Monday, February 27, 2006

The end of Neoconservatism?

Francis Fukuyama on a paradox ('After Neoconservatism', New York Times Magazine, 19 Feb 2006):

On domestic issues, neoconservatives
argued that ambitious efforts to seek social justice often left societies worse off than before because they either required massive state intervention that disrupted pre-existing social relations (for example, forced busing) or else produced unanticipated consequences (like an increase in single-parent families as a result of welfare). A major theme running through James Q. Wilson's extensive writings on crime was the idea that you could not lower crime rates by trying to solve deep underlying problems like poverty and racism; [...]

How, then, did a group with such a pedigree come to decide that the "root cause" of terrorism lay in the Middle East's lack of democracy, that the United States had both the wisdom and the ability to fix this problem and that democracy would come quickly and painlessly to Iraq? Neoconservatives would not have taken this turn but for the peculiar way that the cold war ended.

Ronald Reagan was ridiculed by sophisticated people on the American left and in Europe for labeling the Soviet Union and its allies an "evil empire" and for challenging Mikhail Gorbachev not just to reform his system but also to "tear down this wall." [His administration's] proposal for a double-zero in the intermediate-range nuclear arms negotiations [...] was attacked as hopelessly out of touch by the bien-pensant centrist foreign-policy experts at places like the Council on Foreign Relations and the State Department. That community felt that the Reaganites were dangerously utopian in their hopes for actually winning, as opposed to managing, the cold war.

And yet total victory in the cold war is exactly what happened in 1989-91. [...]

The way the cold war ended shaped the thinking of supporters of the Iraq war, including younger neoconservatives like William Kristol and Robert Kagan, in two ways. First, it seems to have created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from outside.
The war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform.
The neocons also underestimated the hostile reaction of the rest of the world to the use of American power. Fukuyama makes the following analogy:
"The End of History" [Fukuyama's 1992 book], in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States.
However, he warns:
The worst legacy that could come from the Iraq war would be an anti-neoconservative backlash that coupled a sharp turn toward isolation with a cynical realist policy aligning the United States with friendly authoritarians. Good governance, which involves not just democracy but also the rule of law and economic development, is critical to a host of outcomes we desire, from alleviating poverty to dealing with pandemics to controlling violent conflicts. A Wilsonian policy that pays attention to how rulers treat their citizens is therefore right, but it needs to be informed by a certain realism that was missing from the thinking of the Bush administration in its first term and of its neoconservative allies.
The reaction against a flawed policy can be as damaging as the policy itself, and such a reaction is an indulgence we cannot afford, given the critical moment we have arrived at in global politics.
And, by the way, don't miss Greg, on Donald Rumsfeld echoing a phrase from Fukuyama's essay.

British Justice?

The Enron Three (or NatWest Three) got a certain amount of media coverage last Tuesday, when their appeal was rejected. There is still the possibility of this being reversed by the House of Lords, but some comment seems to suggest that Britain's highest court will uphold it as being the will of Parliament.

So, people may be extradited to the US to face charges of committing a crime in Britain in which the victim is British.

Another letter or e-mail to one's MP seems in order.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Neocons and Paleocons

Chuck Hagel,  Republican Senator for Nebraska, is 'an instinctive and unwavering conservative on most issues', who 'has taken a more conservative position than the Bush administration every time he has broken with it on a major issue, and an opponent of the neocon project in Iraq.
When he rose on the Senate floor that October [2002] to explain his vote in favor of the resolution authorizing force [...] he gave a speech that would have required no editing had he decided to vote against it. ('The Heartland Dissident', New York Times Magazine, 12 Feb 2006)
Here's James P Pinkerton, writing on William F Buckley, who was 80 in November (Prospect, January 2006):
Under pressure from the Rupert Murdoch-financed Weekly Standard, which came on to the scene in 1995, Buckley's magazine [National Review] shed its Burkean "paleoconservatism," embracing instead the modernist "neoconservatism" of its brash new rival. Which is to say, NR embraced what would soon become known as the Bush doctrine—the social engineering of the middle east on an epochal scale. For his part, after going notably quiet during the Iraq war, Buckley finally allowed in June, "If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war."
These divisions are reflected on the right here in Britain. Last Monday, Peter Oborne was on Channel 4 (yet again). I really couldn't be bothered to watch it and pick apart the arguments. I imagine Melanie Phillips does a pretty good job here anyway.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I've had a few hits from people searching for Shavkatjon (or Shavkat) Madumarov. Here is a link to the article in The Economist I originally cited: After the horror, more horror

"Why I am a relativist" I found is also the title of a piece by a professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, David Oderberg. My own post 'Why I am a Relativist' still figures quite closely behind his.

