[eDebate] the duty to interfere

Kevin Sanchez let_the_american_empire_burn
Mon Jul 27 19:56:10 CDT 2009


re-engaging because the subject of iran broaches some crucial issues
regarding the role of the internet in national elections and the role of
national sovereignty in resistances to u.s. imperialism.

first note that stroube's own source - terrell arnold - admits that "no
thorough appraisal of the impact of the internet on [Iranian] national
political processes has yet been done". i think it's fair to say, therefore,
that his essay doesn't count as a "thorough appraisal", and so fails to
trigger david huggin declarations ("crush, crush, crush 5-0").

this piece of 'evidence' wins stroube the following claims: iran has
policed internet websites and might consider doing so in the future
in a manner akin to china; the u.s. state department runs a facebook
group which goes by the name 'alliance of youth movements' that might
support 'covert action against iran'; israel and the u.s. are dedicated to
'regime change' in iran. ...so where exactly is the breaking news here?

the anti-climatic nature of this 'evidence' is best indicated by what it
refers to as "a striking example": an iranian exile wrote an article on a
website that advocated a general strike, and we don't know how widely
it was read. ...woah, stop the presses! someone who was exiled from a
country used the internets to call for protests against that country's
government?!?! -- striking indeed.

none of this compares to the interference we already know about which
has been reported in the mainstream press - the state department asking
twitter to refrain from closing down for routine maintenance on a key day
when iranians were organizing protests using the site. in fact, the same
state department official is behind both that request and the 'alliance of
youth movements'. his name is jared cohen. for the record, he claims his
organization is entirely peaceful, describing its mission as follows:

"Wherever civil society
organizations exist or individuals have causes that
promote non-violent
youth causes, we want them to have the knowledge
and information on how
to develop an online component to what they are
trying to achieve."


{he's also written a book of some repute: http://books.google.com/books?id=ibINlBuSdF4C}

i was unable to track down scott ritter's piece in 'energy intelligence' that
supposedly counters cohen's mission statement. specifically, i'd like to
know how ritter's quoted characterization of this group as "planning and
implementing covert action against iran" is backed up. if stroube has this
article, i kindly request he (or anyone else) forward it to the list to better
focus our discussion.

"The Iranian Elections and Energy Security" in Energy Intelligence, June 19, 2009.

it's true, as arnold points out, that "Iran has been systematically targeted
by both the United States and Israel for harassment, leadership change,
or absolute regime change". i'll further agree there's strong evidence to
suggest that "covert operations" have "already been conducted along Iran's
border with Iraq" and that "dissident groups such as MEK and the Sunni
Jundallah fighters" have been surreptitiously assisted. 

let's make an initial distinction between propaganda and force. both are
forms of 'meddling', it's true. but dropping tons of anti-hitler flyers on
germany is what we'll call propaganda, and dropping tons of bombs on
dresden is what we'll call force. funding a 'pro-democracy' group to write
editorials in chilean newspapers - propaganda; backing a coup d'etat of
salvador allende's government - force. one key difference between the
two is that the former still gives the people some choice, ill-informed
though it may be, while the latter offers the people little choice at all.
drawing this line is necessary because the same tone of opposition
shouldn't cover both types of interference. yet terms such as "cyber
assault" gloss over this. needless to say, stroube also lacks this nuance.

on the iranian election specifically, arnold notes that the supreme council's
investigation (and partial recount) wasn't a good faith concession made to
correct discrepancies (as stroube has repeatedly claimed), but was meant

to postpone the process in order to wait out the green revolution, "long
enough for the pot to cool" to borrow arnold's metaphor.

arnold runs together "fraudulent" and "stolen" in describing what stroube
calls 'the stolen election hoax', but these are very different adjectives.
as arnold admits, we *know* the election was fraudulent - "any Iranian
election is already rigged" he concedes. we don't know that the election
was stolen, but we do know that there were significant irregularities. the
struggle continues over resolving these: http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSHAF74430920090727

i feel compelled to point out some unvarnished aspects of arnold's political
analysis. he asks: "Without ignoring the obvious tensions that exist in
Iranian society, a leading question is was there actually a 'green' revolution
in Iran, or was it a dispute between rival power clusters in the hierarchy,
with the 'revolution' mostly invented and promoted from the outside?"

this may rely on the faulty premise that we can tell 'real revolutions'
from mere power struggles, but can't all revolutionary movements be
reduced to "disputes between rival power clusters"? we could take the
american revolution as a paradigm case (see charles beard's 'an economic
interpretation of the constitution of the united states'). i mean, did
assistance from france make the american revolution any less authentic?

arnold writes, "it actually did not matter to the meddlers where the Iranian
public stood on these issues", but he assumes that the iranian public is
a static entity instead of a diverse group of people who can make up
their own minds upon being presented with conflicting information.

