Obama and Iran: The (U.S.) President Has the Right Idea

Street protests have broken out in Iran, at times becoming violent. They will probably get more so, especially if the government decides to crack down on protesters, which it probably will. This has all happened due to the Iranian presidential election, which is believed to have been rigged so that the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner a suspiciously short time after the polls closed.

Ah, a new Iranian revolution? The moment we've been waiting for? Time for America to rush in? Some seem to think so. That would be asinine.

President Obama's current course (he expressed doubts about the election and that he would support free elections in Iran, but stated that it was up to Iranians to decide who would lead Iran) is the right one. What would those who disagree have him do? Speaking out in favor of the opposition would endanger that very opposition by making it look like it was backed by America, something that would not go over well in a country with a fairly high degree of anti-American sentiment (sentiment left over from when the CIA toppled their democratically elected leader and installed a more West-friendly monarch who ruled over the country for decades and bashed any oppositional voices, though his abuses arguably pale in comparison to the current regime's). What's more, it is unlikely the opposition candidate will come to power, and Barack Obama will have to deal with whomever is in power, probably Ahmadinejad. Acting to back the opposition in any way would make relations with him even more difficult.

Buit even leaving all that aside for a moment: what practical choice does he have? Since no words, whether harsh or soothing, will change the course of events in Iran, the only option would be some sort of intervention. Does anyone really think the U.S. is in a position to intervene in a country several times the size of Iraq that cannot in any way be conceived to wish for this intervention when it is already fighting wars on two fronts and running up a massive bill trying to rescue its own economy from collapse? Not to mention the long-term negative effects yet another Middle East intervention would have on the U.S.'s ability to cooperate with and influence other nations. It would increase anti-Americanism, making any progress in problem areas impossible, and further alienate our allies.

Intervention would be madness, and choosing sides would clearly do more harm than good. Plus, implying support (physically) for a revolution and not being able to back up the promises with actions would endanger the lives of thousands of Iranians if they started a civil war expecting the U.S. to intervene (which is albeit unlikely, since they do not wish to see any U.S. intervention anyway, regardless of what happens).

Given the utter lack of viable alternatives, Obama seems to have chosen the best (or least bad) policy. The greatest thing that Obama has shown since becoming president is not whether he is left or center, but that he is a pragmatist and understands the complexity of the situations that he could so direly influence. For me, at least, this is a relief.

The protests in Iran are heartening because they prove what many have said: Iran is not monolithic, and many of its citizens would like to see bigger reforms and more freedoms. That's a critical first step, but these things have to go inside-out. For now, our focus needs to be on getting Iran to become a better global citizen externally. Easing tensions between Iran, (would-be) Palestine, Israel, and the United States is where we need to focus our attention now. A patient who has no pulse and has broken a leg is best helped by addressing the stopped heart first, we can handle the broken leg later if the patient can be resucitated.


Popular Posts