President Obama has gone about as far as he should go in condemning the government of Iran for its crackdown and repression of a popular movement for change in Iran. Since the election on June 12, his rhetoric has become harsher by the day. Yesterday, he said:
The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions.
Don’t we all! But it’s one thing for a Nation columnist to call the actions by the current Iranian regime disgusting and despicable, as I’ve done many times, and it’s another thing for the president of the United States to do it. Because in the next few months, Obama may very well have to send emissaries to sit down and talk to that very regime. Now that he’s condemned the repression, let’s hope Obama goes back to his original plan of trying to get Iran to the table.
The cold, hard reality of Iran is that the current regime, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Leader, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president is likely to remain in power. Yes, the legitimacy of their government has been stripped away. Yes, the regime has all but eliminated the “republic” part of “Islamic Republic,” relying now on sheer military power to rule. Yes, its crackdown on dissidents has been ugly and brutal.
But if Khamenei and Ahmadinejad want to talk to the United States, perhaps as soon as this fall, America’s answer had better be: Yes.
To be sure, it isn’t clear if Iran’s leaders will want to talk at all. Why? Three reasons. First, because during the election season and afterwards, Ahmadinejad’s campaign whipped up the president’s base, which consists of hard-core ultranationalists and religious zealots, and it won’t be easy to put them back on the leash if the regime decides to talk to the United States. Second, because Khamenei has blamed the United States, Great Britain, Europe, and Israel for the actions of the “terrorists” (i.e., pro-democracy marchers) challenging his authority, and he may find it useful or necessary to demonize the West for the foreseeable future, making it unlikely he will respond positively to any tenders from the West. And third, because most of the more moderate members of Iran’s establishment, including in the field of national security and foreign policy, who might have served as personal envoys for Khamenei in talks with the West, have either sided with the reformists or with conservative opponents of Ahmadinejad in Iran’s parliament and in the camp of Mohsen Rezai, the former Revolutionary Guard commander who ran against Ahmadinejad.