We have already responded to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson's article, "Riding the ‘Green Wave' at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond" criticizing our Question & Answer on Iran. In that response, we expressed our strong objection to being accused of serving the interests of U.S. imperialism. In their later reply they assure us that they were not suggesting that we were "witting" agents of Washington; we're relieved to learn this, though it is then a mystery why they asked if it is was just a coincidence that our views were identical to those of the U.S. government.
In fact, Herman and Peterson's original critique was full of this sort of sly innuendo. Some more examples: CPD wants its audience to "surrender what remains of their leftist instincts"; we "encourage leftists to pull down their natural defenses against U.S. imperialism"; we claimed that "anyone strenuously opposing imperialist attacks on the former Yugoslavia and Iraq could be found guilty of apologizing for ‘murderous dictators'"; CPD's "willing participation" in "demonizing" Ahmadinejad and "delegitimizing" the Iranian elections "provides first-class service to the imperialist powers"; our political "choices have been perfectly aligned with U.S. foreign policy." And we did all this "unwittingly"? If Herman and Peterson now wish to repudiate their slurs, they should do so honestly and forthrightly, rather than pretending that they never meant them.
But, as we pointed out in our response, and as any reader of our Q&A on Iran, past Campaign for Peace and Democracy statements
, and the CPD Statement of Purpose
can readily see, our views are diametrically opposed to those of the U.S. government. We called for an end to sanctions against Iran, and for a guarantee of no military intervention by the United States and no support for military intervention by Israel. We've condemned
the hypocritical bullying of Iran to comply with the Nonproliferation Treaty - at the same time as we opposed the possession of nuclear weapons by all countries, the United States and Iran included. Earlier this year we strongly denounced the Israeli attack on Gaza and demanded an end to U.S. military aid to Israel -- see our statement "No More Blank Check for Israel! Statement on the Crisis in Gaza
," with more than 1500 signers, sent to Obama, Clinton and Mideast envoy George Mitchell. We were opponents of the invasion of Iraq and have called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops not only from Iraq but from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well. (Herman and Peterson accuse of us of having "virtually ignored" the NPT issue, the wars in countries neighboring Iran and U.S.-Israeli threats.) We waged a major campaign against the proposed U.S. radar and missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. Herman and Peterson revealingly neglect to mention this CPD initiative, as well as our Gaza statement.
All this adds up to considerably more than having "sometimes harshly criticized Western policy," as Herman and Peterson grudgingly grant us; our entire outlook expresses a root-and-branch rejection of this country's bipartisan imperial foreign and military agenda. But perhaps Herman and Peterson believe that these positions were merely a wily stratagem designed to fool innocent progressives while we went about our real business of channeling Bush, Rice and Cheney.
The title of Herman and Peterson's critique is "Riding the Green Wave at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond." The implication is that CPD endorses or politically supports Mousavi, whose campaign color was green. But while CPD extended its solidarity to the protesters in Iran, it was quite explicit in its criticisms of Mousavi. We drew attention to the murders of leftists that took place under his prime ministership (with U.S. connivance), to his ties to billionaire Rafsanjani, and to his support for privatization. We did note that Mousavi's call for women's rights and greater personal freedom had inspired many people, and that their sense of being cheated had pushed many to a more thorough-going critique of the system. And we expressed hope thatIranians would be moved to transcend the limited demands of Mousavi. But this hardly shows that we have been wearing green-colored glasses.
