Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Agony of Distance

The images from the streets of Tehran are increasingly heart-wrenching. We are witnessing a desperate government exercise its monopoly of force upon its own citizens. I don't think there are many people in the West who are not cringing at the seemingly hopeless struggle of the brave protesters on Tehran's increasingly bloody streets. We continue to watch and pray because we can do little else. For all the miracles of communication that have allowed images, video and tweets to escape the iron grasp of the Iranian police, we can give nothing but moral support. There are those in this world on both the left and the right who would like to see the world get more involved in the domestic affairs of other countries. However, no foreign soldiers whether fighting under the flag of the United Nations nor the flag of the United States could resolve this conflict in the manner that so many want it to. No amount of aggresive diplomacy is likely to influence events in Iran either.

The United Nations is, as it is all too often, useless to help. While the West watches the bloodshed with horror, I doubt that horror is felt the same way in the halls of power in Beijing. People power is not popular in the People's Republic. There is little hope of China turning down oil shipments from Iran in order to punish the Iranian government for putting down an increasingly powerful protest. Without China, no sanctions or other action of meaning will get through the United Nations. So New York watches with interest but not with an interest to act.

In Washington, Barack Obama sits helplessly. Even if his army were not hamstrung by wars on Iran's eastern and northwestern borders, he knows that the only thing that could immediately reconcile the protesters in the streets to their government is American intervention. It is true that Iranians have a generally favourable view of the United States. They also have a very strong sense of national pride which, much as it does in Canada, tends to have an adverse reaction to foreign governments trying to dictate their domestic affairs. Obama's trepidation to speak more forcefully may befuddle his critics on the American right and the Iranian left, but he carries the baggage of previous sins of commission in Iranian politics made by previous American Presidents. So he, like so many others, watches and hopes and speaks softly when at all.

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