he says "complex external motives were involved", but when is this not
the case in every political situation ever? (for a hard-headed analysis of
this, see ernesto laclau's 'on populist reason', and/or:
the rosy rhetoric of uncorrupted democratic elections aside, most of us know
that our leaders aren't transparent reflections of the popular will. sometimes,
however - just sometimes - the people can write the scripts that their
leaders will read from.  mousavi would've had to have been more responsive
to the mass movement which coalesced after the alleged electoral theft,
yet arnold fails to consider this counter-factual.


i also disagree with the branding of mousavi and his supporters as "basically

secular". if their goal was to "reduce, if not eliminate altogether, the Islamic

overtones of Iranian governance", why was their slogan a return to '79?

but the key question begged by arnold's article is why 'cyber interference'
is shocking when seen in the context of u.s. support for violent opposition
forces which have killed innocent iranians. we might be willing to concede
arnold's claim that the u.s. is "a political abuser" of "the integrity of the
Internet" - but isn't it more important that it's an abuser of *territorial*
integrity and of international norms? popularizing some website that's
'pro-democracy' is not force - it doesn't even necessarily qualify as
disinformation. funding militias, however, as the bush administration was
evidently doing, *is* force. and we (world-citizens) have a right to know
whether the obama administration is continuing those operations. given
the history, we are justified in assuming the worst of any silence, but
given the stakes, why get bent out of shape over 'pro-democracy' propaganda?

so let's make another basic distinction: *within* propaganda, there's a
difference between what's disinformation and what isn't. dropping flyers
on nazi germany that read 'hitler is a jew' - that's disinfo; dropping flyers
that read 'hitler is wrecking your country' - that's not. likewise, calling
people and implying that john mccain has an illegitimate black child -
disinfo; calling people and implying that mccain has a crappy economic
policy - not. somehow this distinction also gets glossed over. case-in
-point: how does an iranian exile expressing an opinion on a website
'interfere' with the integrity of iranian elections? does *any* political
advocacy that occurs outside a nation's borders qualify as 'interference'?

where are the smoking guns, jack? where are the reports of israelis
posing as domestic iranians, of orchestrated hacks on ahmadinejad's
camp's websites, of actual *illegal* shit? after all, publishing a blog
doesn't require much "hacking skill", and simply being "busy on the net"
surely doesn't necessarily constitute a 'corruption' of the process.

bottom-line, in stroube-and-arnold's account, i'm left with insufficient
means to define 'interference' and distinguish it from mere influence. i
claim this weakens the effectiveness of their critique. we can't oppose
"cyber warfare against Iran" without knowing what it even means.

of course the governments of iran and china consider it illegal for the u.s.
state department to support groups that oppose them: are we to endorse
*their* definition of criminal behavior? these states don't appear to believe
*their own citizens* should be allowed to protest in public. if disinformation
campaigns work against regimes like these, one of the main reasons is
because there's widespread distrust of their state-run media. so an exiled
iranian might be able to offer a dissenting viewpoint which might land an
in-country iranian in prison or worse. stroube and arnold risk falling into
apologism here. arnold speaks of iran's authorization of broader cyber
surveillance as a "practical" response to "external meddling". although arnold
cites "Net paranoia" as a danger, he also writes approvingly of "authorities
who may honestly seek to preserve the integrity of their electoral processes".
he even deploys a bio-political rhetoric to justify these regulations, writing
of the need to keep the internet "clean" and non-"cancerous".

it's my position that we shouldn't condone china-style spying and censorship,
nor should we make excuses for 'cyber cleansing' of any kind. in opposition
to the blocking of websites, the monitoring of emails, and the "growing cadre
of Internet police", us communist should mount an unqualified defense of
"open transborder communication". (here i find unlikely allies in michael hardt
and toni negri - two scholars with whom i often disagree.) we ought to
rejoice in the fact that "even the most repressive societies now have
limited control at best over what information is available to people". yes,
this harbingers new dangers, but thankfully it leaves some tired methods
of state control in the dust.

arnold writes that "the United States ... is undoubtedly making every effort
to prevent such [cyber] interference in internal US affairs", but since he
doesn't give us any examples, he repeats the ambiguity between influence
and interference. of course the u.s. military and intelligence services have
extensive anti-'cyberterrorism' components, but i'm guessing that if some
website called 'persians for ron paul' popped up, the u.s. wouldn't bother
censoring it, even if the checks funding it were cut in iran.

related to this, notice how these two claims of arnold's appear to contradict:
(1) "In the environment of the Internet national boundaries are not effective,
either at stopping or limiting information flows".
(2) "Iranian national sovereignty was the immediate victim of the cyber assault".

well, if national boundaries aren't effective, then what's the sense of respecting
them? taken to its logical conclusion, iranian national sovereignty seems
to be a victim not so much of u.s. foreign policy as the internet age itself.
if arnold's "informational flat earth" obtains, talk of "the integrity of the
Internet" seems to me like saying info-mercials damage 'the integrity of
Television' - i.e., it's what debaters call 'non-unique'.

