minded in any meaningful sense of those words. The differences between them have more to do with jockeying for influence within the system and access to wealth. The same goes for any financial windfall to be gained from securing the release of billions of dollars in frozen funds. The respective cliques know that if their rivals were to achieve such a windfall, it could strengthen them at their own expense (politically and otherwise). This explains in large part why these cliques try to thwart each other’s dealings.

          Second of all, the “Green” protestors, who called for freedom have to be distinguished from Mousavi, who said he wanted a return to the “golden era of the Emam (i.e. Khomeini)” — whatever that means. Indeed, Mousavi was prime minister during the years 1981-1989, which is literally, by far, the period of greatest state violence in recent Iranian history. After 35 years of the Mollah Regime, with 8 years of Mousavi as prime minister, 8 years of the “moderate pragmatist” Rafsanjani as president, and 8 years of the “reformist” Khatami, one would think that people would start learning that the Khomeinist tyranny is not “reformable” and leaves no room for meaningful “political liberalization” (or even lifting of mandatory Hejab!).

        • “None of these cliques can be described as liberal or democratic-minded in any meaningful sense of those words.”

          There is only one meaningful sense of those words: in comparison to the status quo. Do they support or oppose movement in the right direction?

          I’d never vote for Rouhani in an American election, but that doesn’t mean the implementation of his agenda in Iran would be meaningless.

          “The differences between them have more to do with jockeying for influence within the system and access to wealth.”

          I don’t particularly care about the inner lives and motivations of politicians, but the actions they take, and would take, in power. If the next President of the United States devotes himself to progressive economic policies, it doesn’t matter to me whether he’s a devout progressive, or doing it to impress Jodie Foster.

          If the internal politics of Iran cause Rouhani and his clique to pursue a dovish foreign policy, back off the nuke program, liberalize domestic policy, and otherwise do a whole lot of things I want them to do, I don’t care very much if they’re only doing to to gain power for themselves.

        • Dear Joe, Iranians have gone through this charade before with the 8 years of Rafsanjani the “moderate pragmatist” and 8 years of Khatami the “reformer”. No substantive political liberalization whatsoever has been implemented by the Mollah Regime during its 35 years. None, nada, zilch. How many times must the same old wine be sold in new bottles before one realizes that the Khomeinist system does not allow for liberalization? Everything else is a pipe dream and wishful thinking.

        • “No substantive political liberalization whatsoever has been implemented by the Mollah Regime during its 35 years.”

          This is very true. Tell me, over that same 35 year period, how many agreements did Iran enter into with the United States involving restrictions on its military capacity?

          The insistence that nothing new could be happening that hasn’t already happened runs up rather dramatically against the quite novel diplomatic breakthroughs of the past few months.

        • Joe, let’s agree to disagree. If you believe that the Khomeinist regime has a real potential for meaningful and substantive political liberalization, then more power to you. I guess 35 years of utterly dashed hopes and expectations have made me, an Iranian by birth and citizenship, a mite more sceptical than you.

      • How does one reply to a screed such as yours? As Joe says, we’ll see how it works out.

        But remember, we Americans have stupidly cultivated Iranian intransigence for a long time. Far too long. They are an ancient and justifiably proud people whether or not they wear clerical robes. We must follow our own national interests regarding normalization of the relationship. No one should be permitted to dictate to our government on that score, especially not a foreign country in the grip of a fanatical ideology such as Zionism.

        Perhaps you heard the President this evening. He said he would veto AIPAC’s latest legislative travesty which is designed to drive us to war on behalf of Israel if ISRAEL in her sole discretion and against our will attacks Iran. How’s that for dog wagging my friend?

  3. (Jeff Haynes / Agence France Presse)
    ‘A former insider explains how Human Rights Watch panders to the Israel lobby’ Has some interesting observations.

    ““Pushing for a moratorium on the death penalty should be one of President Rouhani’s top reform priorities,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “President Rouhani should also speak out publicly against serious violations by security and intelligence forces, and act on campaign promises to ease controls on freedom of information, including heavy censorship.”

    One can substitute the US for Iran in all of that paragraph and it would still be relevant.

      • “I was unaware that the United States had ‘heavy censorship.’”

