The President’s Statement On Iran & Why It’s Right

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Barack, Iran, Obama

As I’ve said before, I think he’s striking the right balance between condemning the regime’s actions against their own citizens, while not getting the US involved in what’s already an incredibly messy struggle for power.

Why is this the right strategy?

Because Obama has to hedge his bets on Iran…and that means not trying to undermine the current regime which has a better than even chance of remaining in power. If he comes out in support of Mousavi and the revolution doesn’t start, well, we’ve just wasted one of our best chances at solving the nuclear problem in that region. If Mousavi does manage to grab power, he’ll have done it with the Iranian people and they’ll collectively want to put a stake in the ground right off the bat to move Iran in a different direction.

And while many on the right wing are claiming this makes us look weak, what’s their strategy? More talk about spreading freedom? And that leads to where exactly? Declaring war against Iran, wiping out the mullahs and inserting Mousavi as the President?

In any event, here’s the statement via Politico:

Today, I want to start by addressing three issues, and then I’ll take your questions.

First, I’d like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in the Iranian government are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others outside of Iran of instigating protests over the elections. These accusations are patently false and absurd. They are an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That is precisely what has happened these last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we have watched what the Iranian people are doing.

This is what we have witnessed. We have seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands Iranians marching in silence. We have seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and their voices heard. Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

Thoughts?


This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009 and is filed under Barack, Iran, Obama. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “The President’s Statement On Iran & Why It’s Right”

  1. kranky kritter Says:

    Umm, this is clearly a more pointed statement than previous ones. It accords with what both Tully and I said Obama should have said the first time, and what Mike Reynolds described as “bigfooting it.”.

    And it fits with the model that I have noticed as a pattern with Obama, where he is circumspect at first and then makes more pointed statements later. This propensity is something that his opponents are going to spin as waffling or weenie-ism or whatever.

    My view is obviously flavored by my strong taste for avoiding “ready-fire-aim” statements in the style of, oh, let’s say Joe Biden. Obama recently snapped at a questioner that he likes to know what he’s talking about before he speaks at length. In general, I think this is a VERY good quality for a President. At the same time, I appreciate how often the world looks to America for immediate leadership in times of crisis. (or is that the media? Sometimes I wonder.)

    I hope and expect Obama to be more timely in his statements regarding crisis circumstances as his Presidency evolves and he learns his ropes. But it is also possible that the world at large will become accustomed to Obama’s taste for making guarded initial statements while counseling for calm and consideration, and then amplifying them later. Thats a good model for rationality, right?

    One useful spin that Obama put on this amplification is that he is appreciative of America trying to support protesters without being regarded as instigators. And that is a nod to views Mike expressed earlier.[In other words Mike, not trying to trumpet nah-nah we were right. You had useful insight just as Tully and I did, I think.]

    Bottom line: today as yesterday, the outcome doesn’t appear to be remotely up to America.

  2. Tully Says:

    What took him so long?

    This propensity is something that his opponents are going to spin as waffling or weenie-ism or whatever.

    Your mileage may vary, of course, but what I see is a long-standing pattern of Obama saying not much of anything (and that often at great length), then later “refining” his non-position to whichever way the political winds are blowing. And then, down the road, trying to take credit for having steered public opinion and/or events to his eventual position, when it was the other way around. Or otherwise trying to get in front of the parade and then claiming to have been leading it all along, even after he voted to deny the parade permit.

    EXAMPLE:

    Obama’s approach to Iran, including his assertion that the unrest there represents a debate among Iranians unrelated to the United States, is an acknowledgment that a U.S. president’s words have a limited ability to alter foreign events in real time and could do more harm than good. But privately Obama advisers are crediting his Cairo speech for inspiring the protesters, especially the young ones, who are now posing the most direct challenge to the republic’s Islamic authority in its 30-year history.

    (LOL Digression: Is there some perverse AI software running Captcha? Keys for this entry — “muffin reformatory”)

  3. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    This speech was a response to criticisms in America, rather than what has happened in Iran, otherwise he would have made it last week. Time, Newsweek, the NYT all got on his case.

    Notice he doesn’t say outright that the election process itself was fraudulent, only sympathy for “”those who want justice,” and victims of brutality.

    I fully expect him to continue to refer to the Ayatolla as “The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.”

  4. Gary Says:

    Hedging his bets?

    It is absurd to say that the Mullahs will be more likely to discuss the nuclear issue if we do not side with the protesters. The Mullah’s are never going to be talked out of devloping the bomb.

