The Internet is awash in dispatches, photos, poems and interviews detailing the extraordinary events that have taken place over the past few days in Iran. A growing number of the posts seem to be tinted green, in solidarity with the brave and inspiring Iranians who have taken to the streets to protest their leadership's latest effort to suppress their rights.
The display of solidarity is perfectly appropriate. We are at a potential hinge moment in Iranian history, with the corrupt theocrats of the Islamic Republic appearing to have misplayed their hand, rigging an election so blatantly that they have provoked a mass popular backlash. But however much we may wish to see the demonstrators prevail, grandstanding by the United States is not appropriate. The international community can – and should – voice support for the democratic rights of Iranians and refuse to recognize the election's legitimacy. But the last thing the courageous demonstrators in Tehran need right now is a headline-making show of support from Washington – through, say, a dramatic speech by Barack Obama addressed to the Iranian people aimed at destabilizing the regime, as Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard suggests here.
This is, in fact, something Iran's hardliners would likely welcome, proof that the protesters are acting at the behest of outsiders meddling in the region and promoting ‘regime change,' which is perhaps why the voices calling for Washington to step up the rhetoric appear to belong to western pundits, not Iranian dissidents and human rights activists. Regime change would, of course, be welcome in this case. But if it happens it will be Iranians, not Americans, who bring it about. Fortunately, President Obama appears to recognize this. How events play out over the next few weeks "is something for the Iranian people to decide," Obama said today. The statement may disappoint those who see it as America's unique mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. But let's not forget where this mindset took us in recent years.