Saturday, June 25, 2005

Iranian elections ... There's two things I have to say about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory yesterday in Iran's national elections:

1) We will not be leaving Iraq any time soon. If it's ever been in doubt that the model for our post-war engagement in Iraq was not the first gulf war but the occupations in Germany and Japan (where we continue to have troops to this day), Bush's response to this election will likely underscore how significant he thinks Iraqi real estate is. To give him (some) credit, this is primarily about restoring Iraqi sovereignty. But the key ancillary motive here is establishing a base from which to exert a substantive geopolitical influence throughout the region.

2) Ahmadinejad's victory is the latest in a long string of conservative and nationalist triumphs, ranging from Bush's election here to the French and Dutch rejections of the EU constitution to, finally, a resurgent patriotism in China. What each illustrates is that conservatives have been far quicker to realize that what the poor want is not money but justice. They understand, that is, how to capitalize on indigent ressentiment. Consider the platform of Ahmadinejad:
Ahmadinejad, 49, ... called for eliminating the growing gap between rich and poor, repeal of unspecified ''weak" or un-Islamic reforms, and a restoration of the original spirit of the revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979. He received strong support from paramilitary and radical Islamist organizations.
When you are born poor in a world of conspicuous wealth -- and further, when your society lacks economic mobility -- you have to integrate the stark inequity of your poverty with your conception of the world at large. The only way to do this is to appeal to a transcendent figure, typically either God or a patria, and to believe adamantly that its sense of justice will in some way redeem your own personal suffering. In the face of that kind of psychology, money doesn't help. What does is a political leadership which corresponds with its absolute values. The one similarity between Bush and Ahmadinejad is that they have understood this far more intuitively than their rivals.


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