June 19, 2009
Over the past few days, President Obama has been pummeled by the right for supposedly appeasing the regime in Iran. Robert Kagan has accused Obama of being “objectively” on the side of the mullahs, while Charles Krauthammer detects a president “afraid to take sides between the head-breaking, women-shackling exporters of terror–and the people in the street yearning to breathe free.”
Don’t believe a word of it. The truth is that Obama has correctly followed a prudent course of allowing the protests to build in Iran, while scrupulously refraining from giving the mullahs a convenient fig-leaf for the crackdown that may well be coming. There is a fine line between supporting and inciting the demonstrators, and Obama has not overstepped it. What’s more, America doesn’t have a history in Iran. It has a rap sheet, dating back to the CIA’s engineering of the 1953 coup that established a pro-American government led by the Shah.
So Obama’s statement today warning the Iranian leadership that the “world is watching” hit the appropriate note. Not intervening. But watching. Should the Iranian authorities resort to force, they could trigger upheaval that might bring themselves down in the chaos. At a minimum, they will permanently discredit themselves.
What no one knows, however, is the extent to which the regime will go to try and defend its power and privileges, but it could be very, very far. The analogy with Eastern Europe in 1989 doesn’t quite work. The Warsaw pact countries were led by old, doddering leaders who had relied upon the Soviet Union to prop them up. Iran is different. It has been seeking to expand its influence in the Arab world, much to the fear of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries.
For now, power is in the streets with the courageous demonstrators who are demonstrating that the regime has lost what legitimacy it ever commanded. Contrary to the dreams of Krauthammer and Co., however, America does not have the ability to determine events in Iran. More important than what America does is what it does not do. Iran is too important to posture for cheap political gain. Obama understands that. His critics don’t.
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