i don't believe we need to take seriously the choice of whether to respect
iran's sovereignty or to risk supporting american imperialism, for the simple
reason that we can actively *disrespect* their sovereignty and still oppose
the empire. this carves out an internationalist, anti-nationalistic terrain that
the left should stake as its own. to permit conservatives like john mccain
or hillary clinton to garner exclusive rights on praising the bravery of iranian
protesters cedes too much ground to the enemy. and the regimes in china
and iran deserve zero sympathy from us; these are countries that don't allow
even *the semblance* of a free press. and this much i know: someone on
twitter in tel aviv can't march on the streets of tehran. what all of us with
non-ideologically-blinded eyes saw were the largest protests in iran in thirty
years. those people weren't a youtube hoax or some u.s.-sponsored cyber
hallucination. neither were those who died at the hands of the basij. that's
my position and i'm sticking to it, until stroube gives us something solid. in
short, he's still on the wrong side of this one. his guy arnold writes,

"...the opposition demonstrations, as shown on western TV, have included
rock throwing, window and storefront breakage, and trashcan burning. That
may indeed make better TV imagery, but such destructive protest activities
are suppressed in virtually every country including the United States."

...and i'm usually on the side of the protesters in those cases too. throwing
a rock doesn't justify being shot dead (see relevant precedent here:

i can't speak to the question of whether ordinary iranians would be better
off if the demonstrations hadn't happened. i do know the threat of "greater
conservatism" is a risk inherent in most revolutionary action and seldom
counts as a strong reason for passivity. much was made in this discussion
of foucault's reporting from iran in the late 70s, but perhaps a better analogy
to this situation would be his activism surrounding poland in the early 80s...
here's an excerpt from chapter 17 of david macey's biography of foucault
entitled 'the great, stubborn light of polish freedom':

On 13 December 1981, General Woiciech Jaruzelski, who had been appointed
prime minister of Poland in February, declared a 'state of war' and imposed
martial law... Early next morning, Foucault was telephoned by Pierre Bourdieu.
The two men were not close, even though they had known each other for
almost thirty years, and Bourdieu was not normally one to take an active
political stance. It seemed to him that Foucault was the obvious person to
turn to in an attempt to protest against developments in Poland.

The result of the phone call was a text - drafted in Foucault's apartment
by Bourdieu and Foucault - entitled 'Les Rendez-vous manques'... The text
reads as follows:

...By asserting in the face of all truth and all morality that the situation in
Poland is a matter for Poles alone, are not the French Socialist leaders
giving more importance to their alliances at home than to the assistance
that is due any nation in danger? ...We remind the government that it
promised that the obligations of international morality would prevail over

...The Foucault-Bourdieu text was also denounced by Jack Lang, the
minister of culture, a week later. ... He... accussed Glucksmann, Foucault
and Montand of 'bawling without thinking'.

-- reminiscent of jack stroube's accusation of 'mawkishness', no? 

obviously we can't compare the imposition of martial law with the quelling
of protests, or wojciech jaruzelski with mahmoud ahmadinejad, but we
can isolate a principle that foucault delineated in an interview from the
same period (re-published in the foucault reader, page 377),

Let's take an example that touches us all, that of Poland. If we raise the
question of Poland in strictly political terms, it's clear that we quickly reach
the point of saying that there's nothing we can do. We can't dispatch a
team of paratroopers, and we can't send armored cars to liberate Warsaw.
I think that, politically, we have to recognize this, but I think we also agree
that, for ethical reasons, we have to raise the problem of Poland in the form
of a nonacceptance of what is happening there, and a nonacceptance of
the passivity of our own governments. I think this attitude is an ethical one,
but it is also political; it does not consist in saying merely, 'I protest,' but in
making of that attitude a political phenomenon that is as substantial as
possible, and one which those who govern, here or there, will sooner or later
be obliged to take into account.

even clearer was foucault's statement before the international congress at
the united nations in geneva from july 1981:

1. There is such a thing as an international citizenship which has its rights,
which has its duties and which implies a commitment to rise up against any
abuse of power, whoever its author, whoever the victims. After all, we are
all governed and, by that token, our fates are bound up together.

2. Because they claim to look after the happiness of societies, governments
arrogate to themselves the right to draw up profit-and-loss accounts for the
human misery which their decisions provoke, or which their negligence causes.
One of the duties of international citizenship is to reveal human misery to the
eyes and ears of government, as it is not true that they are not responsible
for it. Human misery must never be the silent residue of politics. It founds an
absolute right to rise up and to address those who hold power.

3. We must reject the division of labour we are so often offered: it is up to
individuals to think and to act . . . Amnesty Intenational, Terre des Hommes
and Medecins du Monde are the initiatives which have created this new right:
the right of private individuals to intervene effectively in the order of
international policies and strategies. The will of individuals must be inscribed
in a reality over which governments wish to have a monopoly, a monopoly
which we must wrest away from them, gradually and day by day.


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