Tiananmen Twenty Years later

I found out something I didn’t know today. If you happened to walk around mainland China with a photograph of the Tiananmen Square “Tank Man”, something strange happens. You, know. That guy with balls too large to contemplate who stood in front of a column of Chinese tanks twenty years ago.  Photograph below.

Tiananmen Square, June 5th, 1989.

If you asked an average Chinese citizen what this photograph meant to them, they wouldn’t say it was a timeless symbol of standing up to oppression like most westerners would.  In fact, some wouldn’t even recognize it, especially younger Chinese.  This may seem as disturbing to you as it did to me, since there is now a large generation of capitalistic young Chinese that are bringing their country into the forefront of the developed world this century, but they don’t understand the terrifying realities of their own history.  This can be dangerous in light of China’s accelerated rise.

We need China, and they need us, but not as much.  What Niall Furgeson called Chimerica was the driving force in the global economy before the recent great recession, but now we have a new dynamic where China truly dominates during a time when we are declining as a world power. Make no mistake, we are following the same path as past hegemonies. Just like Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Greece, the Mongols, Rome, the Ottoman’s, Spain, and Great Britain; what goes up must come down and we, ladies and gentlemen, are coming down.  Spain and Great Britain succumbed to massive debt owed to up and coming foreign powers; sound familiar? You are witnessing this happen now and China is only the largest of several up and coming powers of this era.

Now we begin to see the importance of how these young hard working Chinese see the world and their own history.  The budding tradition of civil discourse occurring in China can be thought of as a substitute for the heady spirit of change present in the late 80s, but this is a low grade substitute at best.  The demand to know the names and numbers of children who died in the Szechuan earthquake school collapses has become a painful experience beyond the actual loss of the children.  Inquisitive and defiant parents are being watched by Chinese security forces for asking about what happened to their babies.  Chinese growth and capitalism is still vigorous and coming straight for us, but a lack of openness and consideration for the individual has brought us dangerous toys, deadly milk and a deep mistrust of Chinese progress that will be hard to reverse.

This week’s twenty year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre should be a time to contemplate what kind of China the world should have today, but doesn’t.  Hopefully, this ancient and wise nation is still heading towards the same destination, but has only taken a longer path.

Is Considering The Opinions of the Muslim World Wrong?

Liz Cheney recently got my attention on CNN.  The arguments supporting or castigating Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last week have been bubbling up for a few days now and I’ve been satisfied to sit back and watch.  It just didn’t seem that hard to figure out that he did the right thing here, but that’s not everyone’s opinion.

Liz Cheney’s main argument seemed to be that we can’t make our Middle East policy based on a public opinion poll of the Middle East.  Is she trying to say that US national interests as a factor do not enter into the considerations of the Obama administration?  This fits in with the overall mind set of her father and gives me the feeling that the former Vice President really was the driving force behind the Bush administration’s all or nothing approach. We can call this tactic the “false choice”.

The previous demonstration of this false choice policy approach stated that the only choices were to stay in Iraq indefinitely to maintain security there and at home or withdraw completely and Iraq would implode and turn into a new super terrorist sanctuary and direct massive attacks on the homeland. This is how the Bush administration presented the “choice” for us. Either we stay in Iraq until you are told it’s safe to leave or we make the wrong choice and withdraw completely with all the terrible consequences. It turns out that while Bush and Dick were keeping America scared, they were pursuing a third choice; an in between option that happened to be a track that Obama followed as well.

Here again, we have his daughter utilizing the same mindset.  She claims that Obama is running his entire Middle East policy on the basis of how the average Muslim feels.  We must assume this is considered nearly treasonous behavior in the Cheney camp and they feel the same way about what they consider unneeded apologetic behavior.  This is a sign of weakness in their eyes, so Liz Cheney’s alternative policy would be the opposite.  No matter what, don’t base US policy on public opinion in the Arab world.

