As the protests continue in Iran, President Obama is unsurprisingly mum. With domestic turmoil unlike any seen since 1979, the Iranian reformists are showing their displeasure with the iron-fisted theocracy and its stooge Ahmadinejad. The momentous rebellion (soon to be revolution?) is perfectly poised to bring about real change in one of the biggest threats to American security.
As Robert Kagan eloquently points out in the Washington Post (See here http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/16/AR2009061601753.html?wpisrc=newsletter&wpisrc=newsletter&wpisrc=newsletter) , Obama is acting in a pure realist fashion. His stated goal is to dialogue with Iran. Any behavior that annoys or upsets the current leaders of Iran is supposedly detrimental to Obama’s aims. So he chooses to remain relatively quiet about the gross abuses. Obama sides with the enemy because he wants to leave avenues open to dialogue when the protests flare out. This of course assumes that whatever happens in the short-run, the Iranian leadership will remain in power in the long-run.
He buttresses this by claiming to take the high ground. America does not want to meddle in Iranian affairs is his message. He states, “the easiest way for reactionary forces inside Iran to crush reformers is to say it’s the U.S. that is encouraging those reformers…. What I’ve said is, look, it’s up to the Iranian people to make a decision….We are not meddling.” This argument essentially assumes that reformist Iranians will be thwarted if they perceive the Americans as controlling and dictating the movement.
This, to some degree, may be true. However, the argument misses an important subtlety. The US is often criticized when it ‘helps’, but it is also criticized when it fails to help. The fact of the matter is, it is not about whether the US helps or not, but how it helps. There is a whole spectrum of actions the US government can take to show support and give assistance without leading the charge. A simple show of solidarity by outwardly condemning the Iranian election abuses would go far to strengthen the moral of the Iranian reformists. Any freedom loving individual would find much strength in hearing his fight recognized and legitimated. Beyond that, the US can offer political pressure on Iran and assistance in enabling the Iranian protestors to get their voices heard above the government censorship.
Any action in favor of the protestors can and will be used by Ahmadinejad to drum up anti-Americanism. The strategy is undeniably successful with parts of the Arab and Persian worlds. An America portrayed as colonial and imperialist, meddling in Iranian affairs can raise deep-seeded emotions. However, as he has shown, Ahmadinejad does not need America to do anything to use this tactic. The Iranian despot is already blaming the US for instigating the protest (See MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31380861/ns/world_news-mideastn_africa). If the bankruptcy of Obama’s Iranian policy wasn’t already clear, this puts the final nail in the coffin. Why bother trying to avoid meddling, if you are accused of it anyway?
The fact of the matter is, that the US has a huge potential to do a lot of good, and Obama is squandering it. John McCain and many others recognize this and are calling for more action. Obama seems so blindly obsessed with being the anti-Bush and pursuing his ‘talking’ policy that he is failing to see what is right before his nose. The Iranian regime is teetering; freedom needs a gentle push from America.