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To Meddle Or Not To Meddle?

To Meddle Or Not To Meddle?
18th June 2009 ICSR Team
In FREErad!cals

There has been some interesting commentary on the different reactions to the so-called ‘Twitter Revolution’ in Iran in the US from both Republicans and Democrats.

President Obama is staying low key on this. He is ‘deeply troubled’ by the violence in Iran.  OnMeet the Press, Vice President Biden was cautiously skeptical of the results and expressed concern over suppression of speech. He said the White House is ‘going to withhold comment until we have a, you know, a thorough review of the whole process and how they react in the aftermath’.

Ok then. A piece in Politico surveys the GOP response. Senators McCain, Graham, and Cornyn are upset with Obama’s decision. Senators Lugar, Martinez, and Alexander are not. McCain wants to back the anti-Ahmadinejad crowd. So does Rep Mike Pence.

The Wall Street Journal, not surprisingly, denounced Obama’s approach and praised French President Sarkozy’s forceful critique of the election. The editorial closes with a biting allusion to the infamous Hillary Clinton primary ad:

The Iranian rebellion, though too soon to call a revolution, is turning out to be that 3 a.m. phone call for Mr. Obama. As a French President shows up the American on moral clarity, Hillary Clinton’s point about his inexperience and instincts in a crisis is turning out to be prescient.


Is Obama making the right call or is he blowing it? There is something to be said for standing up for the rights of others around the world. It is an inherent part of the American ideal. Michael Leeden of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies takes this approach, saying:

If America stands for anything it stands for freedom. We should have supported the Iranian people a long time ago. The current silence from the White House is shameful.

However, for the White House, the central question seems to be this: Would a forceful denunciation of the election and praise for Mousavi’s supporters help?

They seem to think it wouldn’t. In fact, it might even be the kiss of death. Obama said on CNBC, ‘The easiest way for reactionary forces inside Iran to crush reformers is to say it’s the U.S. that is encouraging those reformers’.

Robert Kagan, in a provocatively titled piece in the Washington Post, ‘Siding With the Iranian Regime’, argues that Obama has other reasons. Namely, the current upheaval complicates Obama’s original plans for rapprochement with the Islamic Republic. This means the president is ‘objectively on the side of the government’s efforts to return to normalcy as soon as possible’. It’s not that Obama the Realist wanted Ahmadinejad to win, the neo-con intellectual argues, ‘but once Mousavi lost, however fairly or unfairly, Obama objectively had no use for him or his followers’ as antagonizing the regime is the last thing he wants to do. But Kagan says this approach is doomed to fail.

Matt Duss at Think Progress, in a frosty open letter to Kagan, sees this rhetoric in the same vein as tarring those who were against the Iraq War as pro-Saddam.  Slate’s Dickerson placesObama’s choice in the context of future negotiations over the nuclear question. As he puts it, ‘the president needs to save his meddling for a bigger problem’.

Are we having fun yet?

Mir Hossein Mousavi, isn’t exactly pro-American. Mousavi is for Iran’s nuclear program and has been consistently supportive of Hizballah. It follows that at least some of his supporters in the streets and fence-sitters might be turned off by any blatant support from the American government.

Regardless, It would be well worth your time to watch this video by Iranian Artists in Exile, (h/tWashington Independent – read their analysis of the video).

I’m willing to bet that Mousavi, who is calling for another election, is hoping that Obama stays the low-key course.

What do you think?


UPDATE: Check out these links

With Turmoil in Tehran, Obama’s Policy in Flux – The Cable Key quote?: ‘Obama is dedicated to diplomacy in a manner that is almost ideological,’ one Iran hand in touch with the administration said. Obama has a longer term vision, he continued. ‘He wants to do some stuff in the Middle East over the next eight years. He may not be able to achieve half of them unless he gets this huge piece of the puzzle [Iran] right.’

Five Ways Obama Could Promote Freedom in Iran – WSJ from Dan Senor and Christian Whiton(formerly of the Bush Administration). They had some experience in trying to ‘promote freedom’ in Iraq and N. Korea respectively.

Obama Sideline Strategy May Signal Shift in US Democracy Policy – Washington Independent

Should the CIA Meddle in Iran Now? – SpyTalk

Is Bob Kagan Wrong? – The Compass, RCW

short guide to Iran’s security forces from the Guardian