Despite a continued crackdown by the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij, hopes of an overthrow of the oppressive fundamentalist regime in Iran continue to smolder across that country and here in the West. Although European leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Andrea Merkel have decried the quite obviously rigged election, voiced support for the Iranian people, and condemned the violence and suppression of freedom that has since taken place, President Barack Obama has taken a decidedly different tack.
From the get-go, President Obama has been almost loathe to point out the farcical nature of the unbelievably lopsided Iranian electoral result. In addition, he has been unwilling to voice even moral support for the Iranian protesters being shot and arrested in the streets of Tehran. The rationalizing behind this silence is a supposed long-term strategic view, one that sees the Obama administration unwilling to alienate a potential negotiating partner in the Ahmadinejad regime by offering mere words of support for its opposition. Misplaced guilt over American involvement in overthrowing Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh and installing the shah is cited as another reason to shy away from any appearance of "meddling" in Iranian affairs.
No one in their right mind should be urging Obama to send in ground troops to buttress the cause of Mir Hossein Mousavi and those rallying around him. However, talk, as they say, is cheap, and it really takes so little to point out the moral authority of the Iranian people rising up against an autocratic theocracy that has paid only lip service to democratic principles and human rights. Obama a few days ago voiced his concern over the violence and "unjust" actions in Iran, but still stopped just short of any kind of rebuke of the mullahs or explicit support for the Iranian people. No endorsement of Mousavi is required, just a simple statement of solidarity that says, "No matter with what voice they speak, we stand with the people of Iran."
But the President has made his choice, the path of least resistance, the path that says, "No difference between the two guys. You folks sort it out and we'll be here to negotiate with you regardless." It's hard to fathom since so many in foreign policy over the decades have yearned for the most acceptable method of neutralizing Iran, a popular revolution that overthrows the hardliners. Now that the embers of that revolution finally threaten to ignite, the call is to stand aloof, to defer fanning the flames with even just rhetorical fumes, and to disregard those that might bring about reform in the pursuit of popularity-seeking neutrality.
President Obama has made his choice, and if, God willing, the people of Iran are successful in toppling Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the mullahs, then by that same choice of sideline diplomacy, he will deserve none of the credit. If breath-taking change does come to Iran, the call will instantly go out that it was because of the Hope™ offered by Obama, it was because of his historic speech at Cairo that inspired the hearts of Iranians to shout "Yes We Can!"
This call will be without merit. It takes more than winning an election and giving a speech to bring about change in the hardest of nations. It takes leading by example, and Obama has blown this opportunity to do just that. When faced with the chance to go out on a limb for the cause of self-determination, with nothing more at stake than "just words, just speeches", the President chose the course of timidly shrugging his shoulders, of effectively voting "present" when an "yea" or "nay" was most badly needed. I have heard the term "calm competence" used as a description of Obama's position - it should more accurately be described as a paralyzing fear of committing one way or another.
The brave students and youth fighting and dying in the streets of Tehran owe nothing to Obama. And if, by some evil turn, the mullahs succeeed in stamping this nascent movement for freedom and openness, then President Obama will compound his duplicity by sitting down at the same table with a regime that quashes dissent and offers nothing but an iron fist for its people.
President Obama has made his choice, the choice to timidly stand and merely watch, and he will earn its consequences.
Cross-posted at Wellsy's World.