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…but orange now and black

Iran post-election, Ctd.: The American Response

I wanted in this post also to touch on the appropriate American response. I think Obama giving an address directly to the Iranian people, while a high risk move, could have a much higher payoff than others are speculating. It would be a statement of recognition of the democratic potential of the Iranian people, and a statement of solidarity with the reformist population who wants to see a detante with the West. It would also clearly state the international importance of Iran, that the President of the United States would be directly concerned. Why not play to the national pride of the reformist patriots?

Yes it absolutely would alienate Ahmedinejad… I don’t see why that’s a problem, even if he does succeed in suppressing dissent in the short term.

And even if Ahmedinejad and the council claim that Mousavi’s victory was a result of foreign interference, it’s only his base that is predisposed to believe that. Meanwhile the reformers will know they have American support.

The content would be absolutely critical, and it should build from the democratic themes of his speech to the Muslim world from last week. It absolutely should stay in the abstract, and it should be designed so that it’s difficult for Ahmedinejad to parody and draw quotes out of context. It should address the debilitating economic mismanagement of the theorcracy over the past 20 years, and hint that a reformist government would be able to negotiate an end to the crippling sanctions. Frame it as Iran freeing itself from the bonds keeping it from living up to its potential as a member in good standing in the community of nations. Renouncing America’s support for the Shah prior to the revolution should also be considered.

The stumbling block is Bush / Gore 2000 (which people would be naive to think the Muslim world doesn’t know about). Any statement from the US should be cognizant that Ahmadinejad will use that history to ground accusations of hypocrisy as a major part of his response.

Here’s a Shrin Sadeghi’s perspective, posted at the HuffPo:

First off, America must distance itself from discussions of sham elections – the American government’s legitimacy to condemn stolen votes has not yet recovered from its own sham presidential elections of recent. It is actually not the place of the United States government to question the domestic elections of any nation – this is internal interference and it doesn’t look good on the diplomatic or impartiality scales. It also further validates Ahmadinejad’s insistent claims of US plans for regime change.

It must cease talk of new sanctions and gradually see out current sanctions.

It must not underestimate the shrewd capability and organizational strength of the clerical system – a network that is centuries in the making and has successfully guided Iranian leaders of all stripes long before the ulema first established themselves as purveyors of the state religion of Iran some 500 years ago.

It must cease talk of war against Iran and condemn fanatic rhetoric of that kind from any nation. This talk is aggressive posturing which only elevates Iran’s credibility amongst the millions upon millions of Islamists, Muslims, and non-Muslim third-worlders who have turned to Iran as the strongest voice of opposition to American hegemony.

It must engage in face-to-face dialogue with Iran. Distant criticism and transoceanic discourse make both sides lose credibility, fashioning a wild west stand-off out of what should be diplomatic talks.

Overall, the United States must give the Republic less excuse for legitimacy in anyone’s eyes.

The Republic requires American antagonism to uphold its regional influence and its stranglehold on the Iranian people – the United States should deprive it of this gift. Both the United States and Iran need each other, but only one is a superpower. While the clerical dictatorship in Iran is stronger than ever, what is even stronger today is the public’s will to be rid of it.

Don’t think for a minute that Iranians actually believed that Mousavi is a reformer – they were so desperate for a chance at peace of mind – however little and temporary it might have been with a Mousavi win – that they were willing to go along with the charade. The landslide win was just a slap in the face to anyone who actually thought that even a miniscule window of opportunity would be possible.

The public isn’t stupid – it is at its wit’s end.

We’re in agreement about some of the basic facts (the significance of Bush / Gore 2000, the source of Ahmedinejad’s appeal in antagonism with the West), but while she says that America needs to avoid signalling that it intends to push for regime change, her whole article is about how best to achieve regime change.

Why not cut through the doublespeak? That’s any dictator’s home turf.

I don’t see how a desperate reform-oriented public would not take as heartening an empathetic statement from President Obama, putting voice to their grievances and offering moral support. Yes Ahmedinejad will spin it to make it sound like American cynicism, and it will play in his base… but they’re not a group who America can hope to convince anyway, and if the rumours are right, they’re a definite minority.


Iranian police attack some women in a bus stand with night sticks. A young woman fights back. They turn their attention to her. (She seems to end up okay). Civilian men loiter.


UPDATE: Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) argues along similar lines:

“First and foremost, we need to take a half step back from this administration’s olive branch-and-apology approach to enemies and countries that have been hostile to the United States of America and our allies,” Pence said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

“I’m hoping, before the end of the day today, the President of the United States will speak a word of support for Mr. Moussavi and for the dissidents and the reformers within Iran,” said Pence, referring to the defeated challenger to incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I have a feeling he would prefer less sensitive rhetoric though than what I’m advocating.

