President Obama’s tepid response to the evidence the Iranian election was stolen from the people of that country by current president President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his thuggish allies is disappointing.
The United States has no military role to play with regard to Iran. In fact, too many threats in the past have made it hard for the United States to speak effectively–and have raised fears that a strong statement from Washington would simply give Ahmadinejad an foreign “enemy” to rally against. But Obama must recognize that he is not George Bush. He has credibility that his predecessor lost, and the world wants to hear him speaking as the leader of a great country that stands on the side of democracy.
The United States does not need to make threats to explicitly and unequivocally champion democracy and the right of peoples in countries around the world to advance the cause of their own freedom. Such championship requires truth-telling and blunt language. Unfortunately, Obama is avoiding hard truths and speaking far too softly.
The president says he entertains “deep concerns about the election” in Iran. Well, who doesn’t? Expressing concern is “nice,” it’s “diplomatic”–in the worst sense–but it is not sufficient to the circumstance, as Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are reportedly arguing within the White House.
In particular, Obama needs to abandon the unsettling course of suggesting, as he did Tuesday in an interview with CNBC and the New York Times, that there is not a great deal of difference between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian president’s reform-minded foe, Mir Hussein Moussavi. “Either way,” Mr. Obama claims the United States, “is going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons.” Even if that is the case, it diminishes a distinction between between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi that Iranians–especially young Iranians–see as significant enough to merit risking, and in some cases, losing their lives.
By every measure, the US president’s response has been less than that of other world leaders, especially French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has branded the announced election “result” a fraud and bluntly decried the government’s clampdown on dissent “brutal,” “totally disproportionate” and “extremely alarming.”
“The extent of the fraud is proportional to the violent reaction,” says Sarkozy. “It is a tragedy, but it is not negative to have a real-opinion movement that tries to break its chains.” The French president is raising more than a concern. He is making the right point, and he is making it well.
“The ruling power claims to have won the elections,” says Sarkozy. “If that were true, we must ask why they find it necessary to imprison their opponents and repress them with such violence.” We must also ask why President Obama is not pressing Iran as aggressively as his French counterpart.