        That’s because you are much more astute and aware than the person who claimed it has, Joe. As you are aware (as the originator of the comment is not!), there is no “heavy censorship” in the United States. One more delusional individual longing to feel “oppressed” by the non-existent “Stasi” of East Germany. Oh, to have the jackboot on my neck!

      • No, we have more like gauze-and-vaseline censorship. Kind of hard to argue that the means of voting citizens gaining information about important events here and abroad are as filtered as a close-up shot of Barbara Walters or Barbra Streisand. Not only is the lens pointed away from Ugly, Greedy, Stupid and Evil, the vaseline on the lens, the gauzy focus and the rose-colored lighting shining up from under the chin removes the wrinkles and reality. Many including Chomsky have noted that our polity has been so well proselytized that the noisy dudes with the bullhorns on the street corners, calling BS on the powers that be, get pointedly ignored by that bunch known as “the masses.” You can largely say what you want, but mostly nobody is listening, and the volume of information dilutes to not even homeopathic levels what useful information and incentives might be there. Say whatever you want on the ‘net, who’s listening? Oh, apparently the NSA or whatever it should be called…

        Yah, there’s no censorship of TIME magazine, or the NYT, or WaPo, or NBABCBS, or of course FOXNews. Or reporting on the US Imperial War Activities, by “embedded” tame journalistas… Depending on how one characterizes censorship…

        Freedom! Right?

        • Censorship is by definition implemented by governments. The U.S. government is not enforcing censorship. News organizations are free to report as they see fit. That you may disagree with them does not mean that they are victims of “censorship.”

        • I know that you would love to feel as “oppressed” as the East Germans were under the Stasi. It is a longing expressed by many who live freely in the U.S. but wish they could identify with the repressed in authoritarian countries. Such individuals would be throwing up in the streets if they ever faced a real authoritarian government.

        • Hi Bill– so if we limit ourselves to the frame you want to impose, that “censorship” is only done by governments, what are your observations on that thing I mentioned about how unlike in my war, where reporters actually got to report on most of the parts of that war thing, which in part led to an end of the bleeding idiocy, the current deal is that scribes seeking that combat experience thing have to be “embedded,” with a lot of significant limitations (and even serious self-censorship) of what they report? So the Brass can keep doing Stupid and Cruel and Wasteful and Foolish and Murderous without the ordinary people who pay for it all being bothered by detail that wanders outside the Narrative borders? link to stanford.edu

          And how many government-generated documents are stamped Classified and Top Secret and Eyes Only and all that, with a middle finger to the Freedom of Information Act, about which practice there’s a plethora of expose’s on how dishonest, disingenuous and corrupting it is? link to theguardian.com, inter a lot of alia.

          And when Reagan’s people started in on the EPA when I worked there, one of the first things they did was to start a long and complete process of “book-burning” in in the Regional libraries, getting rid of scientific reports that offended their Narrative of the Goodness of Bidness, also stuff on health effects of pollution, various compilations of policies and interpretive memoranda and other stuff that composes the “secret law” that agencies work from, material that citizens and environmental groups used to figure out what was being done to them by externalities from industry and inattention by government to even enforcing existing law. To be replaced by copies of the Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” tome, and its plan, one small part of the whole, to replace “science” in the regulatory process with “GOOD science,” the kind produced by “approved” scientists with the “correct” biases.

          Not exactly a jack-boot on the neck, but not exactly hallmarks of a, er, free society either. And dare I whisper “NSA,” or COINTELPRO, or “plumbers?”

          By the way, a lot of people who study and care about such things have a much broader definition of censorship: link to media.okstate.edu

          And thanks for the not very effective ad hominem. Really bolsters your relative credibility.

  4. As far as I am concerned, everybody who is interested in peace and human rights should make sure that there is no war or violence against Iran, because violence does not resolve anything. On the contrary, it makes the situation even worse than it is. One only has to look at the situation in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. where violence has destroyed the societies to such an extent that the rule of law has been undermined and chaos and anarchy have become the norm. Under such conditions it is a travesty to speak about human rights.