UPDATE II: My case, made by an Iranian in response to a request by Pitney at Huffpo:

The Obama Administration should speak up on behalf of the millions of embattled Iranians confronting the IRI to demand fairness and rule of law. As numerous observers have indicated, the “re-election” of Ahmadinejad was an absolute fraud. Numerous voting irregularities were reported, including severe ballot shortages in major urban centers and voter intimidation. In response to Mousavi supporters’ legitimate anger, the IRI has resorted to the brutal repression widely reported in the mainstream media and on the blogosphere.Throughout his campaign, Mr. Obama promised a “principled” approach to Iran. Showing solidarity with the protesters in the streets is, indeed, a matter of principle. Mr. Obama enjoys a great deal of moral authority in the Middle East and among Iranians – more so, perhaps, than any US President in recent memory. He should seize on the “fierce urgency of now” to take a resolute stand at this critical conjuncture. Doing so would not damage the credibility or legitimacy of the protesters, as some claim. After all, the students themselves have been heard to chant “Obama save us!” at police stations. The President simply cannot ignore this cry for help.


6 Responses to “Iran post-election, Ctd.: The American Response”

  1. But if Obama appeals to the Iranian public, then Ahmadinejad and Khamenei could be driven to just crack down and suppress all dissent. Then all the work that’s gone on in the last few years to get some cooperation with Iran on the nuclear front will be for nothing. The US needs to emerge out of this with someone in charge of Iran who’s able to cooperate with them. Right now even Ahmadinejad could eventually do so, but a public address would alienate him, and offend the Ayatollah who has endorsed him.

    Maybe if the US doesn’t get involved publicly, then they won’t ever be driven to a total crackdown, and what emerges is a weakened and limited Ahmadinejad presidency – forced to concentrate on the economic issues that have resulted in the instability, and therefore more open to international pressure to halt its nuclear program.

  2. Yes, the Ayatollahs cracking down is a risk, but I think with Ahmedinejad in power it’s close to inevitable. Here’s why:

    If the West implicitly buys the lie of the election, Ahmedinejad can trounce around claiming a 2/3rds mandate. Under that pretense he’s going to be far from a good negotiating partner.

    At the same time, in taking that pose, he’s going to be operating in a parallel universe from the reformist dissenters. Iran doesn’t have the capacity to limit digital communication in the way that China does, and has one of the most active on-line public-spheres in the world (Farsi is the 5th most spoken language on the internet). The problems with the election won’t be able to be hushed up.

    In light of a blatantly stolen election my armchair guess is that stability isn’t going to be reinstated under Ahmedinejad without a significant crackdown anyway.

    In that sense, the upside of Obama giving a measured address intended for the reformists (whether explicitly or implicitly) has, I think, a far bigger up than downside.

    • I don’t know about that – I think that no one can implicitly buy the lie of the election now. The civil unrest in Iran has taken care of that, without any assistance from the US.

      The result of Ahmadinejad staying would not be an endorsement of the results, allowing him to trounce around. His rule and the religious leadership would be destabilized, more aware of the democratizing potential of internet technology, and forced to recognize the demands of reformists. I think this would make for a much better audience for attempts to stop the nuclear program, which is in the end the US’ ultimate concern in addressing this situation.

      And maybe it would be well-regarded in some quarters if the US, for once, just let a country sort stuff out on its own. They have a bad enough history in Iran as it is.

  3. Obama’s restating his arguments for the power of states founded in pluralism, freedom, and democracy in an address responding to the election in Iran, wouldn’t close the door to the situation you’re describing. And nor would it be regarded as meddling among the reform-minded majority or in the world at large.

    As I’ve acknowledged, yes, it would be framed as intervention by Ahmedinejad and other radical factions in the region, but he’s already attributing the riots to foreign interference, and I don’t think that such a speech from Obama would give him any more to say. His rhetoric exists in an irrational universe, and in that universe, he’s already firing on all cylinders.

    In the universe of the actual, an address along the lines of what I’ve described would, I think, change little. Beneath the regime’s rhetoric, it has to recognize that it absolutely needs to improve the economy and fast. To that end, they’ll talk to America either way.

    To your last point, I think it would be well-regarded, in those quarters of the US you’re referring to, if a US leader addressed a foreign crisis (a) with the seriousness it deserves, and (b) without heavy handed threats of intervention. That’s a position that people ignore as a possibility.

    Iranian resentment towards the West is fueled by a feeling of not getting the respect it deserves. Why not give Iranian society that respect from the highest office in the West, while persisting in denying it to the regime?

    A major threat to change in Iran is resigned apathy from the reform minded population. We saw it in the early era of Ahmedinejad’s rule, and we see it in all the other authoritarian regimes in the region. The blogosphere is one bulwark against such resignation. Why not add another?

    The other major threat is still a full out military crackdown, which I don’t want to treat lightly. I really want to know if the military will stay on the sidelines.

  4. […] I was hoping he would tie it into the Cairo narrative. Inspire, America. Do it! […]

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