Obviously, the best course of action is to take all possible factors into considerationa and gather as much information as possible in the pursuit of protecting US national interests.  In that case, you might find that we can benefit from reaching out to the moderates in the Muslim world in order to gain their assistance. The zealots that follow Osama Bin Laden are only .00001% of the Muslim world, but that is thousands of people and Obama’s speech can’t change the minds of those men.  There are other policies this administration is pursuing in order to deal with those men, but thanks to gathering information and thoughtfully finding a more complex policy that approaches this dilemma from more than one direction we are safer.

That was one point that seemed completely alien to Liz Cheney.  The idea that Obama’s speech in Cairo could possibly make this country safer in any way was impossible to her.  With the Cheney family blinders on, there are certain aspects of the big picture they just can’t see.

WHAT DOES GUANTANAMO HAVE TO DO WITH NORTH KOREA?

I was shocked when I heard about the verdict against the two journalist in North Korea.  Twelve years hard labor sounds horrifying for these journalists and all should know that North Korea’s Gulag style prison system is well capable of endangering a prisoner’s life within months simply from the conditions alone (Although these two innocent women will hopefully receive better treatment, even though it’s only because they are westerners).  Then you take a step back and realize they’re going to probably be all right because the Kim dynasty needs these two as bargaining chips in their growing confrontation with the entire world.

At this point, we take a breath and hope that these two women will be released sooner than twelve years from now, but like I said above, this would still mean incredible hardship.  So, we’re finally stuck with the feeling that the North Koreans have gone too far and need to be dealt with somehow, but is that the end of it.

North Korea illegally snatched up two innocent and harmless individuals and has held them and charged them and tried them for bogus reasons and any country that does such a thing should be sanctioned and embargoed and blockaded and we should drop nasty letters about the Kim dynasty from the air or something, right?  Unfortunately, we cannot go to the United Nations and make that strong of a case and we’ll have a harder time negotiating the release of these two poor women because the North Korean negotiator will pontificate about the actions of the United States at Guantanamo for months before any progress begins.

The United States is in the business of snatching up people and holding on to them indefinitely without even charging them. The conditions are much better with us, yes, but that doesn’t limit North Korea’s leverage with this issue (so what if we have a doctor with a tracheotomy kit on standby for waterboarding! This proves we don’t want to kill you, but it also proves that WATERBOARDING CAN KILL YOU, even by accident).

Technically, we are doing the same thing here. It may difficult for some to read this, but hear me out. The example of two innocent journalists that got too close to a sensitive border and became detained for suspicious activity compares quite well with several innocent individuals of Middle Eastern descent that have been detained for suspicious travel activity to the land of their birth.  I agree that in the middle of an American town hall meeting these examples don’t compare so well, but around the globe, throughout the Middle East, in China and in North Korea, it makes for juicy propaganda.  The North Korean people, after all, are the ones we need to convince here, they hold the real power, they just don’t know it yet.

You have to admit that the families of the innocent women imprisoned in North Korea and the families of the innocent victims imprisoned in the Guantanamo detention center would have a lot in common if they had a chance to talk.  Especially if these two American journalists don’t see freedom for seven years or more.  Let’s be honest here, the rules have changed and the United States is a part of that change.

The People of Iran

We all hope that the people of Iran can rise up long enough to get a positive reaction from the government or even to follow through with another revolutionary sweep to power by a new generation, but a question persists. Are there really enough wealthy and middle class progressive Iranians to hold onto power in Iran? If you take the demographics of Iran’s electorate and their ideological leanings you can begin to see a familiar political playing field. Iran is a completely different political landscape from the United States, but during this era of social change and rapid cultural evolution, some of the same rules apply.

I’ve a heard a few arguments that this election could be legitimate, but they are flimsy, few and far between. Check STRATFOR, “Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality”, for the best of these attempts at explaining a whale of a statistical anomaly. This article warrants a thumbs down in my book, but it raises a good point that I want to explore further. Coming back down to reality, however, and comparing provincial results between Iranian elections in 2005 and 2009 highlights the impossibility of such a tectonic demographic and political shift in the 2009 results. In the Iranian province of Lorestan for example, all conservative candidates combined received only 20 % of the vote in 2005, while Ahmadinejad got 71 % of the vote all by himself in 2009 (http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/06/iran_numbers/) .