Herman and Peterson make much of CPD's alleged "selectivity." Why, they wonder, did we issue a lengthy statement on Iran and not Honduras, Egypt, U.S. elections, etc., etc.? This is actually a red herring. With its limited resources, CPD has often "selected" to mount campaigns directed against U.S. imperial policy - most recently, as noted above, against U.S. military bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, and against U.S. support for Israel. But even if we had in addition put out statements on every issue named by Herman and Peterson, using the same epithets as in our Iran Q&A and writing at equal or greater length, they would still have denounced our statement on Iran, for reasons they lay out: They write that in countries that
"fall within the U.S. sphere of influence and responsibility, the potential benefits of a sustained left critique and consciousness-raising about U.S. policy and its devastating impact on the lives of people are far greater than anything to be gained by urging ‘solidarity' [their contemptuous quotes] with dissenters in a distant land where U.S. influence for constructive purposes is minimal, but its hostile and destructive interventionism has been and remains great. ("Riding the Green Wave
," point 1)
Behind all the stilted and pompous verbiage is a simple proposition: it is wrong to criticize ("demonize") any government that is a potential target of the United States. That is what the "principles" listed in their reply
boil down to. And this is not a matter of emphasis or language, but a firm refusal to defend people who are victims of oppression so long as the oppressor is an enemy of the United States (or Israel).
For example, what if a movement arose in North Korea aimed at deposing its vile police state? Washington would like nothing better, right? Ergo, progressives could not support it, no matter how spontaneous and independent of CIA control (which Herman and Peterson would probably not believe anyway). The gulags, torture and mass famines under which the North Korean people suffer? Sorry, nothing to be done about them. After all, "urging ‘solidarity' with dissenters in a distant land where U.S. influence for constructive purposes is minimal, but its hostile and destructive interventionism has been and remains great" would be a fatal distraction from the main priority - opposing U.S. imperialism. What's worse, it would play right into Washington's hands.
Cold War Thinking
Essentially, Herman and Petersons' position is a revival of Cold War thinking: there are two camps in the world and the left must choose the anti-U.S. camp, no matter how bloodthirsty and authoritarian its leaders may be. At one time that camp was the Soviet bloc; today it is the "anti-imperialist" states of the developing world. This position does not require actually embracing creatures like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad, and company, but merely engaging in apologetics - making excuses for them. The tried and true technique employed by two-campers like Herman and Peterson has always been, whenever movements for democratic change emerged and then were crushed in the anti-American bloc, first, to allege CIA control, and then to change the subject as quickly as possible to the (very real) crimes of the United States and its clients.
Nothing could be more contrary to the historical traditions of the radical democratic left with which we
identify -- an internationalist left of generous sympathies, one that is always ready to extend solidarity to struggles for democracy and human dignity wherever they occur, that believes in the right of all
people to control their governments and societies, even if they have the bad luck to live in a country that the U.S. wishes to destabilize. That's why the Campaign for Peace and Democracy opposed both Milosevic and
the NATO attack on Serbia, opposed Saddam Hussein and
the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
opposed the repressive regime in Tehran and
U.S. threats against Iran. We support all genuine
struggles for democratic rights. That is the camp that commands our loyalty. Period.
This is a moral position, but, since Herman and Peterson pose as hard-bitten geopolitical realists, it is also necessary to insist that our position is eminently practical as an anti-imperialist strategy. The success of the democratic mass movement in Iran is not in Washington's interests, or Tel Aviv's. As we noted in the Q&A, Israeli politicians have already frankly admitted that keeping Ahmadinejad in power is in their interest, and we argued that the same is true for Washington; it is much easier to "demonize" Iran and to justify war and sanctions when it is headed by a vicious thug and demagogue. What evidence is there that an Iran that was controlled by its people would be less supportive of the Palestinian cause or more amenable to playing the role of a U.S. client? (And incidentally, none of this leads us to suggest that Herman and Peterson are therefore tools of U.S. or Israeli imperialism.)
The Facts about Iran
Now to some of the factual issues regarding what happened in Iran. We said that CPD supports all genuinedemocratic movements. Of course, Herman and Peterson labor mightily to show that the protests there were anything but a genuine - that is, politically autonomous - democratic movement with legitimate grievances. For one thing, they try to discredit the charges of electoral fraud, suggesting that the protesters were, at best, a bunch of sore losers, and at worst, tools of a U.S.-engineered destabilization campaign.
We began our Q&A by noting that
"our support for the protest movement is not determined by the technicalities of electoral manipulation, as important as they are. What is decisive is that huge masses of Iranians are convinced that the election was rigged and that they went into the streets, at great personal risk, to demand democracy and an end to theocratic repression."
