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Always Illegitimate

I'll have more to say about the administration's lackluster response (if one can even call it that) to the ongoing events in Iran, but this sentence from today's New York Times story about Vice President Biden's announcement that the White House will "engage" Iran regardless of how many pro-democracy protestors it kills or ballots it stuffs stuck out at me: 

That cautious reaction reflected the combustible scene in Tehran, where riot police officers were cracking down on angry opposition supporters, and the likelihood that the administration would be forced to pursue its diplomatic initiative with a familiar and implacable foe, one who now also has a legitimacy problem.

"Now also has a legitimacy problem?" The regime currently ensconced in Tehran has always had a "legitimacy problem," from the day it seized power in 1979 and took our embassy workers hostage for 444 days. To be sure, this lack of legitimacy does not mean that the United States should completely avoid dealing with Tehran, after all, we negotiate with a variety of autocratic governments and recognize their de facto authority over a given territory and polity despite a lack of democratic accountability. But this Times snippet is illustrative of a mainstream media tendency which viewed the Iranian "election" as if it were actually a fair ballot, and reported on the preceding campaign like it was a flowering of genuine democracy.

--James Kirchick