A search for Caricature of Mohammad  comes up with my post containing 'caricature de Mohammad' (Khatami). That's pretty good, but what about this? Searching for compromis entre athene et jerusalem  brings another of mine at the top. 'Entre' appears elsewhere in the archive page, in an unrelated place, but matching 'Athène et Jerusalem' to 'Athens and Jerusalem' is really impressive. You do have to set 'show English pages only' (in the preferences) and then search for the French phrase.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bloggers of the past

Trevor Butterworth in the FT Magazine on blogging:  
According to the monitoring done by, only two blogs get more than 1 million visitors a day and the numbers drop quickly after that: the 10th ranked blog for traffic gets around 120,000 visits; the 50th around 28,000; the 100th around 9,700; the 500th only 1,400 and the 1000th under 600. By contrast, the online edition of The New York Times had an average of 1.7 million visitors per weekday last November, according to the Nielsen ratings, and the physical paper a reach of 5 million people per weekday, according to Scarborough research.

And on some would-have-been bloggers:

“We’re sure Marx and Orwell would have blogged,” said Heather and Jessica of “When it comes right down to it, blogs reach the greatest amount of people in the least amount of time, and they reach the very people Marx and Orwell wanted to speak to most.”

“Orwell, definitely,” said Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds. “Marx would have had to acquire a bit more ‘snap’, I’m afraid, to have made it as a blogger.”

“Orwell maybe,” said Cox. “Orwell was pathologically productive. He never doubted himself, that’s for sure. And maybe he shares that trait with many bloggers.”

The question was, of course, rigged. The great critic and editor Cyril Connolly fell into despair over the prolixity of Orwell’s wartime writing: “Being Orwell, nothing he wrote is quite without value and unexpected gems keep popping up. But O the boredom of argument without action, politics without power.”

Connolly was the constitutional opposite of Orwell - a spry wit given to sloth, a portly bon vivant who masticated away his genius. But he recognised, in effect, how awful Orwell would have been as a blogger, and how he would fall into the kind of dross exemplified by the author’s “In Defence of English Cooking”:

Well, he did keep his war-time journal, which made quite interesting reading 25 years later.

Noam Chomsky and 'Manufacturing Consent' is tucked away on ITV4 (though the Radio Times helpfully highlights it) at 23:50 tonight.

Manufacturing Consent ? Would that be the same consent that was manufactured for the Iraq war, or for Vietnam, come to think of it ?

Update: if you saw Chomsky's defence of himself in January's Prospect, be sure also to read Oliver Kamm's 3-part response. This is, incidentally, a pretty good illustration of the advantages of blogging.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Smoking ban in Britain

MPs first ended an exemption for pubs not serving food by 453 votes to 125 ... and then to extend the ban to private clubs by 384 votes to 184 (BBC).

Well, we didn't think this would happen, but it has - a great blow to the social life of this country, which will accentuate the trend of people drinking at home. It looks like Britain will be even worse than Zapatero's Spain.

 Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, said on BBC radio Tuesday morning that she saw a strong case for exempting private members' clubs from the ban. Later, she said the argument had been 'finely-balanced'. But in the end she came down on the side of a total ban.

And so we had this Alice-in-Wonderland logic. Whatever the case for allowing members to decide the policy in their club, rather than it being imposed by the government, it was said that this would be unfair on pubs. In other words, people would choose to go for a drink in clubs (which allowed smoking) rather than pubs (which did not). In other words, people would prefer to use places where smoking was allowed to those where it was not.