Another reason the extent of electoral fraud is not decisive for us is that the Iranian political system is deeply undemocratic, since the un-elected Guardian Council gets to vet all candidates before their names can even appear on the ballot, and basic rights of free speech, free press, and free association are significantly restricted. In the recent presidential election some 471 candidates were excluded by the Guardian Council. Herman and Peterson coyly remark that they don't recall that CPD has ever written a critique of the U.S. political system, where the un-elected power of money thwarts democracy, implying that we have no standing to criticize Iran in this regard. The idea that an organization has to issue a formal statement on the U.S. political system before it can denounce undemocratic practices elsewhere is preposterous. What if the same test were applied to the admirable book, Demonstration Elections, written by Ed Herman and Frank Brodhead, which criticized undemocratic elections in El Salvador and elsewhere without also explicitly condemning elections in the U.S.?
Herman and Peterson note that the Iranian presidential challengers "seemed ABLE to voice sharp disagreements with the incumbent and with many aspects of Iranian life under its current executive branch." But fair elections require more than this. Look at the list of basic conditions for a democratic election outlined in Demonstration Elections
, which include free speech, free media, and freedom of organization. Then look at the situation in Iran in the period before
the election as reported by Amnesty International.
"Emad Bahavar, of the banned Iran Freedom Movement, who was campaigning for the presidential election of Mir-Hossein Mosavi, was detained on 27 May on suspicion of 'spreading propaganda against the system.'
"Other cases of arbitrary detention include the arrest on 19 April of Mehdi Mo'tamedi Mehr, a member of the Committee to Defend Free, Healthy and Fair Elections and a member of the Freedom Movement.
"Before his arrest he had been called by a Ministry of Intelligence official and told that publication of a statement entitled Civil Society Institution as Election Observers: An Assurance toward Free, Healthy and Fair Elections by the Committee would be an act against national security.
"The statement was published anyway, and he was arrested. ...[The Centre for Human Rights Defenders] headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi was forcibly closed in December 2008 and has not been allowed to reopen."
"Jelveh Javaheri was arrested at home without an arrest warrant ... She has since been charged with 'acting against national security through membership in the One Million Signatures Campaign [which is collecting signatures to a petition demanding equal rights for women] and with the aim of disrupting public order and security.'"
As Amnesty put it, "By imprisoning people for merely expressing dissenting views, the Iranian authorities are stifling the free debate which is a pre-requisite of elections.... Citizens should be able to freely express their grievances and their demands so that candidates can address them."
More generally, Amnesty noted,
"The election period has also seen increased repression, both of people expressing their opinions directly about the elections, or of those seen to be opposed to the system in some way, including students, women's rights activists, lawyers and unrecognized religious minorities, such as the Bahaâ'is and the Ahl-e Haq."
Regarding the conduct of the election itself, we said in our Q&A that there was certainly fraud, but we couldn't tell what the result would have been in the absence of fraud. The evidence for the fraud includes:
(a) The interference with the ability of the opposition to properly monitor events by
(i) cutting off text messaging, which was the opposition's main means of communication;
(ii) attacks on oppositionists campaign headquarters (Mousavi says by Basiji and plain clothes police
) and then the formal seizing and closing of reformists' headquarters by security forces.
(b) The implausibility of the voting patterns observed
-- an issue which Herman and Peterson acknowledge can by no means simply be dismissed.
(c) Reports of interference with the opposition election observers. The Guardian Council acknowledgesthat 10 percent of Mousavi's observers were not present to witness the sealing of the ballot boxes or the counting;
Mousavi claims that almost half of his observers in Tehran were unable to perform their duties and additional ones were delayed in doing so.
(d) Sophisticated statistical analysis which concludes that "The results suggest very strongly that there was widespread fraud in which the vote counts for Ahmadinejad were substantially augmented by artificial means," though adding that fraud can never be definitively proven or disproven by such statistical techniques
(e) An account by an employee of the Ministry of the Interior of political purging by the Ministry in advance of the election.