    Having said that, we should not be so carried away by our effort to prevent war that we close our eyes to real human rights violations in Iran. Many Iranians fear that the rapprochement with the West may come at the expense of human rights in Iran. There was massive violation of human rights by the SAVAK under the Shah and very few people in the West objected to that as long as their commercial and political interests were safeguarded, and the same is going on at the moment in the case of Saudi Arabia or many other friends of the West. It is possible that if Western governments get what they want from the Iranian government the plight of ordinary Iranians will be forgotten.

    There have been credible reports that in a meeting between Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani the president had persuaded Khamenei to stop the hardliners from preventing the nuclear deal with the West. Allegedly, in return, Rouhani had agreed not to push for the release of the Green Movement leaders and hundreds of political prisoners, or implementing many of the promises that he had made during his presidential campaign. It is difficult to verify such reports, but the fact is that there has been very little change in domestic situation under Rouhani. Iran has the largest per capita executions in the world, sometimes on dubious charges. It is only right to raise our voices against death penalty and all human rights violations while also being strong in our efforts for the peaceful resolution of Iran’s nuclear program.

    • Thank you for this heartfelt post.

      I harbor an acute sense of the West’s limitations and often of its submerged intentions. It has immense raw power when it comes to military and other coercive measures such as we’ve watched in the isolation and sanctioning of Iran.

      But there seems to be a profound lack of subtle, face-saving and civilized tools adapted to changing the internal behavior of regimes trapped in ideological rigidity and injustice.

      It is not new. We complained bitterly about massive totalitarian oppression in the Soviet Union but in the end had to settle for accelerating its wholesale economic and political collapse, especially during the second term of Reagan. Collapse as the source of regime change proved to be another great tragedy for the long-suffering Russian people. Avoiding such compounded misery should have been central to our policy but in the end we could not accomplish it and probably didn’t try.

      In China, another priestly regime possessing that cultivated asset, ideology, we watched thirty million of Jasper Becker’s ‘Hungry Ghosts’ die of starvation because we had no tools other than the military and sanctions with which to change the regime and ameliorate their condition. Again, we probably didn’t try.

      And so, regarding Iran, haven’t the great powers already used their coercive option, sanctions? In the objective sense haven’t they spent that asset on the protection of Israel’s hydrogen bomb hegemony in the region? I believe we had better work on Israel and leave the Iranians alone for a while. After all, were we only to admit it, our position on Palestine is probably pretty close to what Iran and Hezbollah would accept, 20% of the country and a Palestinian State. Who is the problem here?

      It is not at all ‘isolationist’ to recognize that there are decisive limits to American power. It’s realistic. It keeps us out of trouble. But it’s a shame we can’t use that power in different ways.

      • How do you suggest we could have changed the behavior of the Soviet Union and Maoist China: both ideologically driven and implacably hostile to the United States at the time you mention? We cannot even change regimes such as those of first Morsi, then al-Sisi in Egypt and other countries around the world with the “soft” power I presume you are suggesting we use. And they are small beer compared to the old USSR and China.

        Particularly in the case of China, how do you think we could have done anything about Mao’s horrible programs that killed the 30 million to which you refer? The United States had no leverage over Mao that could have come close to competing with his ideologically driven programs.

        • “How do you suggest we could have changed the behavior of the Soviet Union and Maoist China: both ideologically driven and implacably hostile to the United States at the time you mention?

          I don’t. Here’s what I said:

          “I harbor an acute sense of the West’s limitations and often of its submerged intentions. It has immense raw power when it comes to military and other coercive measures such as we’ve watched in the isolation and sanctioning of Iran.

          “But there seems to be a profound lack of subtle, face-saving and civilized tools adapted to changing the internal behavior of regimes trapped in ideological rigidity and injustice.”

          I give you Israel as an example.

          What I’m interested in is learning something new from social scientists, political scientists perhaps, about the generation and uses of soft power, influence if you, as alternatives to military interventions which I believe probably just make the overall situation worse.

          I look back at the period since WWII and think that there must be a better way. Surely there was a better way in the Middle East after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

          I just want to presume that there is and find it. I don’t want to be driven to the conclusion that we’re incapable as a species of improving the ways we interface with other countries.

          I’m not a pacifist. Not too many former Marines are. But I am a humanist.

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