The Weak American Position
President Obama was not wrong to consider an American approach to the government of Iran to advance the American interests that Iran not become a nuclear weapons state and that Iran stop the export of support for terrorist organizations. His mistake was believing that the president of Iran was the right interlocutor when, in fact, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran’s Guardian Council (12 unelected clerics) have always been the power.
President Obama was not wrong to consider an American approach to the government of Iran to advance the American interests that Iran not become a nuclear weapons state and that Iran stop the export of support for terrorist organizations. His mistake was believing that the president of Iran was the right interlocutor when, in fact, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran’s Guardian Council (12 unelected clerics) have always been the power. It would have made no difference whether Iranian President Ahmadinejad or his challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi “won” the election – both were vetted and permitted to run by the clerics and both would have been beholden to them.
And it is Ayatollah Khamenei and the Council that are currently considering whether to formally acknowledge the voting fraud that sparked Iranian public demonstrations that have become a referendum on the entire system.
President Obama has thus far stuck to a pained expression and an expressed desire not to have the United States accused of “meddling.” It is a weak position – and everyone knows it.
A strong American position would have two elements: acknowledgement that the Khamenei and the Council make the rules; and expressed American support for the citizens of Iran in their desire to assemble peacefully and speak freely to the rulers. The fact that Khamenei is reconsidering the election and the fact that he has announced that he will hold prayers at Tehran University (a focal point for dissident Iranians) on Friday inclines us to think he is looking for a way to retain control of the situation even if he has to throw Ahmadinejad under the bus.
President Obama should say now that future American dealings with Iran will be strongly influenced by the way the Iranian government deals with the demonstrators, including the ones they have arrested, and that the United States always takes into account the civil and human rights of the populations of countries with which we wish to engage. Then, if there are real grounds for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, Khamenei will find a way to respond. If he doesn’t, can’t or won’t, the United States will still be clear that our support for the civil and human rights of the Iranian people will be our priority.
Its been said ad nauseum that people in the Middle East will never have “Jeffersonian democracy,” but Thomas Jefferson could have been looking at Tehran and advising President Obama when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence:
All experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
It isn’t for us to decide when the Iranians – or any other people – have arrived at “absolute despotism,” but when they say they have, when they take to the dangerous streets and lay themselves on the line, the United States has to stand behind them.