Herman and Peterson think that a poll conducted by Terror-Free Tomorrow lends strong support to the claim that Ahmadinejad's vote was authentic. We discussed this poll in our Q&A and indicated why we didn't believe it a compelling piece of evidence. First, it was taken early in the campaign, before the debates. Herman and Peterson claim that the nationally televised debates were a "rout" for Mousavi. Their source? A grand total of one journalist. It is generally acknowledged that Mousavi was an uninspiring speaker, in the televised debates and elsewhere; what the debates displayed, as a great many commentators and eyewitnesses have attested, was Ahmadinejad's dishonesty and vulnerability. We said that the sharpness of the debate showed that perhaps this election was not a meaningless exercise, focusing more attention and excitement on the campaign. People's views early in a campaign, when they know the incumbent but not the leading challenger (he had not been in public life for 20 years) cannot be assumed to have been their views on election day.
The authors of the report on the poll concluded:
"The current mood indicates that none of the candidates will likely pass the 50 percent threshold needed to automatically win; meaning that a second round runoff between the two highest finishers, as things stand, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Moussavi, is likely."
Herman and Peterson charge that we "laud the news media's performance on Iran." We did no such thing. We said "Western media have always selectively publicized and often exaggerated the crimes of official enemies. But we shouldn't conclude from this that crimes have not been committed." We stated that in its broad outlines the media description of events in Iran has been accurate: that there was an election that masses of Iranians rejected, followed by huge popular protests that have faced sharp repression.
Yes, the New York Times
did get wrong the Guardian Council's statement about more votes than registered voters in 50 cities. The Times
said the Council admitted that there were three million over-votes, but in fact the Council said the total vote from these 50 cities was three million.
But the Times
was not the original source of this error. Its June 23 account followed a June 21 report on the website of the Iranian government funded Press TV.
That Press TV report quoted a presumably ambiguous statement from a spokesperson for the Guardian Council, who "said that the vote tally affected by such issues could be over 3 million." The Times
(whose reporter was not allowed into Iran) based its account on the Press TV report and so did a pro-regime Iranian newspaper.
Democratic Mass Movement or Tool of U.S. Imperialism?
As far as U.S. interference in Iran is concerned, Herman and Peterson complain that "‘foreign control' and ‘calling the shots' are extreme forms of foreign meddling, and we regard them as straw men of the CPD's making." This is baffling. How can the issue of who is in control be anything but decisive? The answer, as we pointed out in our initial reply, is that for Herman and Peterson any
U.S. meddling automatically discredits a movement. So when they asked if we could prove that none
of the protestors was on the CIA payroll, this was not a "rhetorical ploy," as they now lamely assert, but the essence of their politics. Since the U.S. (and Israel) have been and continue to be engaged in meddling and want very much to influence and ideally to control the anti-Ahmadinejad movement and turn it to their purposes, the question of whether they have in fact succeeded is absolutely crucial. And despite Herman and Peterson's tediously detailed descriptions of U.S. plans for a manipulated "velvet" or "color" revolution in Iran, they present no evidence, none, that these plans have been successfully carried out.
But to the extent that Herman, Peterson and others like them succeed in deterring the Western left from actively supporting the pro-democracy movement in Iran, its embattled members will be increasingly tempted to look for friends elsewhere. All the available evidence indicates that this movement has so far been indigenous and independent of Western control. And that is why we think it so urgent for the left in this country and elsewhere to show the Iranians that their struggle for justice and real democracy is a natural ally of ours.
Herman and Peterson even go so far as to suggest, craftily ("it wouldn't be surprising") that the protestors, or their "financiers," figured that they could achieve their goals best "by tailoring their message of dissent to foreign audience, taking to the streets to provoke repressive responses by state authorities [how like the old rightwing charge that demonstrators egged on the police in order to win sympathy], with every action of the state serving to delegitimize it in the eyes of the West's metropolitan centers, whose recognition and validation the protestors have sought above all." No! What they sought "above all" was freedom.
