The horrifying image of the 26-year-old student protester Neda Agha-Soltan bleeding to death on a Tehran street has outraged the world. Tens of thousands of Iranians like Neda had gathered in the capital simply to seek a redress of their grievance: the near certainty that the government had rigged the recent presidential election. The government’s brutal response to the protest is indefensible, morally indistinguishable from the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square or the Soviet slaughter in Budapest in 1956.
Some have argued that President Obama moved too slowly to declare emphatically America’s moral solidarity with the protestors. Mr. Obama, recognizing the difference between Washington politics and statecraft, chose instead a measured response that registered America’s condemnation but accounted for the paucity of hard intelligence. In the last century, the United States made a significant contribution to the erosion of Iranian democracy, a historical fact that has allowed Tehran’s leaders to use the United States as a scapegoat for decades. Mr. Obama judged correctly that an all-out U.S. diplomatic offensive carried a greater risk of worsening the situation than of improving it.
For now, the administration’s strategy is to do no harm. Yet the double-quick march of events means that the administration may soon have new opportunities to act. A successful diplomatic challenge, however, will require a multilateral approach, with the active participation of states like Turkey, which have at least some credibility with the Iranian people. The final outcome of the protests is unclear. But the bravery of Iranians like Neda Agha-Soltan certainly marks a new beginning for Iranian politics and is the latest testament to the strength of the human spirit and its unyielding aspiration for freedom.Twittering in Tehran
Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and chairman of Twitter, was interviewed in May at the Catholic Media Convention in Anaheim, Calif. Twitter is an online social networking service that allows users to send and receive short messages of not more than 140 characters, which are relayed by computer or cellphone. Dorsey projected that users would shape the future direction of the company. He said he had just returned from Iraq, where he had explored how Twitter might meet the communication needs of that population.
Just a few weeks later Iraq’s neighbor, Iran, found an important and historic use for Twitter. Roused by the declaration that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the presidency in a landslide, incredulous voters took to the streets. Using Twitter, thousands of Iranians sent micromessages to the outside world, like: “Confirmed. Army moving into Tehran against protesters”—some with an accompanying photo or video link. Twitter’s ad slogan “What are you doing?” took on new meaning once the Iranian government cracked down on protesters and constrained journalists. Still, Dorsey’s notion that users would shape the direction of his company seems prescient: a service that once conveyed the merely trivial (“Had a tasty lunch”) has played, and may continue to play, a vital role in global liberation.Military Spending Soars
Economic downturns notwithstanding, global military spending set a dark new record in 2008. The yearly report of the International Peace Research Institute in Stockholm, released June 8, notes that the total expenditure of $1.5 trillion represents a 4 percent increase from 2007 and a huge jump of 45 percent over the 1999-2008 decade. The United States was responsible for over half the increase during that decade. China now holds second place. Other countries, such as India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Brazil, South Korea and the United Kingdom, also devoted more to military expenditures.
The head of the Stockholm military expenditure project, Sam Perlo-Freeman, said that the war on terror has “encouraged many countries to see their problems through a highly militarized lens, using this to justify high military spending.” He added that “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost $903 billion in additional spending by the U.S.A. alone.”
One positive expectation is that reduced demand may lie ahead as governments feel more pressure from rising budget deficits. Under President Obama, too, U.S. arms expenditures may increase less sharply than they did during the Bush administration. Nevertheless, with the United Nations reporting that the number of hungry people rose by 100 million since last year, what governments lavish on military expenditures could be better used for basic human needs.
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