I was going to say that at least it showed that there was some soul in the Labour Party since it was divided on the issue, in contrast to the sanctimonious unity of the Liberals, since that was how it came across from the media. But, in fact, a number of LibDems voted against the ban. (How MPs voted)

Anyway, you can follow the debate in full. Patricia Hewitt said that the ban would 'save thousands of people's lives'. It is clear that the vast majority of these would be smokers who would be 'encouraged' to stop. Then there are those who choose to go into pubs or clubs where smoking is allowed and suffer from 'passive smoking'. The argument that some of the people who work in pubs and clubs would have their lives saved is irrefutable as such, but the numbers involved are relatively small (see my comments here) and it's really a smokescreen (no apologies) for making life so uncomfortable for smokers that they give up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Not the whole thing

An Iranian blogger, through the good offices of Norman Geras, puts much better what I was trying to say here:
I know the case for free speech is right, but saying right things is not saying the whole thing. I too am offended, but not by seeing that someone has painted something and says 'This is Mohammad'. No, I am offended because it was a serious help to reactionary forces in the Muslim world and especially in Iran.
Read it all.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Revising Maoism

Nepal's Maoist leader, Prachanda has given an interview to the BBC.
Do you believe in the multi-party system or would you like your party to be the one party ruling Nepal at some point in the future?

I am going to address this question very seriously. Three years ago, at a Central Committee meeting of our party, analyzing the experiences from 20th century communist states, we put forward a proposal for the development of democracy. In the 21st century we cannot have a state like those of the 20th century. That's why our Central Committee unanimously passed this paper on the development of democracy in the 21st century.

The spirit of this paper is that there should be peaceful competition between all political parties against feudalism and foreign imperialist forces. And that there should be multi-party competition. Since then we have said that within a certain constitutional provision multi-party competition [should exist] as long as it's against feudalism, against foreign imperialistic interference and all political parties can compete against each other. And this document was unanimously passed three years ago in very clear terms. In the agreement that we recently made with the political parties, we have clearly stated that we agree to multi-party competition.

Do you want to be leader of this country? Head of state?
I also want to clarify that - from the lessons of the 20th Century communist states - we want to move to a new plane in terms of leadership - where one person doesn't remain the party leader or the head of state. [...]

What were the negative experiences of the 20th Century in which people who should have been more powerful and should have had more rights, could not get them? We are studying this. Why it could not happen during Stalin's time, how much of this happened in Mao's time - we are studying this and we are in the process of developing a new system of thought.
The 'number two' mentioned in this interview and in other recent coverage, Baburam Bhattarai, does not seem to be the same as Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who was interviewed by Isabel Hilton for the FT Magazine last May, ("The King and Mao" - subscribers only --- link ). This gave rise to a letter to the FT (Rajendra S Khadka, May 21 2005) which stated, 'Two years ago, I recall reading in Kathmandu that one of the top leaders of the Nepalese Communist party, when asked about Pol Pot's genocide of Cambodians, reportedly replied that that had not been independently verified.'

Opting out

Lionel Shriver reviewing Kurt Vonnegut, whom he idolised when he was 16 (subscribers only link):
Vonnegut is enraged by the Bush administration, the dubious circumstances under which the US president was first elected (though conveniently oblivious to the fact that the guy won his second election fair and square, like it or not), western dependence on fossil fuels and global warming. But so are lots of people. Mere worthiness, mere hopping on a crowded liberal bandwagon, does not a book make. Some contribution is required, either new thoughts, or the old ones couched in newly incisive forms. And I have heard more trenchant political analysis from out-patients on park benches: “In case you haven’t noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanized millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound ‘em and kill ‘em and torture ‘em and imprison ‘em all we want.” Thanks, Kurt. You tell ‘em.

Yet what I most dislike (and it’s a contest) is my former literary idol’s penchant for hip misanthropy - a collusive disparagement of the whole human race that hopes to seduce his readers into imagining that, if they join in the chorus, they can opt out of the species. Hence when Vonnegut declares, “Evolution can go to hell as far as I’m concerned. What a mistake we are,” or compares people (bit of a cliche, this) to a virus that has infected the planet, presumably such fomenting does not indict the author or his audience. Read Vonnegut, and you get to be an Honorary Alien.

Expressions of solidarity

John Lloyd on the cartoons row, via Iraq.  (Jihad Momani is the editor of a Jordanian paper who was fired for publishing the cartoons.)
The second consideration is the one that Jihad Momani’s action, and which the events in Iraq of the past 30 years (not just the past three), force upon us. That is, that the exercise of freedom and the wish to enjoy its fruits really does seem to be as universal a yearning as one can hope to see. It is, of course, contradictory, halting and goes backwards as well as forwards. But the voices of reason - always the necessary companion to freedom - of which Momani’s was one [...] have grown stronger in the immediate past, and need support.

