Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh, It Doesn't Show Signs of Stopping ...

You are aware, no doubt, that the blogging multitudes surrounding our nation's capitol have been transformed into a collection of wonksicles by back-to-back blizzardy mayhem, so I'll withhold my personal gripes this week and cast my gaze somewhere hotter, namely Iran.

In a recent Slate article, Jason Rezaian questions the accuracy of "Iran experts" stationed beyond the nation's borders:
There is a growing schism between people battling for change inside Iran and those based outside the country. Individuals and groups operating outside Iran's borders hold little sway with the domestic protesters. A 25-year-old graduate student and office worker in Tehran told me, "I think most of those who have left forget about those of us here very quickly. I can't think of one person speaking on behalf of Iran who I believe is out for anything besides their own gain."

Nevertheless, she expressed a strong belief in the validity of the protest movement. "We exist. We're not sure what we are yet, but we're struggling to find out. And we keep growing in numbers. Ultimately, though, it's up to us who are here. We wish the world would respect that and just encourage us."

Rezaian's article underscores an important truth for foreign policy: An incomplete understanding of a foreign nation's populace is a surefire way to derail any soft power initiative -- but understanding a movement before it understands itself is entirely impossible. For a nation like the United States (among whose virtues, patience rarely tops the list) it is essential that this point be recognized. After all, firm intelligence includes not only what we know, but what we don't know. As the saying goes, it's not what we don't know that gets us into trouble, but what we know for sure that just ain't so.

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