Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mousavi as Cleisthenes?

This interesting post at Powerline put me in mind of a flash-of-a- thought I had a few days ago, considering Mir Hossein Mousavi. He was a hard-liner in ’79 and Iranian Prime Minister for a time. Indeed, according to this post -
-he was instrumental in the Beirut bombings of U.S. Marines, and very likely, more attacks on our interests. Extensive quote from that post:

"We had a tap on the Iranian ambassador to Syria," retired Navy Admiral James
"Ace" Lyons related by telephone Monday. In 1983 Lyons was deputy chief of
Naval Operations, and deeply involved in the events in Lebanon. "The Iranian
ambassador received instructions from the foreign minister to have various
groups target U.S. personnel in Lebanon, but in particular to carry out a
'spectacular action' against the Marines," said Lyons."He was prime minister,"
Lyons said of Mousavi, "so he didn't get down to the details at the lowest
levels. "But he was in a principal position and had to be aware of what was
going on."Lyons, sometimes called "the father" of the Navy SEALs' Red Cell
counter-terror unit, also fingered Mousavi for the 1988 truck bombing of the
U.S. Navy's Fleet Center in Naples, Italy, that killed five persons,
including the first Navy woman to die in a terrorist attack. Bob Baer agrees
that Mousavi, who has been celebrated in the West for sparking street
demonstrations against the Teheran regime since he lost the elections, was
directing the overall 1980s terror campaign. But Baer, a former CIA Middle East
field officer whose exploits were dramatized in the George Clooney movie
"Syriana," places Mousavi even closer to the Beirut bombings."He dealt directly
with Imad Mughniyah," who ran the Beirut terrorist campaign and was "the man
largely held responsible for both attacks," Baer wrote in TIME over the
weekend."When Mousavi was Prime Minister, he oversaw an office that ran
operatives abroad, from Lebanon to Kuwait to Iraq," Baer continued. "This was
the heyday of [Ayatollah] Khomeini's theocratic vision, when Iran thought it
really could export its revolution across the Middle East, providing money and
arms to anyone who claimed he could upend the old order." Baer added: "Mousavi
was not only swept up into this delusion but also actively pursued it."

Yet, hearing and reading Mousavi’s pronouncements, they give at least the appearance of a radical change of heart. He now sounds like Boris Yeltzin, a person who once was a true believer in a totalitarian ideology, who later turned, and championed representative government, democracy, freedom, and open society.

In regard to Mousavi, one has to ask: Is this genuine and deep, and if so, how sudden was the conversion, and what brought it on?

Quick gut-reaction answers: Yes, I think it is genuine and fairly deep, the conversion was relatively sudden, and it seems to have been brought on and driven home by first hand witness of the barbarism of the cleric’s regime in recent days.

So we, looking from the outside, find this lion of the ’79 Iranian revolution become a symbol of popular discontent with the faux democracy in Iran. Even though just a few short weeks ago, he was one of a small set of hand-picked “candidates,” allowed by the Mullahs, and, in that sense still an ‘insider,’ Mousavi now gives all appearances of being someone who is very publicly on the outside, at risk of his life, willingly leading a revolution against tyranny.

In the Powerline post, Paul Rahe of Hillsdale College, draws a very interesting parallel between ancient Athenian political events and Iranian events of these last few weeks:

I can remember thinking that the combination was likely to be unstable. The
nascent regime might be led by a Supreme Leader drawn from the Shiite clergy and
respected for his understanding of the Koran, and the Council of Guardians, whom
he appointed, might veto legislation and carefully vet candidates for office
with an eye to protecting the clerical regime, silencing its critics, and
suppressing opposition. But the fact that the voters had a choice, that the
candidates had to campaign, and that they had to tailor their campaigns with an
eye to popular sentiment allowed in a fashion hard to circumscribe for the more
or less free formation of public opinion.
Something of the sort had taken
place in ancient Athens under the rule of Peisistratus and his sons -- when the
regime had been in form a republic and in reality a tyranny -- and, after the
death of its founder, form asserted itself and reshaped political reality. In
such a polity, semi-free elections may be necessary for the purpose of rallying
popular support, but they also have the effect of conferring a measure of
authority on the populace and of suggesting to ordinary citizens that they have
a role to play in public deliberation and in setting the polity's course. What
began as a theocratic republic might easily evolve into something else.