Those who most fervently wished to rid Iraq of the foulness that was the Saddam regime were those who had either grasped through observation how bodies and spirits are crushed - as did Paul Wolfowitz of the US; or who had travelled through the region to meet the oppressed, as did Bernard Kouchner of France; or had first-hand experience of a (milder) totalitarianism, as had Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and Adam Michnik of Poland. Their position (except, for obvious reasons, that of Wolfowitz) was and remains highly critical of the US practice but not of the US/UK intervention, for which all called.

They did so because of that old leftist word, much abused itself: solidarity. That which is expressed in the last of the verbal triptych that is the French republican slogan,  fraternité. They wish to extend the fruits of freedom to the unfree. We should hope Momani will survive to edit other newspapers (how many tabloid editors could one say that about?). Even more, we should take care that we don’t compromise the conditions we have created to allow him, and other editors, reporters and cartoonists, to appeal to reason, in freedom’s name.

John Pilger's latest offering is free-to-view, but still not worth it - 'Iran offers no "nuclear threat" ', would you believe?

Friday, February 10, 2006

An objective alliance

The BBC WS was leading its news bulletins with this this morning, for some reason.
Malaysia's prime minister [Abdullah Badawi] says a huge chasm has opened between the West and Islam, fuelled by Muslim frustrations over Western foreign policy.
What was on the radio was somewhat different from the story on the web, with mention of the 'levelling of Falluja' and so on.

Another recent report on the BBC (which maddeningly I can't find any trace of on the web) spoke of the debate among neo-cons in America, with some worrying about democracy in the Middle East bringing islamists to power. This position was represented by Daniel Pipes. Others, such as Reuel Marc Gerecht see it as a way of turning islamists away from violence and spoke of the disaster of Algeria in 1991-2.

Even in France, some are beginning to appreciate these nuances. Here's Bernard Guetta ('L’ombre des "Frères" ')
Une dynamique est à l’œuvre et tout se passe, en fait, comme si les Etats-Unis préféraient aider les Frères musulmans à accéder au pouvoir plutôt que de les y voir porter par des révolutions. La Maison-Blanche n’aide pas directement les Frères mais elle leur dégage la voie, lentement mais sûrement, comme si elle voulait séparer les islamistes des djihadistes, faire la part du feu, et disposer, aussi, d’un contrepoids à l’islamisme chiite, celui de l’Iran et maintenant de l’Irak. Signe de cette alliance objective, le site anglophone de la « Confrérie musulmane » est aujourd’hui d’une remarquable modération envers l’Amérique.

The road to Caracas

Some points on South America, from The Economist of 14 Jan.

 The 10 mile journey from Caracas to Venezuela’s international airport now takes 5 hours, due to the Chavez government’s neglect of the infrastructure while they pursue foreign adventures. (‘Slow road ahead’)

Meanwhile in Argentina, ‘through incentives and veiled  threats, President Néstor Kirchner has secured a remarkably favourable press’. Some of this may seem merely reminiscent of Alastair Campbell, such as ‘aggressive phone calls from officials after critical stories’. Nevertheless, ‘Mr Kirchner has taken government influence over the media to a new peak of subtle intensity’. (‘No criticisms please’)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

les lignes jaunes

8 Feb: breafast with Le Figaro and an article on Jamal Rahmati, Iranian cartoonist ...
 Il y a six ans, le magazine Tavana, dont il était le directeur artistique, dut mettre la clef sous la porte pour avoir publié une caricature de Mohammad Khatami, l'ancien président. Raison invoquée : l'interdiction de «croquer» des religieux enturbannés. «Khatami n'y voyait pas d'inconvénient. Mais les éminences religieuses d'en haut refusèrent de créer un précédent», se souvient Rahmati.

A l'inverse de l'Arabie saoudite, à majorité sunnite et où les portraits des grandes figures de l'islam sont tabous, la République islamique d'Iran, à dominante chiite, déborde d'icônes représentant les imams sacrés et les grands ayatollahs. Pas question, en revanche, de les ridiculiser. S'il n'existe aucune loi relative à la caricature, les lignes jaunes sont connues : ne pas insulter l'islam, ne pas mettre en cause le système politico-religieux. Réputé pour ses croquis mordants, le caricaturiste iranien Nick Ahang Kowsar – aujourd'hui exilé au Canada – ne résista pas, à la fin des années 1990, à la tentation de représenter l'ayatollah ultra-conservateur Mezbah Yazdi sous la forme d'un crocodile. Il lui en coûta un séjour en prison.

