When approaching Iran, the Republican Party line and the Hugo Chavez line are running in opposite directions -- but parallel. The leadership of GOP reaction and the leadership of Bolivarian revolution have bought into the convenient delusion that long-suffering Iranian people require assistance from the U.S. government to resist the regime in Tehran.
Inside Iran, advocates for reform and human rights have long pleaded for the U.S. government to keep out of Iranian affairs. After the CIA organized the coup that overthrew Iran's democracy in 1953, Washington kept the Shah in power for a quarter century. When I was in Tehran four years ago, during the election that made Mahmoud Ahmadinejad president, what human rights activists most wanted President Bush to do was shut up.
But Bush played to the same kind of peanut gallery that is now applauding the likes of Sen. John McCain. The Bush White House denigrated the 2005 election just before the balloting began -- to the delight of the hardest-line Iranian fundamentalists. The ultra-righteous Bush rhetoric gave a significant boost to Ahmadinejad's campaign.
Denunciations and threats from Washington are the last thing that Iran's reform advocates want. And Iranians certainly don't need encouragement from Uncle Sam to do what they can to bring about democratic change.
John McCain doesn't get it. And neither does Hugo Chavez.
Of course, Chavez has practical reasons for his warmth toward Ahmadinejad. (Practitioners of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" usually do.) While sharing Washington as a common adversary, their oil-rich countries have the makings of a world-shaking energy bloc. And they're on similar pages with well-founded antipathies toward institutions like the World Trade Organization, the IMF and the World Bank.
But human rights -- whether food, shelter and health care or freedom of speech, press and elections -- should not be matters of winks and nods.
As voting began in Iran on June 12, Chavez praised Ahmadinejad as "a courageous fighter for the Islamic Revolution, the defense of the Third World, and in the struggle against imperialism."
Nine days later, with a bloody crackdown on Iranian protesters gaining momentum, Chavez declared that "Ahmadinejad's triumph was a triumph all the way." The Venezuelan president condemned those "trying to stain Ahmadinejad's triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution."
I'm among millions of progressive North Americans who admire much of what Chavez has been doing for economic equity and social justice in Venezuela. But that admiration is no reason to be quiet when Chavez makes common cause with repression in Iran.
Meanwhile, in the United States, we have nothing to be smug about. The day after President Obama toughened his criticisms of Iran's rulers at his June 23 news conference, a venerable human-rights organization named the Quixote Center was noting that more than 1,200 people had sent letters and faxes asking the Obama administration "to denounce the violent repression of peaceful protests organized in response to the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement" -- a massacre of indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon.
What happened during that massacre on June 5? "A hundred people were wounded by gunshot, and between 20 and 25 were killed," the Center for International Policy reports.
"The Obama administration," the Quixote Center noted, "remains silent on the massacre in Peru."
But the fact of some hypocrisy from President Obama does not change the fact of some idiocy from President Chavez.
On Wednesday (June 24), the Associated Press reports, "Chavez reiterated his support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a close ally, and said he is 'completely sure' Ahmadinejad fairly won re-election on June 12."
For good measure, Chavez ascribed the protests in Iran to Washington and its allies. "He said protests and violence that have rocked Iran since the contested vote appear part of a recurring strategy by U.S. and European intelligence agencies to destabilize enemy governments." Chavez declared: "From my point of view, that's what's happening in Iran."
It seems to be beyond the vision of both Hugo Chavez and John McCain to see that vast numbers of Iranian people, fed up with repression, are able to grasp the historical moment on their own while opposing the regime. The last thing they need or want is "help" from the U.S. government as they struggle for a democratic future.