The Athenian story Rahe has in mind is this: Pisistratus, a tyrant, ruled Athens for a time. He cynically allowed and talked up a faux democracy for one primary reason, to get ‘buy in’ from the populace, which would ensure his continued rule, and that of his sons. He was generous in public spending. For this reason he was fairly popular. People more or less knew the democratic process was a bit of a sham, but they tolerated it. Pisistratus provided.

He died, and his sons inherited rule. Things continued swimmingly until two friends, one a ‘commoner,’ the other from an aristocratic family, (Harmodius and Aristogeiton), had a public run-in with one of the brothers, Hipparchus.

It seems Hipparchus made (how shall we put this) ‘friendly’ advances toward Aristogeiton and failed. He then publicly insulted Harmodius's sister. Harmodius and Aristogeiton wanted to exact revenge in an equally public way. They decided to kill the two tyrants during an athletic festival. During that festival they managed to assassinate only one (Hipparchus). Bodyguards killed Harmodius in the aftermath. Aristogeiton was arrested, tortured and executed in a manner inconsistent with Athenian legal tradition.

In the succeeding four years, the surviving brother (Hippias), grew paranoid and instituted a reign of terror. This led to his overthrow, and the eventual reforms of Cleisthenes, a man of considerable aristocratic lineage.

Now, remembering this, reading the Powerline post, and pondering Mousavi, I was struck by parallels in the follow-on story of this latter guy, Cleisthenes. His story is subsequent to the events highlighted in the Powerline post. I think his story might be the more apropos analogy to the present situation:

He apparently had an ideological conversion experience, and consequently instituted ‘isonomia’ or equality under the law, along with a radical reform of Athenian democracy. He did this after having been instrumental in a popular revolution (508 BC) that overthrew rule by an aristocrat rival, Isagoras.

But all of this was consequent to the removal of Hippias. The removal of Hippias apparently was a cooperative enterprise in which both Cleisthenes and Isagoras participated. They were rivals, but did cooperate in that enterprise. Afterwards, they competed for leadership, and Cleisthenes lost. He was exiled. Isagoras became dictatorial when he acquired power.

Cleisthenes, like Isagoras, likely looked down his nose at the common population of his city, but this attitude seems to have changed radically, due to the savagery of Isocrates. Isocrates in consolidating power, rooted out entire families and clans. He dissolved representative (though largely aristocratic) councils that had been traditional components of Athenian political life. Arbitrary arrests and killings occurred.

He met with resistance from Cleisthenes and others. Isagoras expelled Cleisthenes, his family, and many other families. He enlisted the aid of Sparta to institute dictatorial rule. A popular uprising occurred, and after having held out for three days on the Acropolis, Isagoras capitulated, was allowed to leave, and Cleisthenes recalled from exile. Cleisthenes’ democratic reforms were subsequent to these remarkable events of 508 BC.

Having this history in mind one has to wonder if Mousavi is to Cleisthenes as Khameni is to Isagoras. One has to wonder if he has become a true democrat. The carnage may have simply proved too much to render consistent with the truth of the totalitarian ideology behind the Islamic revolution. Has Mousavi undergone an ideological conversion? We can certainly hope so, and look ahead to his playing a ‘Cleisthenaic’ role in Iranian political history. It would benefit the people of Iran, and the world.

This eventuality does however raise some hard questions for U.S. foreign policy. Suppose it is true that Mousavi was involved in the Beirut bombings. Suppose also, that he is a genuine convert to the cause of freedom, democracy and open society. Should the U.S. deal with him? Suppose he becomes the head of state. Should we recognize him? What to do about the American blood on his hands?

It is easier to ask these questions than to answer them. Tough decisions to be made, in important times.