Update: on the issue of the cartoons, I suppose you could say that it is possible for European newspapers to take a position of moral purity, making a stand of  solidarity in favour of freedom of expression, in countries not having, like the US many troops 'in harm's way' (as the Americans say) in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this is too simple: Norwegian troops were attacked in Afghanistan, we saw a couple of days ago.

In any case, some newspapers, like Le Monde in France, and even now the President of the Republic, have adopted the same line as the 'anglo-saxons': defending the press's freedom of expression, but calling for self-restraint. Of course, some would call this self-censorship.
What does seem clear though is that publishing the cartoons may be a blow for press freedom in Europe, but it is likely to be a setback for hopes of a gradual opening of Iranian society.
Jack Straw, interviewed on the BBC's Newshour last night, apologized about the West's "ambiguous role" in the Iran-Iraq War. At least, he acknowledged the feelings in Iran about the war and the West's "ambiguous role" in it: I don't know if that counts as an apology in diplomatic terms ...

Wu Xianghu

The chief editor of Thaizou Soir died on 2 Feb, from the injuries he received from being beaten up when the police raided the offices of the newspaper on 20 Oct 2005 (AFP / Le Monde 6-7 Feb 2006 - more here, plus report in English).
7 Feb: on 5 / Arte, I watched most of a film in Arabic with French subtitles, Mille Mois by Faouzi Bensaïdi. 

Monday, February 06, 2006

Bremer & Sistani

Bremer spent his 14 months in Baghdad in a tug-of-war with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani [...]. The Shia leader demanded a provisional government and an elected constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for Iraq. Bremer wanted a Governing Council under the CPA, and wanted to select, not elect, those who would write the national charter.

[...] Sistani’s motives had to do with holding the ring and consolidating the position of the majority Shia, long under the boot of the Sunnis. But Sistani was right, insofar as only the legitimacy of an elected constituent assembly could build bridges from the exiles to local leadership and head off civil war. Bremer was, in effect, serially vetoed by Sistani, but the constituent process was held up so long that the insurgency wormed its way into the vacuum.

I had assumed Bremer did not understand Sistani’s position. Wrong. He did. He just knew better.
'Diplomatic baggage',  David Gardner reviewing Paul Bremer's book in the FT Magazine (subscribers only )

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Stanislav Dmitriyevsky

The editor of a US-funded newspaper in central Russia has been found guilty of inciting ethnic hatred in his coverage of the conflict in Chechnya. Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, the head of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, was given a two-year suspended jail term. The charges relate to statements by Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, published by the paper two years ago.

The BBC's Moscow correspondent Emma Simpson says his Pravozashchita newspaper, part of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, is seen as one of the few independent sources of information about events in the troubled republic. The paper is frequently critical of the Kremlin's policies in Chechnya.

Russian prosecutors said the statements by Maskhadov - shot dead in March 2005 - and Akhmed Zakayev were aimed at fomenting racial and ethnic hatred. (Editor convicted for Chechen text)

The charges turned on letters written in 2004 by Aslan Maskhadov, a Chechen leader who was killed by Russians in March, and Akhmed Zakayev, a separatist spokesman granted asylum in Britain. (Russian Court Convicts Head of U.S.-Backed Rights Group)


Friday, February 03, 2006

Commanding respect

Something that I saw in the Daily Mail (3 Feb), but here it is from the web ( L'Orient-Le Jour, 1 Feb):
Sheihk Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, said in Beirut that  
si la fatwa contre l’écrivain pakistanais Salman Rushdie avait été exécutée, « personne n’aurait osé » porter atteint au Prophète.

31 January 2003

On the latest claims from Philippe Sands , Channel 4 News has this. There is this from the BBC. The World Today on the BBC World Service got reaction from Donald Anderson.

I sent them the following e-mail:
Re: your interview with Donald Anderson

According to C4 News last night (2 Feb), Blair and Bush each had 3 advisers at the meeting of 31 January 2003, including David Manning, Jonathan Powell and, on the US side, Condoleeza Rice, Andy Card. Christopher Meyer wasn't there.
This isn't on the C4 website, unless you watch the report via the link above.