    There is nothing that Obama is going to say that will make them all of a sudden say “Oh, now we understand, we really shouldn’t be building nuclear bombs. We really get it now, our having the bomb will make our neighbors nervous and will make the world less safe. When Bush said ‘Nucular’ and threatened us in his Texas twang we just couldn’t understand what he meant. We never would have been building nuclear weapons if someone had just been willing to listen to us and validate our feelings with clear communication”.

    Their goal is power through proxies and weapons. They will not be deterred by better communication. All he has done is let a chance to encourage democracy in the region slip away. It might not have worked but he would have shown solidarity and support and the seeds for success in the future might have been planted.

    Repeat – the mullahs are not going to be nice to us or give up any weapons becasue of dialog. The protesters would have done better with encouragement and support for their ideals and actions.

    Besides the fact that it was the right thing to do.

  5. JohnR Says:

    IMO each President has to decide how much “realpolitik” he’ll have in his foreign policy vs how much idealism. Obama appears to pay little heed to idealism…in all his foreign speeches so far, we’ve heard virtually nothing of “freedom”, “democracy”, “human rights”, etc. Instead, he appears to be focused on pragmatic deal-making…or realpolitk.

    So…his statements on Iran are consistent with his earlier speeches. No lofty rhetoric in defense of freedom. What we get is a watered down version designed not to burn any bridges…and to keep the maximum number of options for negotiations with whoever winds up on top in Iran.

    I prefer a pragmatic approach. I don’t think for a minute that Obama’s negotiations with Iran will do any good, but I think we need to make a real attempt in order to convince the Left and our allies (if you can call them that) that we’ve tried so that firmer action can be taken later.

  6. Rick Says:

    Gee, with strongly worded emotional support and encouragement from President OBama we could watch even larger numbers of Iranians gunned down in the street from the comfort of our computer screens. And it would all be worth it because they would die knowing they had the strong “words” of support from a US President. Why play chess when emotionally it feels better to play checkers? Thinking about the long term consequences of your behavior are for sissies.

  7. Alistair Says:

    Reading some of these comments that President Obama isn’t doing anything is beyond ubsurb unless all of you think that war is the answer and in doing so asking the American people to fork up of the tax paying money and putting us in debt. We support the Iranian people but the Neo-Cons like John McCain are doing a damn good job by provoking the mullahs to use the propaganda machine that America is interfering in Iranian afairs. Plus what makes you think that if they replace the Iranina President and the Ayatollah are going to change their policies toward the United States?

  8. Gary Says:

    Yeah, and we should not have fought the revolutionary war or the civil war either. All those deaths just for freedom and human rights.

  9. Gary Says:

    Someone else put it a little better:

    Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    Notice that it is their duty to throw off the government. I do not think it is a stretch to say that the author is encouraging people to go to war even when winning is against the odds.

    By the way Rick, to save you the time and effort of gooling it, this is the Declaration of Independence.

    Since we won it is easy to forget that the outcome was unlikely when we went to war. Also, it is interesting to remember that we might not have won if it hadn’t been for french meddling and support. I guess they were evil for encouraging and supporting us and causing all those deaths.

  10. Alistair Says:

    Maybe if we didn’t meddle with the Iranian’s in the first place in 1953 when we overthrew a democratic elected office infavor of the the Shah, who was just a brutal, we wouldn’t have this love & hate relationship with Iran. And speaking of Nuclear that Iran has and won’t give up, Pakinstan, Russia & China has Nuclear weapon are we prepared to go to war against those countries but yet our U.S. troops are stretch thin?

  11. michael reynolds Says:

    He took it further than he should. But he only took it 10% further than he had.

    Read his statements. They have this in common: there’s no pull-out graph that can be quoted in a speech by Khamanei or Ahmadi.

    Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, said: “Condemning violence is different from taking sides in Iran’s election dispute. People in Iran have told NIAC’s Iranian-American membership that they don’t want the US to get itself involved in the conflict, but they do want to see the government’s use of violence condemned… Calls by Republican lawmakers to explicitly side with a specific candidate or movement in Iran can be extremely harmful to that candidate or movement. If our intention is to help, we have to first listen to the people in Iran rather than to pretend to speak for them without ever having had consulted with them,” Parsi added.

    So here’s what we have:

    The Iranians — not just NIAC, but Nobelist Shirin Ebadi and Karim Sadjadpour the Iran expert at Carnegie– think Obama’s handled it right. So do Kissinger, Lugar, Peggy Noonan, Brzinski and even Rick Moran of rightwing nuthouse. I agree.

