The unelected few

I squint into the not-so distant past, with a memory compromised by age and indifference, to visualize the time and place when President Bush's lips turned the phrase “axis of evil” into an amusing contemporary refrain. “I am from the axis of evil,” I have heard since people say and I too have parroted the statement tongue-in-cheek as a new declaration of my national origin.

Was the phrase contained in Mr. Bush's State of the Union Address? Did it precede 9/11? Was it a part of the choice between being “with us or with the terrorists” that he had offered to the 6 billion or so inhabitants of the globe? I do not recall. Nor can I recall the day or context in which Mr. Bush delivered a stinging lecture to the Iranians on the principles of democratic rule: He offered the friendship and support of the United States to the Iranians who presently suffer under the yoke of the “unelected few”.

Unelected few? There is no secret that in the year 2000 Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney received less than the majority of the popular vote. Yet, they sit today on the throne of power, when, but for the grace of the electoral college system, in any other participatory democracy the pair would have been retired from the campaign trail in defeat. Who, too, is the “unelected few?” The irony is timeless.

If Messrs. Bush and Cheney did not owe their office to the vote of the majority of Americans, to whom then? The answer: To the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, an unelected body, and equally attired in silly long robes as the men who sit at the Guardian Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, or the college that selects Iran's Supreme Leader. There is one difference though.

In Iran, the Supreme Leader's selection, which is by consensus, is provided for in the Iranian Constitution, which the overwhelming majority of the Iranians ratified in 1979. In contrast, nowhere in the U.S. Constitution one finds an enumerated or implied authority, by which the Supreme Court is empowered to determine elections or select leaders. But by up-ending the concept of rule of law in order to save it, the Court halted the ballot count and anointed by consequence Mr. Bush to the presidency and Mr. Cheney to vice presidency.

Timeless irony is the bedfellow of historical analogy. Ever since the American presidents discovered Iran as a country they have managed to deal with the government of Iran regardless of its form of government. The last Shah of Iran was not elected by the people, but the successive U.S. administrations had no qualm in doing business with the unelected one.

By contrast, the Shah's father was crowned by the Iranian Parliament in an act of legislative investiture, and therefore kingship in the Shah's family was presumed to have had the people's consent by virtue of the Constitution, which presumably was promulgated by the representatives of the people, just like the scheme in the 1979 Constitution.

The supreme irony however is in the role that the U.S. administrations have played in promoting undemocratic, unelected few to governments around the world — and then bitch about them at their convenience. Iran was no exception.

In the early 1950's the Iranians elected to premiership of Iran a fellow named Mohammad Mossadeq, an old time warrior whose disdain for the British influence in Iran and the Shah's rule was overt. His histrionics forced the Shah to leave Iran for a spell, but the broad-based pro-monarchist forces took to the streets and restored the Shah to the throne. The countercoup, which was achieved by the help of the United States, then subjected the Iranian progressives and democrats to decades of totalitarian rule by the unelected one and his handpicked parliaments.

The Shah was overthrown in February 1979. The U.S. government quickly forgot about the deposed unelected one and recognized the new unelected ones and began beefing up its staff at the embassy in Tehran as a sign of its confidence in the new regime. That cozy relationship with the new unelected few would have continued were it not for the hostage crisis that soon ensued.

The “unelected few.” Indeed! Well, perhaps not in the age of Teflon, but where I grew up somewhere along that “axis of evil” there had been a lesson in the pot calling the kettle black.

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