Thursday, February 03, 2005


So, today I hear that our new Secretary of State, doin' that whole "diplomacy" thing, has come out of the gate calling Iran "an outpost of tyranny." My first thought was, "Where is the main base if Iran is just an outpost?" My second thought was somewhat less appropriate for television.

Let's think about this for a second. Take our prejudices about whether Iran is a "good" or "evil" country and consider the simple question of whether the word "tyranny" really applies.

According to, tyranny is defined as:
  1. A government in which a single ruler is vested with absolute power.
  2. The office, authority, or jurisdiction of an absolute ruler.
  3. Absolute power, especially when exercised unjustly or cruelly: “I have
    sworn... eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man”
    (Thomas Jefferson).
  4. a. Use of absolute power.
    b. A tyrannical act.
  5. Extreme harshness or severity; rigor.

Okay. Iran does not meet the criteria of definition 1, as Iran is ruled not by a single ruler but by a weak democratically elected government that answers to, and is controlled by, a group of Muslim clerics. There was a time when Iran met this criteria, though. Before a popular revolution of the people swept the current government into power, Iran was ruled by a guy named the Shah, who wielded absolute power. He, of course, was put in place by and was a puppet of an obscure little country called the United States of America.

So, no on that one. Definition 2? There's no absolute ruler in Iran, so this obviously doesn't apply.

What about definition 3? The clerics in Iran wield a great deal of power, but not absolute power, if only because they keep each other in check. I'm not sure we can call this absolute power unless we also want to define the US Federal government as having absolute power, if you include the power of all three branches, and thus a "tyranny"*.

Definition 4a once again assumes "absolute power." Definition 4b is tautological.

So, we have to get all the way down to definition 5 before we find something that can logically be applied to Iran. Of course, once you're down to the fifth definition of a word, you're probably using a definition that isn't what the word is typically thought to mean. I think that is true here. I don't think Rice meant simply that Iran's government was an outpost of "extreme harshness or severity" or an outpost of "rigor." If "extreme harshness" is what she meant, then, but corollary, Saudi Arabia and Thailand would also be "tyrannies," and I doubt Rice would admit to that.

Though, Saudi Arabia, boasting an absolute monarch who has people's heads cut off in public, fits the first four definitions of "tyranny" quite well, unlike Iran.

By what definition of "tyranny" is Rice diplomatically labelling Iran, then? I think her criticism, rather than being aimed at an absolute ruler, is aimed at Iran's theocracy. She is equating theocracy with tyranny. Which, I think, in the wider, popular definition of tyranny, which I would say is a state of oppression**, she is saying that theocracy is tyrannical. Therefore, she does not have to label Saudi Arabia or Thailand, which are monarchies but not theocracies, as "tyrannies."

Unfortunately, if theocracy = tyranny, then theocrat = tyrant. I think you see where I'm going with this***.

I just find it ironic that a woman who is in the upper echelons of a government headed by a right-wing evangelical theocrat is calling another nation a "tyranny" for being a theocracy. Isn't there something in, oh, the Bible about removing the log from one's eye before pointing out the splinter in someone else's? I guess Rice and Bush haven't gotten up that chapter in their "Baby's First Bible" picture books, eh?

*As set out by the Constitution, I don't think our system of government is a tyranny. As it stands now, though, I think it is pretty close.
** As in, "fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last Battlestar, Galactica..."
*** Yes, I am calling Bush a tyrant, and yes, I expect to be hauled off to Gitmo any day now.


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