More things Obama should be saying and doing about Iran
By Christian Brose President Obama has finally broken his long silence about the events in Iran. He said many of the right things and hit many of the right notes in his remarks last night, and echoed them again today in comments with the South Korean president. Obama is correctly not saying anything that the Iranian ...
President Obama has finally broken his long silence about the events in Iran. He said many of the right things and hit many of the right notes in his remarks last night, and echoed them again today in comments with the South Korean president. Obama is correctly not saying anything that the Iranian regime could use to discredit the opposition. And his expressions of support for Iran’s sovereignty, respect for its people, and resolve that it is Iranians, not America and not anyone else, who should determine the outcome of Iran’s election are absolutely right. We can’t say all of this enough, as I suggested yesterday.
The problem is, the force that is currently preventing Iranians from determining their own future is not America or any other international actor. It’s Iran’s government. It did so when the Guardian Council hand-picked who could run in the election in the first place. It did so when the official results of that voting were, to say the least, deeply suspicious. It is doing so now through truly horrific state-sponsored violence and intimidation against peaceful Iranian dissidents. And in all likelihood, it will continue to do so when the Guardian Council, the same unaccountable institution that stage-managed the election on the front end, will now "investigate" charges of voter fraud and make a final ruling on the back end.
It is important for all Americans, especially we of the loyal opposition, to realize that the greatest force of leverage that exists to prevent the Iranian government from quashing the will of Iran’s dissidents to endure in their quest for justice is not the U.S. government. It is not President Obama or Congress. And it is certainly not some mysterious "Obama effect." It is the Iranian people themselves. For this reason, the U.S. goal must be to shape international conditions that bolster the willingness of Iran’s people to put peaceful pressure on their government, while also deterring that government from resolving this stand-off through continued violence, intimidation, or duplicity. Unfortunately, Obama’s statement last night gave the impression that, though he is "deeply troubled" by events in Iran, he is more eager to get the whole matter resolved so he can get on with his plans to engage with Iran’s rulers.
I am whole-heartedly in favor of America playing the supporting role. I’m all for doing things like getting Twitter to keep its website up and available to Iranian users. But let’s not mistake passivity for support.
Let’s demand that foreign journalists in Iran be free to report on events, not confined to their bureaus or have their press credentials revoked. Let’s put some of our new cyber-warfare capabilities to the test, quietly and covertly of course, to disrupt Tehran’s ability to shut off the flow of information to Iranians and between them. Let’s start trying to rally and unify the community of nations — the democratic ones, if nothing else — to start speaking with one voice: to condemn the violence against peaceful Iranians, to call on Iran’s government to address allegations of voter fraud, and to state that supportive nations will continue to support Iran’s dissidents in this internal Iranian matter as long as they feel that justice has not been done. Let’s start defining some broad international expectations for Iran’s government — how it should and should not treat its people. The only person in the world who can orchestrate this kind of diplomatic effort to build international consensus in support of Iran’s dissidents is the President of the United States, and it’s high time that he start.
In fact, if Obama is unwilling to state that Iran’s treatment of its people during this incident will have a bearing on his desire to engage with Iran’s government, then why not say that one of the issues he now plans to raise when they do finally talk is the fate of the many, many peaceful Iranian protestors who the world has watched savagely clubbed in the streets and then hauled away to God knows where?
I’m under no illusions that the United States has a lot of levers of influence in this situation. Nor do I think that Ahmadinejad couldn’t actually win a free and fair vote if one were held, albeit with a smaller majority. But that is beside the point. Ayatollah Khamenei’s concession yesterday in committing to a recount was important, and who knows how much further the Iranian regime could be made to back-peddle if the Iranian people continue to pressure it.
If you had said several weeks ago that hundreds of thousands of Iranians would take to the streets and stay there, despite violent repression and intimidation, few would have thought that possible either. Could further pressure compel Iran’s leaders to call a new election altogether? To invite international monitors into the country to observe it? Who knows? And if Ahmadinejad wins that election anyway, so be it. That would nonetheless be an unprecedented victory for the democratic aspirations of Iran’s people, and that is very much in our national interest.