    On the other side, McCain, Fox news, talk radio, and the neo-cons.

    Now, do the Iranians, Kissinger, Lugar, Noonan and Brzinski have some reason to defend Obama? I don’t quite see what it might be.

    How about the other side? Can anyone think of why obsessive Obama-haters might, um, obsessively hate him?

    I’ve asked this question over and over again of the neo-con geniuses:

    How does more rhetoric from Obama help the protesters?

    So far not even an attempt at a coherent answer. There is no answer. If there were a way rhetoric from Obama could help the protesters they’d be asking for it. They are not.

    Now why do you suppose neo-cons — who overwhelmingly favor military strikes on Iran — push for a policy that the Iranian protesters do not support?

    You think maybe it’s that the neo-cons don’t really give a damn about Iran’s freedom? You think maybe they’re just malicious partisans?

    Huh? Could that be it?

  12. michael reynolds Says:

    Jimmy:

    I fully expect him to continue to refer to the Ayatolla as “The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.”

    That’s also how Charles Krauthammer has referred to him. If you’re going to work from the Krauthammer playbook you should read more of it.

    We refer to leaders of foreign nations by their chosen title. Maybe we should change our style, refer to people we don’t like as “That A**hole Kim Jong Il” or “that moron Mugabe” but I don’t quite see how that would advance any useful cause.

  13. michael reynolds Says:

    Tully:

    . . .but what I see is a long-standing pattern of Obama saying not much of anything (and that often at great length), then later “refining” his non-position to whichever way the political winds are blowing.

    So your opposition to him is based on your inability to figure out where he stands?

    You ever been in a fist fight? (It’s been a long while for me.) Would you rather fight the guy who telegraphs his punches, or the guy who doesn’t?

    You really don’t know where he’s going? You don’t think he means to overhaul health insurance? Were you confused about his stand on the stimulus? You don’t think he’ll revoke DADT? How about Afghanistan? Iraq? On what issues are you really confused as to Obama’s final objectives?

    Is it that you don’t understand where he’s going? Or is it that you don’t see how he plans to get there? Maybe you’re just a good chess hustler trying to figure out Bobby Fischer. Maybe you don’t understand the way the game is played at this level.

    If Khamenei wins, the Iranian revolution is discredited.

    If Moussavi wins, likewise.

    If Rafsanjani wins, likewise.

    Which of the three major players wants to be embraced in advance by the American president? Would the answer be none?

    And which will we try to work a deal with? Would the answer be any of the three?

    And given that our goals are 1) a non-nuclear Iran and 2) a non-hostile Iran, 3) the gutting of Iran’s revolutionary ideology — which expresses itself in support of Hezbollah — how would a more hostile stance from us now help to advance our objectives?

    So, same question I keep asking:

    How would more rhetoric from Obama help the protesters? And part 2: How would it help us achieve our goals?

  14. Rick Says:

    Gary:

    <>>

    And so whats your point?

    Rick

  15. Gary Says:

    Rick,

    You said that by encouraging their stance for freedom we are encouraging them to risk their lives, apparently for no good reason..

    I am saying that the Declaration of Independence says it is every person’s duty to rise up against tyranny even if they are risking their lives. The Declaration of Independence exhorted the colonies to rise up against Britain in what many people thought would be a futile, boody and deadly effort.

    If the president encourages people to throw off the shackles of tyranny and rise up in revolt, even though the may lose their lives, he s doing the same thing as Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers did. If he does not beleive that freedom and democracy are not worth supporting then he is in diagreement with the Declaration of Independence and the spirit of our own revolution as well as our civil war.

    In short freedom is worth fighting and dying for. That is what the 4th of July is all about.

  16. Chris Says:

    the last thing the world needs is an even more unstable Iran.

  17. Warpublican Says:

    “…what I see is a long-standing pattern of Obama saying not much of anything (and that often at great length), then later “refining” his non-position to whichever way the political winds are blowing…”

    You mean on stuff like closing Gitmo? And relocating “terrorists?” – how about refusing to release torture photos? – went down REALLY well with the base! How about GM? And the Stimulus? has Obama backed down on THAT? No… what YOU see is what Rush sees – and what YOU WANT to see…

  18. kranky kritter Says:

    Your mileage may vary, of course, but what I see is a long-standing pattern of Obama saying not much of anything (and that often at great length), then later “refining” his non-position to whichever way the political winds are blowing. And then, down the road, trying to take credit for having steered public opinion and/or events to his eventual position, when it was the other way around. Or otherwise trying to get in front of the parade and then claiming to have been leading it all along, even after he voted to deny the parade permit.