Herman and Peterson state: "The CPD goes to great length to deny that the post-June 12 protests in Iran can be regarded as a consequence of U.S. policy towards that country, and is adamant that U.S. interference played no role in the election and its aftermath." But being a consequence of something is not at all the same as being controlled by it. U.S. policy obviously has an effect on Iran, but not always of the sort Herman and Peterson suppose. When Washington threatens war and imposes sanctions, that strengthens anti-democratic forces in Iran, who use the U.S. threat to clamp down on their domestic opponents. (And that of course is why the regime -- like all regimes -- is so quick to brand its opponents as foreign agents, so as to discredit them, a task to which Herman and Peterson have lent their unsolicited assistance.) When Washington ratchets down the rhetoric and the threats, more democratic space is created. So U.S. policy always affects Iran, but presumably we don't oppose lowering the threat level.
The post-election repression in Iran has given the U.S. right wing and Israel the opportunity to try to push the Obama administration into a more hawkish posture. (Just as the Iranian autocrats thrive when there's a hostile U.S., the U.S. war hawks are strengthened by greater repression in Iran. And that's why the neocons and their Israeli allies were so eager for an Ahmadinejad victory.) We have to demand that Obama back off from his current position of trying to get other countries to join with the U.S. in tightening sanctions against Iran if negotiations don't succeed, and we need to call on him to resist pressures from the American right wing and the Israeli government to be even more bellicose toward Iran. But we don't believe that the proper way to forestall a U.S. intervention is to try to make excuses for an ugly regime and to attempt to discredit those who fight against it.
In their rejoinder, Herman and Peterson proclaim that they believe dealing with the Iranian election is up to Iranians. On one level this idea echoes the know-nothingism that sometimes seems as prevalent on the U.S. left as it does among the general population: "why be so concerned about repression in other countries when we've got so many problems of our own?" On another level, if it means political indifference and abstention on the part of the left, it makes no sense in terms of Herman and Peterson's own priorities: obviously, in the case of Honduras or any other country within the U.S. sphere of influence the left has a great deal to say and do. But fundamentally, of course it's true that dealing with the election is up to the Iranians.The point is, they've been dealing with it and continue to do so with exemplary courage. What CPD offers them is support and encouragement, not "instruction" -- and certainly not calls for our government to intervene.
Today, the Iranian government is conducting massive show trials, with oppositionists, journalists, and others "confessing," clearly after being tortured, to being foreign agents. At the same time, Washington is making renewed threats against Iran. We oppose both the torturers and the bombers, and urge those who agree to join us in working to stop them.
The language of this CPD statement,We Oppose Both Saddam Hussein and the U.S. War on Iraq
, is sharply criticized by Herman and Peterson ("Green Wave
," point 4). The statement was signed by
more than 5,000 people, including Anthony Arnove, Phyllis Bennis, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, John Feffer, Arundhati Roy, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, and ... Edward S. Herman.
Amnesty International, Iran: Human Rights in the spotlight on the 30th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution
,AI Index: MDE 13/010/2009, Feb. 5, 2009; Iran: Election amid repression of dissent and unrest
, MDE 13/053/2009, June 9, 2009.Amnesty International, Iran: Worsening Repression of Dissent as Election Approaches
, Feb. 2009, AI Index: MDE 13/012/2009; Amnesty International, Iran: Ensure free presidential election
, AI Index:MDE 13/046/2009, May 15, 2009; Amnesty International, Iran's presidential election amid unrest and ongoing human rights violations
, June 5, 2009; Amnesty International,
"The detailed report of the committee in charge of protecting the votes of Mirhoseyn Musavi" published in Persian in Qalam News website on 5th July, BBC Monitoring Middle East - Political, July 6, 2009, Lexis Nexis ("The law-enforcement forces, the plainclothesmen, the guards corps and the Basij have been engaged in many illegal activities, such as attacking Mr Musavi's headquarters in Qeytariyyeh [district in Tehran], arresting the members of his headquarters, attacking the central headquarters and other headquarters in order to prevent them from communicating [with one another] and collecting the evidence of electoral violations.") (Another translation available online here
Full text of Guardian Council report on Iran presidential election
, BBC Monitoring Middle East. London: Jul 18, 2009. The Council says that Mousavi had more observers than any other candidate. But since the election was administered by the Interior Ministry, whose chief was appointed by and a friend of Ahmadinejad, and supervised by the Guardian Council, the incumbent did not need observers to protect his interests the way Mousavi did.
