Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Iranians who voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi – without much doubt the legitimate president of Iran – are still protesting. Yet rather than singing their praises, championing the new approach from the Obama administration which has allowed it to happen or appreciating the unique position which the US is in in relation to Iran historically, neocons are on the attack:
Far from showing the brilliance of Obama’s foreign policy approach, what has happened has dealt a stunning blow to his strategy of reaching out to the wrong people. Having assumed wrongly that Hezbollah would win in Lebanon, his administration let it be known that it would deal with Hezbollah in government. The response of the Lebanese people to this pre-emptive cringe from the White House was to show that, while Obama was prepared to kow-tow to terror, they were not. Instead of supporting both the Lebanese and the Iranians against tyranny, he abandoned them. Having shown weakness to Tehran, he merely emboldened the regime. The result was the rigged election.
What is weakening the regime is not Obama’s appeasement. It is resistance. It is the fact that the people did not take their stolen election lying down but turned out in their hundreds of thousands to demand justice – and are prepared to die for it – that has rocked the regime. With a reported twenty people dead yesterday and hundreds more injured at the hands of the regime’s thugs, the people have now been galvanised still further. Staring at what might well be a true counter-revolutionary moment, the regime is wobbling, and has now announced there will be a recount of the vote.
And still Obama is getting it wrong. Not surprising — having made nice with the tyrants and thus undermined the democrats he has been badly caught out and clearly doesn’t know what to do. With whom does he now side? His reaction — as promulgated by his fawning acolyte Miliband — is to be even-handed and support neither. How appalling. The President of America should have immediately condemned in the strongest possible terms this brutal onslaught against people trying to claim their democratic rights, and supported them against injustice and oppression.
A typically idiotic analysis by Melanie Phillips. The election was going to get rigged either way – I would argue that Obama’s offer of engagement with the Iranian people was an important variable in the electorate’s choice of Mousavi. If there is no longer a Great Satan to galvanise the people against, is it any wonder that they then take the alternative of liberalisation? All countries, all people have histories of opposition to ‘the other’ – Obama may not have erased the US’ unique position in Iran’s, but he’s made tremendous headway. He wisely knows this and has chosen his words extremely carefully. A thug like Phillips wouldn’t understand such nuanced behaviour. Fortunately Jonathan Freedland does, and offers a whole new set of questions should Ahmadinejad stay:
Nor are Washington’s policymakers feeling queasy about dialogue with a nation that lays on an outward show of democracy – complete with rallies and debates – only to crush dissent brutally when the people vote the wrong way. Such scruples have not prevented the US dealing with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia or a long list of others. As Obama explained repeatedly through the 2008 campaign, he does not believe diplomacy is a reward for good behaviour, but a tool to advance America’s self-interest.
But it’s not one Washington will deploy indefinitely. “We’ll see if it bears fruit,” says that official. “If it doesn’t then, at some point, we’ll have to try something else. It’s not without limit.” When might US patience run out? The answer is the end of this year: after that, western diplomats believe Tehran will reach the nuclear point of no return, when no one will be able to prevent it acquiring the bomb.
In this context, Team Obama can even spot an upside to Ahmadinejad’s re-election. First, there’s a Nixon-to-China calculation that says Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, would only feel confident enough to reach an accommodation on nukes if he was secure at home: he couldn’t afford a reformist president vulnerable to accusations of treachery from the right. Second, Tehran might feel the need to offset the charge of election fraud with a reputation-redeeming gesture, softening the nuclear line. Should that not come, and Obama decides to replace diplomacy with something stronger, his chances of marshalling an international coalition will have been boosted: Washington expects to hear fewer arguments defending Iran’s nuclear quest as the legitimate interest of a legitimate government.
All of which adds up to a conclusion that it is far too early to declare the Obama outreach to Iran a failure. The policy will continue for another six months, if only so that, should Iran eventually show Washington the finger, Obama can say what Bush never could: that he tried to do it the nice way.
It’s an approach which acknowledges the Obama administration’s usage of ‘soft power’ in its foreign policy – to further the United States’ national security aims. Whilst for them a Mousavi win would have the obvious benefits, if the nuclear policy is still being conducted by the religious leadership, Obama’s attempt to get the regime to climb down would be that much harder. Should Khamenei/Ahmadinejad stay, should the regime show itself up for what it is, rather than what it wants people on the outside to think it is, Obama’s latitude for manoever could perversely be that much greater. As it is, should Khamenei himself get swept away then even this analysis is obviated and all parties enter an entirely new, more complex phase.