President Obama said last week that he doesn’t want the U.S. to be seen as “meddling” in the recent Iranian presidential election. In his view, vocally supporting the protesters is comparable to the CIA’s coup against Mossadeq in 1953.
That old bald eagle Zbigniew Brzezinski believes Obama has struck the “perfect tone”: Zbig thinks we should refrain from antagonizing the Iranian leadership and avoid a showdown.
Joe Klein’s thoughtful message for John McCain, who has been requesting that Obama take a tougher stance on Iran: “Be quiet.” According to Klein, supporting the protesters is mere “self-indulgence.”
Joe Scarborough thinks it’s ridiculous that we know what’s best for women’s rights in Iran. Peggy Noonan writes, “America so often gets Iran wrong… So modesty and humility seem appropriate stances from which to observe and comment.”
What planet are these people from? The would-be appeasers’ argument seems to be thus: We should not offer clear, unwavering, forceful encouragement to the Iranian protesters. If we do, Iran’s leaders will accuse the U.S. of being behind the demonstrations—you know, the ones that no one in the West predicted, the ones that happened after the election results no one foresaw, the ones that few Western journalists are close enough to eyeball, let alone instigate.
My question for the ersatz pacifiers: So what? Who believes the mullahs? Nations of the free world don’t. The protesters who spontaneously organized don’t. The mullahs don’t—they were already making their misstatements long before our Equivocator-in-Chief changed his mind this week and raised an eyebrow over the carnage.
Memories of the 1979 Revolution, including citizens’ taking to the streets and rooftops to chant, are having a greater impact on present-day protesters’ behavior than anything any American has said. Iran’s leaders are paying more attention to circumstances in the U.S. than are protesters—as in their specious comparison of Iran’s election to the 2004 Bush-Kerry contest. (It was Ahmadinejad who co-opted Obama’s “Yes, We Can” slogan for his reelection campaign.)
So if the mullahs blame us no matter what we do, why is it mandatory that we shut up? Are we afraid that if we support the protesters, the mullahs might despise us even more viciously and biliously than they do now?
The “Let’s stay out of this” argument also seems to be based on the premise that a first-world country’s expression of support for the protesters is condescending and makes the Iranians look backwards and childlike.
I’ll tell you what’s condescending: believing that Iranians aren’t smart enough to figure out that (1) 39 million votes cannot be counted in two hours, (2) Ahmadinejad did not crush Mousavi by the exact same percentage in every demographic group in all 30 provinces, (3) Mousavi-leaning urban centers did not have enough ballots sent to them on purpose, and (4) Iranian elections have been rigged to within an inch of their lives for the past 30 years. All of that I think the Iranian citizenry is capable of figuring out on its own. Thousands of Iranians were savvy enough to bring pens to the voting booth out of fear that the ones supplied by the government would be filled with disappearing ink.
The Iranian protest movement has been brewing underground for decades, mostly among college students and graduates, and women’s groups. I don’t recall any accusations of our having meddled in Iranian universities’ gender studies curricula recently.
The “Mind your own business” line of reasoning is reminiscent of the old charge that we shouldn’t go to war against Iraq (in 2003) or Afghanistan (in 2001), because we’ll only stir up anti-American sentiment; or the notion that we shouldn’t help Israel, because jihadists’ real hatred of America stems from our support for that country.
In fact, we should vocally support the protesters in Iran, because that stance gives us credibility when we fight our own battles. When fools like Ahmadinejad (and Obama) declare that we have no right to decide which countries get nukes and which don’t, we must be able to respond confidently, “Yes, actually, we do—it should be free nations that support individual rights and aren’t run by lunatic dictators, which includes the U.S., Britain, Israel, and our allies; and not Iran, North Korea, Syria, or any other place of our choosing.” If we support movements for freedom where they occur, rather than ignoring them, then our stance gains consistency and credibility to reformists in hostile regimes who are potentially open to our ideas. Those are the only people we should even dream of catering to.
Critics of supporting the protesters are right about one thing: one does not “impose” democracy on a nation. Consequently, I think if protesters in Iran actually objected to American ideals more than theocratic values, we would have heard more people chanting “Death to America” than “Death to the Dictator” these past two weeks. Protesters would presumably not have embraced Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube with the same gusto if they had felt that the country that invented these tools were hampering them with “cultural imperialism” or some other made-up crime. (Undoubtedly there is a minority crackpot fringe arguing that YouTube’s relaxing of its restrictions on videos with graphic content is “inciting” the Basij to commit more acts of violence.)
Certainly it is helpful that this is a homegrown revolution, and yes, statements against the Iranian government carry more weight when they come from Iranian citizens who could be jailed or killed than from Americans safely speaking half a world away.
Here’s how we actually did encourage the protesters in Iran—by turning their next-door neighbor, Iraq, into a democracy. Our transformation of Iraq has given Iranians hope that a government that protects liberty can work in an Islamic country in the Middle East. So yes, we did influence the protesters—in a phenomenally helpful, productive, and material way, at great cost to ourselves. Why shouldn’t we underline our message by supporting the protesters?