So I have been struck over the past few days by the response of American pundits to the events in Iran. I cannot remember the last time that there was such a clear consensus across the political spectrum that one side in an internal political dispute in another country deserved our unabashed support. Every publication from The Weekly Standard to The Nation seems exhilarated by the prospect of Iranian liberals standing up to the theocrats who rule their country. Of course, there are sharp disagreements over how we should support the protesters. Should Obama speak out loudly on their behalf? Or would a forceful American response simply aid the mullahs and undermine the protesters? These are important questions, but they are tactical ones. What no one seems to be disputing is the underlying idea that Iranian liberals deserve our support–that their fight is our concern.
Last year, John McCain was widely mocked for his declaration that “we are all Georgians.” True, the analogy between that crisis and this one isn’t perfect: The Russia-Georgia war was a dispute between two countries, while this is a dispute between two sides in the same country. But the principle is the same. McCain was identifying what he believed to be the more liberal, more democratic side in a faraway conflict and expressing his unabashed support for it. To hear the ridicule that greeted McCain’s statement, you might have concluded that Americans had lost their appetite for foreign policy idealism of any kind. But today, there seems to be near-unanimity that Americans ought to be rooting for one side in Iran. Which suggests that our instinct toward foreign policy idealism, however battered by the past eight years, is still very much alive.