This would be equivalent to three quarters of the liberals in America voting for George W. Bush in the 2004 elections, not likely by even a long shot. I’m not saying that Ahmadinejad couldn’t have won, I’m saying that he couldn’t have won by this margin.

It’s becoming more and more clear that Ahmadinejad and his ruling government have behaved like children changing their grades at school. If they had changed their Ds to Cs it would’ve been believable, but these children changed their Ds to As. Now when we look at all the other past report cards these kids brought home before, we realize that no conservative candidate ever got straight As like this before, especially not during such a hotly contested election.

Putting aside the legitimacy of the elections for now, we need to examine what similarities can be found between our experiences and Iran’s. What am I talking about? Red vs blue states in America and red vs blue provinces in Iran. In the past and especially in 2000, 2004 and 2008, America witnessed a political tug of war between the rural heartland red states and the urbanized developed coastal states. People in the blue states are generalized as big city liberals and people in the red states are even more dismissively labeled the fly-over (a reference to the middle states that those big city liberals “fly-over” when going from coast to coast). Currently, the large population centers on America’s coasts combined with swing states to bring victory to the liberal progressive side of the U.S. electorate. What does this teach us about Iran?

Well, Iran contains a progressive urban population with better access to education, non-agrarian employment opportunities and communications with the outside world that is surrounded by a rural population with less education, agrarian employment opportunities and very little communication outside of their village. The urbanites are not atheistic, but they are definitely not considered as pious as those in the countryside. Sound familiar? We basically have the same dynamic at work here, but the back and forth has been going on just a little bit longer in the US and the long term trend hands the urban population centers the advantage in this country. Is that the case in Iran?

Eventually, one would think this dynamic would trend the same way everywhere including Iran, but look at how this has worked out in the United States. Such a contrasting demographic split along ideological lines in America has provided us with a severely limiting two party system that often swings the nation back and forth like a pendulum instead of forward. This one step forward two steps back cycle could evolve in Iranian politics as well, which would be a damn shame in this 3rdpartyblogger’s opinion.

Today in Iran you see two competing groups rallying in the streets of Tehran. One side gathers green clad supporters from the city itself and the other buses in supporters of the incumbent from the countryside. This leaves the persistent question above. Could a new revolution in Iran survive and establish itself successfully? And if they did this, would they be stifling the anger and resentment of millions of poor religious Iranians in the countryside?

For more information on this, I would ask the conservative thinkers of this nation for insight. After all, the rulers of Iran and their rural conservative base fall into roughly (and I mean roughly) the same ideological category as America’s conservatives, so they should be capable of understanding the chances a “LIBERAL” urban elite and their “PROGRESSIVE” ideas have in Iran.

It must be admitted, when all is said and done in Iran, that the forces of liberal democratic reason must overcome the forces of conservative religiosity.

A conservative fear of change and the impending loss of religious and family values allows the incumbents to remain in power, that and a fraudulent election. If we could just get some notes from Karl Rove and W. on where the Iranian government is coming from then we could really gain some valuable insight.

P.S. Post. Recent information from Ken Ballen at Terror Free Tomorrow on CNN: His organization took a poll in Iran three weeks before the election which showed Ahmadinejad holding a significant lead. Obviously, polls cannot be used to support the lofty numbers seen in the actual election, but another significant find of Mr. Ballen’s came up as well. His poll also found that a significant percentage of Ahmadinejad’s supporters expressed a desire for more individual freedom and government reform. In this case, we must conclude that Ahmadinejad’s recent actions in the suppression of the Iranian protesters could be damaging his base. If he keeps this up, hopefully his followers will begin to defect and the opposition in Iran will grow.