As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama's Needle Threading In Iran

Pete Hoekstra's Twitter FAIL is symptomatic of a larger trend of conservatives wanting to use the allegedly stolen election in Iran as a means to reveal their greater glory of an Arab spring. At first they expressed pleasure at Ahmadinejad's survival because extremists need one another to start wars, and now they seek Obama's direct confrontation into an election in a foreign country. They've kind of been all over the map.

[F]ringe actors like al Qaeda and the neocons or Ahmadinejad and Bibi need each other for political survival. The relationship isn’t even antagostic, it’s a symbiotic mutualism. Intractable, crazy antagonists legitimize the position of extremists who oppose them.

Fortunately, we have in the White House someone who understands that his words matter. His White House seeks a focus on human rights and peaceful resolution rather than wading into the election itself, which is clearly the right policy.

A senior Obama administration official who did not want to be identified or quoted explained that the president was deeply conscious of appearing not to favor any side in the election. Officials had ruled out calling for a recount or a revote out of a concern for undermining the Iranian opposition. The official said it was important to have a policy toward Iran that advanced the administration’s desire for liberalization and human rights in Iran, not one that merely vented American outrage at Ahmadinejad.

If and when Obama speaks about the violence in Iran over the coming days, the official predicted, he will emphasize the need for respecting human rights in Iran and for Iranians to reach their own solution. Potential multilateral efforts at calling attention to electoral improprieties and the resulting violence were said to be on the radar of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. No administration official mentioned recognizing the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s proclaimed victory at this point as a policy option under consideration, in keeping with Biden’s call for further “analysis” about the true election result, despite the fact that the European Union’s presidency, currently held by the Czech Republic, recognized Ahmadinejad as the victor despite noting “irregularities” in the vote.

The President himself said it best - we have a history in meddling in the foreign affairs of Iran (as well as many other nations), and overt calls for recounts or revotes at this point would enable Ahmadinejad and the hardliners to marginalize what appears to be real dissent in their country as the work of American puppets. It's the right policy, one of engagement without engaging. As Bush's former ambassador to Iran said, the President is threading the needle correctly:

In an interview today with NPR, (Nicholas) Burns praised Obama’s handling of the crisis, and said that a more aggressive response would actually play into the hands of President Ahmadinejad.

“President Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to see a very aggressive series of statements by the United States that would try to put the U.S. in the center of this,” Burns said. “And I think President Obama is avoiding that quite rightly.”

“This is not a dispute for the U.S. to be the center of,” Burns said at another point. “It’s up to Iranians to decide who Iran’s future leaders will be. He said he respects Iran’s sovereignty. I think it was important to do that.”

Without Americans driving the discussion and seeking the spotlight, the Iranian resistance has advanced the ball. The mullahs had to offer a limited recount but it has failed to stop the protests in all the major cities. A senior ayatollah has now come out against the election, reflective of a real split inside the ruling class. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is being forced to address the issue at Friday prayers this week. Even the Iranian soccer team wore green armbands yesterday during a nationally televised match, in solidarity. The reformers are doing just find without America trying to put their thumb on the scale. Obama should take the lesson and apply it to the rest of the world, too.

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