    LOL! OK, so bug or feature?

    I don’t say you are wrong here. There are lots of ways to spin this. Your view is just the negative spin side of the approach. Like I said, I really like that Obama avoids ready-fire-aim statements. But I also appreciate the value of a leader who has the intelligence and seeds to get it right right away, if he or she can.

    The oart about the credit-taking is not something I concern myself much with. Pols and there staffs constantly spin such stuff whatever way they can to reflect glory on their horse. It’s inevitable.

    The president “leads” public opinion almost by default because of the prominence of his position. If there is a leading edge to public opinion, say among the critics in think tanks, blogs and so on, and that helps a refined position emerge which then becomes the President’s better informed view, and then he makes a refined statement that drives majority public opinion, that’s not really such a bad thing. After all, shouldn’t the President have the benefit of the counsel of a broad corss-section of informed passionate minds?

    As to taking a position based on how the political winds are blowing…there’s a school of eastern thought which claims that this is as it ought to be, I guess I am suggesting that we pull just a little bit of “politics” out from under the bus. The political winds often blow as they do because something like a reasonable consensus has emerged.

    So the only way that I feel I can personally judge Obama as to his two-stage approach is to see if, over time, there are occasions where his 2nd-stage opinions represent or include rejections of some components of the supposed wisdom in the political winds.

    Undoubtedly, some portion of the 2nd-stage opinions will be no more that adoption for purposes of political expedience. But sometimes they can be more than that.

    Do you get what I’m trying to say here, Tully? I mean, after all, the President has, in sense responded to the very criticism you voiced by sharpening the oficial US position. And while this is not as good as getting it spot-on perfect at first blather, you have to admit that he has adopted the position you favored.

    So while you might not like his methodology, you agree with the outcome, because it’s much as you counseled. Right?

  19. michael reynolds Says:

    KK:

    So the only way that I feel I can personally judge Obama as to his two-stage approach is to see if, over time, there are occasions where his 2nd-stage opinions represent or include rejections of some components of the supposed wisdom in the political winds.

    I’d suggest the best way to judge Obama or any other leader is to see what gets done. Rhetoric is a tool, what matters is what ends up happening, not what’s said.

    “We shall pay any price, bear any burden . . . support any friend . . .” was terrific rhetoric. But events proved it to be quite a stupid position to take.

  20. kranky kritter Says:

    I’ve asked this question over and over again of the neo-con geniuses:

    How does more rhetoric from Obama help the protesters?

    So far not even an attempt at a coherent answer. There is no answer. If there were a way rhetoric from Obama could help the protesters they’d be asking for it. They are not.

    MIke, you’re not as smart as you think. You’re just playing gotcha, because your question begs another slightly different question, one that YOU can’t answer without calling everyone’s attention to the fact that the basic premise of the discussion is fundamentally flawed. You are basically questioning the same premise that your previous arguments rested upon.

    So, how do you answer this:

    How does ANY rhetoric from the President of the US help Iranian protestors?

    The answer of course is that it doesn’t. Not really. The outcome in Iran is going to be up to Iranians, because we’re not coming with tens of thousands of troops, and neither is the UN. Across the nation and across the world, many folks want to hear the leader of the most powerful nation speak on crisis issues like the unrest in Iran. But unless he says “we’re on the way,” what he says really doesn’t matter all that much.

    Still, IF he is going to bother to speak, THEN it makes sense for him to try to get it as right as possible by clarifying America’s position. So you have to either choose to believe that what he says matter or that it doesn’t. Then if you believe it matters, then the discussion shifts to getting the statement as right as possible, and you can’t logically question the premise once you have accepted it.

    So now the clever question you asked has been answered by a critic, one who thinks Dick Cheney is an idiot and who yet loathes the progressive rhetoric device of floating the neo-con boogeyman whenever it works.

    For your part, you and others who agree with saying very little have yet to explain to me what harm comes from the US being clear in condemning violent repression of democratic protesters. If we can’t even do this, we might as well close our embassies and send everyone home.

  21. Tully Says:

    The president “leads” public opinion almost by default because of the prominence of his position.

    Yep, KK. And not just domestic public opinion. Yet he voted “present” on a slam-dunk international human rights issue until political pressure forced him to the very obvious default position, at which point he tried to claim that it was his clearly-stated position all along, and also sent out aides to pimp the idea that he inspired the protesters! That’s NOT leadership.

    See the problem there? Waiting to see which way the wind blows is not a bad thing in a Congressman. It is a bad thing indeed in the titular leader of the free world. He needs to be ahead of the parade when it gets going, not just jump in (or be tossed in) at the finish line.

