With the Iranians protesting by the hundreds of thousands after a rigged election, many of them wonder why the US has not taken a more public stand on their behalf. Allahpundit has followed Iranian Twitter accounts to get first-hand accounts of the unrest, and has retweeted their frustration about Barack Obama staying on the sidelines. Typical is this message:
One question to USA, why isn’t Obama commenting anything of this?
Jake Tapper reported on the White House response last night:
The White House has not issued a statement expressing support for the protestors declaring the election illegitimate. But neither has anyone in the Obama administration said a public word accepting the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection.
“We’re reacting to concrete facts,” a White House official tells ABC News. “We’re collecting them still.” …
It’s worth keeping in mind that President Obama expressing concern for, say, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, wouldn’t necessarily be a way to help Moussavi. President Obama on Friday, and Secretary of State Clinton and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs since then, have all spoken about the enthusiasm among Iran’s young people, and in so doing seem to be taking a long-term view.
Tapper has a point … to a point. Any heavy-handed demands from the US over the Iranian election would play into the mullah’s hands and paint Mousavi as an agent of the Great Satan. Also, for better or worse, Obama believes he can have a productive dialogue with the extremist theocrats running the show in Tehran, and taking a wait-and-see response allows him to give some indication that the US remains open to engagement rather than just waiting for regime change. Even those of us who favor regime change as an explicit diplomatic policy know that Mirhossein Mousavi wouldn’t overthrow the mullahs, or else he would never have been allowed to be on the ballot in the first place.
However, we have an opportunity to get the Iranians to use this thick-skulled blunder by the mullahs to press for real regime change. It wouldn’t take an expression of support for Mousavi from Obama to help increase the momentum in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere for the removal of the theocracy. An expression of support for self-determination in a free and fair election system in Iran would be plenty. Obama could use his bully pulpit to point out that the mullahs handpicked all of the candidates, which has obviously left the Iranians feeling manipulated and unrepresented by their government. Obama could call on the Guardian Council and Ali Khamenei to stage actual elections, without the GC’s interference, and an election with international observers to certify that the Iranian people are allowed to choose their own government.
Only regime change can bring an end to the threat of Iranian nukes. Only a regime change can end the regional threat the Iranian mullahcracy maintains, as well as an end to the proxy war against the Israelis by Iranian-funded Hamas and Hezbollah. Barack Obama needs to start pushing in that direction.
What do you think Obama should do?
Update: Bill Kristol warns conservatives to go slow:
The task now is to explain what the Obama administration (and Congress) should be saying and doing, and to urge them to do what they should be doing. Presuming ahead of time that Obama will fail to exercise leadership, and cataloguing this episode pre-emptively as another in a list of Obama failures, would be a mistake. The U.S. has a huge stake in the possible transformation, or at least reformation, of the Iranian regime. If there’s some chance of that happening, and some chance of U.S. policy contributing to that outcome, we should hope Obama does the right thing, and urge and pressure him to do so–because then the United States will be doing the right thing, and the United States, and the world, will benefit.
Agreed, but thus far, the response has been too muted and accommodating.
Update II: David Steven respectfully disagrees. He Twittered me that he would prefer to have the EU play bad cop and the US good cop, which might work if the EU had any inclination to get tougher on Iran. They’ve been demanding US leadership in that role, and so far Obama has not provided it. Read all of David’s thoughtful post.