China and Iran

Which is a bigger threat to us, and which has a higher ranking on the Badness Barometer, China or Iran? Glenn Greenwald compares the two, starting:

China is a country in which no political dissent is allowed, there is no free expression of religion, no free press, and political dissidents are arbitrarily and indefinitely imprisoned, tortured and often executed.

He then goes into some of the details of the Chinese police state, the threats to Taiwan, the dilemma of the innocent Uighers being held at Gitmo because if they’re sent back to China they’ll be tortured and/or killed, etc. He also looks at how China, more than just about anyone else, is supporting Iran, pledging to veto any UN move to impose sanctions in the wake of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. So how come we are greeting China with open arms while going apeshit over Iran? Greenwald offers his take.

So what accounts for the fundamentally different treatment we give to China and Iran — two countries which themselves have a fairly close relationship, tolerate little dissent, offer little democratic freedom or liberty to their citizens, and issue threats of militarism and aggression against some of their neighbors? If anything, one could make a quite reasonable argument that an Iranian citizen has more liberty and more democratic participation in their government than does a Chinese citizen — supposedly one of the primary, if not the primary, criteria for how we measure the threat-level posed by another country.

So why are we heaping praise on China and developing increasingly productive relations with them, while threatening Iran with invasion and even preemptive nuclear attack? One obvious answer — that China has nuclear weapons and Iran does not — surely cannot be the explanation, since to embrace that framework is to send the most dangerous and counterproductive message possible to the nations of the world: obtain nuclear weapons and we will treat you with great respect and civility; fail to obtain such weapons and we will threaten you with invasion and attack you at will.

We make common cause with all sorts of countries that issue crazy, hostile statements and which abuse human rights at least as much as the Iranians do, and in many cases more. And we ought to. That’s what smart nations have always done. There is simply nothing that distinguishes Iran from scores of other countries, including China, with whom we maintain friendly or at least neutral relations, at least nothing that even remotely justifies attacking them militarily.

I’m sorry to say I’m not convinced. Greenwald is one of my favorite bloggers – when he’s writing about domestic issues in general and domestic legal issues in particular. But he’s leaving some important elements out of the equation here. China’s current leaders, like America’s, Pakistan’s, Israel’s, England’s, etc., have not made reference to their nuclear might in the form of threatening rhetoric and rather insane pronouncements. Unfortunately, Iran has. As much as I don’t like China’s rulers, they are, compared to Iran’s, far less fanatical and far less in bed with terrorists. I can live more easily with Hu’s hands on the nuclear button than I can with Ahmadinejad’s (for what that’s worth). When you listen to Mr. Ahmadinejad, it’s pretty easy to see why he scares the shit out of the civilized world. Hu is taking great pains to appear like a seasoned, reasonable statesman. Ahmadinejad’s taking pains to look like a crazed fanatic.

There are two other reasons, I think, for the dramatically different treatment of the two countries: money and politics. On the money side, American businesses want their share of the Chinese markets, and they love the idea of China’s dirt-cheap labor pool. Most of the talk of a looming China threat comes from reactionaries, protectionists, and those seeking a scapegoat. On the politics side, it’s to Bush’s political advantage to have a new bogeyman like Ahmadinejad, since the 2006 elections will be dominated by fear vis a vis the attempt to scare voters into believing “enemies” are out to destroy us and only the high-testosterone GOP can scare the bad guys away. Who better than Ahmadinejad to scare the voters, since his heated rhetoric really is scary as hell?

The Discussion: 5 Comments

Assoicated Press

Nobel Laureate Says Iran Would Defend Self 59 minutes ago

PARIS – The Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian activist who won the peace prize for her struggle for women’s rights, warned Friday that the Iranian people would defend their country against any American attack.

“We will not allow an American soldier to set foot” in Iran, said Ebadi, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. “We will defend our country till the last drop of blood.”

President Bush has not ruled out the use of force against Iran but has said force is not necessarily required to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Bush has dismissed recent reports of plans for a military attack against Tehran as “wild speculation.”

The Iranian government has said the nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes, while the United States and others say the country is seeking nuclear weapons. Ebadi said Friday the program does not pose a threat, but repeated her calls for Tehran to open up its program, to persuade the international community that it is not building a bomb.

“The Iranian government intends to use the nuclear program for peaceful purposes, but must convince international public opinion of that,” Ebadi told reporters in Paris.

She called for democratic reforms in Iran, but said change can only come from within the country.

“The intervention of the American army will not improve the situation ? the experience of Iraq has demonstrated that,” Ebadi said, adding that Iranians would “not allow another Iraq to happen.”

Ebadi, 58, a veteran human rights and democracy activist, was the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.




April 21, 2006 @ 3:51 pm | Comment

Duck- excellent analysis. I would also add that Greenwald fails to differentiate between the foreign policy behavior of the two states- a crucial determinant in how the US relates to them.

It is more or less correct to assert that in terms of autocracy and suppression, China and Iran are sadly similar. But as you noted, China behaves much more responsibly on a global scale.

Consider Iran: the Mullahs actively support a terrorist group (Hezbollah) that has destablized politics in both Lebanon and Israel. Its President has called for the destruction of a sovereign nation (Israel). Iran fashions itself an international pariah and has failed to cooperate in any multilateral effort to foster peace and progress.

China, on the other hand, does not support political movements in foreign countries (a la the Soviet Union). It has never called for the destruction of a foreign state, and has cooperated to a certain extent in efforts to resolve the crisis on the Korean peninsula. These are crucial differences that Greenwald overlooks.

Furthermore, let’s be realistic. China’s immense size and status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council render it a great power and is one that the US cannot afford to alienate at the risk of producing a global crisis. Iran’s problems, as great as they are, remain regional in nature so the US can afford to take a far more aggressive posture without risk of global destabilization.

Let me be clear- I believe that the US must take its relations with Iran seriously and cannot afford any major missteps (such as invasion). But to say that our policy toward Iran and China should reflect their similarly dismal records in domestic policy strikes me as painfully naive.

April 23, 2006 @ 4:22 am | Comment

No Borders, apparently great minds think alike! Thanks for your excellent commentary.

April 23, 2006 @ 5:39 am | Comment

It really is a great mistake to be militarily involved in the middle east and ranting about China in public. We should do these things the old fashioned way, by covert operations inside the countries, (especially China) recruiting and supporting regional power to upset central planning and control. China’s going to become immensely hungry for resources, single females and territory and if you think they won’t lash out when they feel strong enough, you’re beyond naiive. Their leadership is even more ruthless and power hungry than ours and has an iron grip. They must be subverted.

April 24, 2006 @ 12:24 pm | Comment

“single females”, lol, I like that comment.

April 24, 2006 @ 3:29 pm | Comment

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