"The detailed report of the committee in charge of protecting the votes of Mirhoseyn Musavi" published in Persian in Qalam News website on 5th July, BBC Monitoring Middle East - Political, July 6, 2009, Lexis Nexis, section 4/5, para. 5.
Walter R. Mebane, Jr., "Note on the presidential election in Iran, June 2009
," University of Michigan, June 29, 2009 (updating report originally written June 14 and updated June 16-18, 20, 22-24 & 26). Mebane is the leading authority in statistically analyzing voting returns to detect fraud. If vote totals are concocted or a result of stuffing, the digits will often not be distributed as they would be from a real election. Mebane applied Benford's Law, which describes the expected distribution of digits. An expert panel assembled by the Carter Center to investigate the Venezuelan presidential recall election of 2005 rejected Benford's law for election analysis (Carter Center, Observing the Venezuela Presidential Recall Referendum: Comprehensive Report
, Atlanta: Feb. 2005, pp. 132-34). But Henry Brady, one of the members of the expert panel, has noted that "his pessimistic conclusion applies to analyses using leading digits. But the second digit is a better indicator of election fraud, he says...." (Carl Bialik, "Rise and Flaw of Internet's Election-Fraud Hunters
; Benford's Law, Which Tests Numbers for Authenticity, Might Detect Vote-Rigging but Can't Prove It," Wall Street Journal
, July 1, 2009. The second digit showed no fraud in the Venezuelan case. See Carter Center, pp. 133-34. Mebane used the second digit for his Iran analysis.) Mebane's "data is highly, highly, highly suggestive that something odd was going on," says Brady. (Quoted in Julie Rehmeyer, "Statistical tests suggestive of fraud in Iran's election
; A closer look at voter ballot data reveals suspicious anomalies," Science News
, Web edition: July 10th, 2009.)
Roger Cohen, "Iran: The Tragedy and the Future
," New York Review of Books,
Aug. 13, 2009 ("He showed me his ID card from the Interior Ministry, where he said he'd worked for thirty years. He'd been locked out, he said, as had other employees, many of whom had been fired in recent weeks.")
Government-funded Press TV ran a story
following the debate saying there is no doubt it was a game changer, but they'd have to await polls to know which way it changed things.
Press TV, "Guardian Council: Over 100% voted in 50 cities
," June 21, 2009, 23:33:38 GMT. The next day Press TV reported even more explicitly: "The extra votes amount to roughly three million ballots." (Press TV, "Iran to release box-by-box vote count
,"June 22, 2009, 17:58:31 GMT. Press TV advertises that it is government-funded but not government-controlled. One of its many foreign journalists, Nick Ferrari, recently resigned, saying that Press TV's news coverage was "'reasonably fair' until the election -- but not any longer." Martin Fletcher, "Presenter Nick Ferrari quits Iran Press TV over 'bias' after election
," Times Online
, July 1, 2009.
 Iran Daily
, June 24, 2009. ("The extra votes are said to be in the range of three million ballots.")
And, no, Clinton's CNN interview does not
constitute such evidence. Pressed on whether the Obama administration had been too slow to condemn election fraud or offer support to people on the ground, shereplied
that "behind the scenes, we were doing a lot, as you know. One of our young people in the State Department got twittered, you know, 'Keep going,' despite the fact that they had planned for a technical shutdown." Delaying the one-hour twitter shutdown by half a day did not turn the Iranian protesters into cat's-paws of Washington.