Update: The 2 missing names are Rice's deputy, Dan Fried, and Manning's  foreign policy aide, Matthew Rycroft (from The Independent via internetsamizdat.blogspot ).

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Lellouche and Guetta on Iran

Fascinating exchanges on France Inter this morning. Pierre Lellouche talked about Iran becoming a sanctuary, protected behind nuclear weapons, for radical islamism. Bernard Guetta focused more on the threat to Shi'a Iran from radical Sunni movements and thought that Iran might be bluffing anyway.

(Transcript:  La drôle de crise iranienne .

Pierre Lellouche - député UMP de PAris, secrétaire national de l'UMP chargé de la Défense et Président de l'assemblée parlementaire de l'OTAN. Pierre Lellouche, Illusions gauloises,  Grasset (25 janvier 2006). Interview this morning on podcast. followed by discussion. )

Here is a  link to another key article: Prepare yourself for the Unthinkable: War Against Iran May be a Necessity, January 26, 2006, The Times, Gerard Baker.  Some extracts:
Confronted with nightmarish perils we instinctively choose to seize the opportunity to blame each other [...] but it is important for all of us to understand that this debate is now for the birds. All that matters now is what we do.
Those who say war is unthinkable are right. Military strikes, even limited, targeted and accurate ones, will have devastating consequences for the region and for the world. [...]  A war, even a limited one, will almost certainly raise oil prices to recession-inducing levels, as Iran cuts itself off from global markets. The loss of Iranian supply and the already stretched nature of production in the Arab world and elsewhere means prices of $150 per barrel are easily imaginable.
All fearfully powerful arguments against the use of the military option. But multiplied together, squared, and then cubed, the weight of these arguments does not come close to matching the case for us to stop, by whatever means may be necessary, Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Something short of military action may yet prevail on Iran. [...] But we can’t count on this optimistic scenario now. And so we must ready ourselves for what may be the unthinkable necessity.

Because in the end, preparation for war, by which I mean not military feasibility planning, or political and diplomatic manoeuvres but a psychological readiness, a personal willingness on all our parts to bear the terrible burdens that it will surely impose, may be our last real chance to ensure that we can avoid one.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Iran and democracy

Bush on Iran in the State of the Union speech:
a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon - and that must come to an end.  The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions - and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.

America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. And tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our Nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.
But just how undemocratic is Iran now? More detail on something I mentioned a couple of months ago (via Greg):
Tehran, Iran, Dec. 02 – Several hundred officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the military force that has served as the main pillar of support for Iran’s clerical rulers, have been appointed to senior government positions by the hard-line administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [...]. President Ahmadinejad is spearheading an unprecedented purge of officials appointed by his two predecessors, Mohammad Khatami and Ali-Akbar Rafsanjani [...]

“He [Ahmadinejad] is virtually handing over the bureaucracy to Sepah (IRGC) and the consequences are going to be huge”, a former official with close ties to Hashemi Rafsanjani told Iran Focus. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said, “Anyone seen as a protégé of Hashemi [Rafsanjani] is being booted out without any hesitation”.

The official explained that certain domains of the economy and foreign policy, including the oil and banking sectors, have been under Rafsanjani’s control on the basis of an unwritten agreement between the former president and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The latest purges have wrested control of the most important economic sectors from Rafsanjani’s entourage, including his sons.

Ahmadinejad’s Foreign Ministry has already announced the recall of around 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats. The Interior Ministry has been changing provincial governors and security officials and other ministries have witnessed similar purges. Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi criticised the former government for allowing un-Islamic works to be published and performed and said he was replacing most key officials in the ministry.
The former official [...] said the Supreme Leader was the driving force behind the purges. “They planned the purges well before the [presidential] elections in June.[...] First they seriously undermined Hashemi [Rafsanjani] by handing him an embarrassing defeat in the elections. Then they mounted a huge ‘anti-corruption’ media campaign, targeting Hashemi’s sons and friends. Next, they purged all his protégés. Now they are prodding the judiciary to publish the ‘list of corrupt officials’ that they have prepared as another blow to Hashemi”.

Rafsanjani publicly rebuked the massive purges last month, saying that the purge was “damaging unity in the country and could exacerbate foreign pressure on the Islamic Republic”. "A current in Iran is trying to banish competent officials and it is harming the country like a plague," Rafsanjani told a gathering of Friday Prayer leaders on November 16.