    So your opposition to him is based on your inability to figure out where he stands?

    Once again, Michael, you just can’t stop yourself from the gratuitous backhanded ad hominem, or from misrepresenting others and trying to label them, can you? I have no objection to Obama per se, only to his words and actions (or lack thereof) in specific situations. As I do with yours. For example, I knew before even reading through your new remarks this morning that you would ONCE AGAIN try to paint anyone who disagreed with your Obama apologia as a “neocon.” And voila! There it is!

    Apparently all but one member of Congress and (belatedly, finally, reluctantly) Obama himself now say you’re wrong. Amazing, a near-complete sweep of DEMOCRATIC PARTY neocons running the US government, including the WHite House. But hey, don’t despair. You’ve still got Ron Paul!

    You ever been in a fist fight?

    More fights than you would likely imagine, in both structured and unstructered situations and going well beyond fists. I learned long ago to never trust a telegraphed strike. At anything but the strictly dumb-drunk-amateur level, they’re usually feints. Bad analogy. This isn’t a bar brawl.

    Maybe you don’t understand the way the game is played at this level.

    Yeah, I’ve only been “playing” the RealPolitik game in the real world for twenty years or so, and I don’t mean occasional pre-electoral candidate PR pimping. Obama’s natural inclination to duck taking any firm stands served him (and us) very poorly in this case. IMHO he has not yet come to terms with the difference between being one of many in the pack, and being the point man, the leader. I hope someday he does. Right now he’s displaying lots of brass and bluster but zero cojones, and it’s a useful pattern to exploit in rolling him over. And trust me, others will use that against him, again and again, including his own party. The job takes more than charisma and obfuscatory bluster. A weak spine is not a job asset.

    For your part, you and others who agree with saying very little have yet to explain to me what harm comes from the US being clear in condemning violent repression of democratic protesters. If we can’t even do this, we might as well close our embassies and send everyone home.

    Bingo, KK. There is no harm at all in it. It’s near-universally expected, even IMHO required. But we haven’t disinvited the Iranians from U.S. diplomatic events yet. Nor called for more sanctions. Nor said the elections were fraudulent. Etc. We have to date done no more than the minimum expected of any free nation in condemning blatant human rights abuses, and our response has been minimalist in comparison to most other free nations and the UN. And we did that much despite the waffle-wrapped weenie, not because of him.

  22. John Burke Says:

    I think Obama was right to be cautious at first (exactly what words to speak that would be “cautious” is another matter) and also right to ratchet his words up, as the regime has responded to the protests with a hard line and a violent crack down.

    However, I think Reynolds and others are going a bridge too far in imagining that this is all somehow consistent with a massively clever Obama strategy. The more you learn about what actually happened with Presidents and their administrations in the past (whether WW II, the Cold War, Vietnam, or whatever), the more you grasp that they often react to events more than they control them.

    That’s surely the case here. It’s not so much a matter of “realism” about national interests competing with a commitment to American principles of democracy and freedom as it is a matter of no one’s knowing what will happen inside Iran. After all, if Obama really knew that there was, say, an even chance that the Mousavi forces would prevail, would it not be “realistic” as well as consistent with American principles to say something nice about Mousavi — in effect, to lean toward “siding” with him? I think Obama would quickly sieze that opportunity (as would McCain or anyone else in the White House).

    It does not look like Mousavi will prevail — yet, it DOES seem that these events will make it extremely unlikely that the Iran regime will ever be quite the same. Khamenei and Ahmadi have both been tarnished in the eyes of significant segments of the public and the clerical leadership. Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Montezeri and others are not potted plants. Iran’s leadership may have the tools of a police state at their hands, but the regime has also benefitted by the wide acceprtance of its legitimacy. It’s one thing to beat protesters into submission for a few days. It’s quite another to keep most of the educated, skilled people you need to run a modern state under tight daily supervision and simultaneously fend off opposition from within the clerical heirarchy.

    Obama — the U.S. really, all of us — have to take a stand that is not only realistic today but would be realistic in six months or a year if Ahmadi is unable to govern or Khanenei is ousted. Khamenei is not a young man. Suppose he dies this fall? Who would replace him — and how? Would there be new protests? Would the “Council of Experts: agree on someone, anyone? Would Ahmadi and the IRGC stage a coup?

    Who knows. “Realism” only takes you as far as your knowledge and your best guess about the future. Beyond that, you have to rely on your instincts and your fundamental principles.

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