There is no love lost between Obama and this site as anyone who has perused my posts for more than 5 minutes can attest. But the president’s response to the Iran crisis - at least on one one level - has been the correct one, in my opinion. He has been cautious, realistic, firm, and taken a tone that is non-confrontational while still offering as much support and sympathy for the Iranians in the streets that, under the circumstances, anyone should expect.
On another level, however, he has failed. By not pausing in trying to achieve rapproachment with the regime and making it clear that our policy is affected by the way they are treating the protestors, the president is giving the Iranian government a free ride. Enough with this stupid “Weenie Diplomacy” and assurances that the outreach will continue as if nothing happened. I am a realist but this smacks of stubbornness on Obama’s part and not the kind of hard headedness that is needed if the president is going to successfully engage Iran and get them to alter their nuclear program and end the threat of war.
The Iranian economy is in shambles. They also feel threatened by the United States (as well they should). They desperately need membership in the WTO and the IMF in order to have access to loans that will allow them to rebuild their crumbling oil industry and have money to invest in 21st century industries.
They also need the UN sanctions - paltry as they are - lifted. In short, there are practical, real world incentives for the Iranians to make a move toward the west. The Khatami-Mousavi faction represents this realism in the regime. It’s not a question of them being “moderate.” Both those men still refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist and believe the US to be the “Great Satan.” Nor do they particularly love “freedom” as we understand the word. They wish to reform an oppressive system not do away with it. However, they seem to be less ideological, more flexible than the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad faction and on that, the president can pin his hopes for negotiations.
But the fascists (I will not dignify their beliefs by referring to them as “conservatives”) hold the upper hand and have powerful instruments of repression on their side - the Rev Guards and Basij. And as long as the Supreme Leader is on their side, the reformers will make little progress. Eventually, there may be a “Grand Bargain” of some kind where the reformers are absorbed in some small way into the system. I doubt that Mousavi will be one of those invited in - he appears to have burned his bridges in that respect. But the bargain will be one of convenience and won’t last.
Obama is absolutely correct that he has no power to influence this internal Iranian debate and his rhetoric has reflected that reality. But he is incorrect in thinking that this means he should allow the Iranians to believe that nothing they do on the streets to their own people will deflect him from seeking some kind of deal. It seems to me that this stance would breed nothing but contempt for America from someone like Ahmadinejad or Khamenei. And having your negotiating partner holding you in contempt is not the best way to get any kind of deal that we could live with.
As for those who are criticizing Obama for his measured rhetoric on Iran, I have to ask the question: Suppose Obama were to do as you ask and use the most violent rhetoric to condemn the regime? Then what? Where do we go from there?
It certainly would feel good to give a few verbal pops in the mouth to Ahmadinejad and his crew, but when the dust settles, where are we? Are we any closer to stopping Iran from building a bomb without risking a ruinous war in the Middle East? Is Israel safer? Is Iraq better off?
Unfortunately, the advocates of tough talk are also advocates of bombing Iran, with all the catastrophic fall out that such a policy would entail. It may yet come to war with Iran. I am enough of a realist to see how Iran possessing the bomb would be, in John McCain’s words, “the only thing worse than war.” But to not do everything in our power to resolve the situation without armed conflict would be the folly of our times, much worse than the idiots who blundered into starting World War I or the appeasers who allowed Hitler to start World War II.
The cavalier way in which many talk of “hitting” Iran makes my blood run cold. Rejecting negotiations outright just doesn’t make sense to me in this situation. There are too many unknowns to be confident that bombing Iran wouldn’t make things worse. And if that would be the case, why bother? Only in the last extremity - ironclad proof that Iran has a weapon or is enriching uranium to the 85-90% level to build one - should we consider war.
Obama’s outreach to Iran will almost certainly fail as long as the fascists are in power. They are too ideological, too paranoid to change. But who knows what the future will bring? What kind of shape will the Iranian economy be in a year from now? Who will be in charge? Will it come to a point that Iran actually needs the west to stave off disaster?
This is why Obama’s rhetoric on today’s crisis may be sound, but the idea that he is not demonstrating that the regime’s treatment of their own citizens has any consequences at all is wrongheaded. Successful negotiations require that both parties respect each other. Given Obama’s actions, it is hard to believe that carrying on a “business as usual” stance with the regime will engender anything but contempt for the US from its leaders.