Commentary Magazine


An Inconvenient Opinion

After posting my views the other day as to why we should be rooting for the Green Revolution in Iran (“A Neocon Breaks Ranks” was Andrew Sullivan’s baffling headline), I was finally asked, for the first time, what I thought about (a) the Obama Administration’s response to the situation in Iran, and (b) whether I thought the Bush Administration would have handled it differently. The examples of Georgia and the Ukraine were raised. I discovered my opinions to be somewhat heretical in certain circles, so I might as well share them.

People in positions of responsibility inevitably behave differently than they would have when they were on the outside, criticizing. The knowledge that what you say really can have an impact on the outcome of events makes you behave very carefully. Iran is not the Ukraine or Georgia, for the simple reason that the revolutionary movement is not only being accused of acting under the influence of the U.S. and the “Zionists,” but that accusation still carries a great deal of traction in Iranian society. I really do believe that if the Mousavi supporters succeed, there’s a decent chance the new Iranian government will shift its attitude to the West, at least by a notch or two, if not more. But it’s not something the revolutionary movement is willing to say publicly at this stage.

It is far from clear that overt and flamboyant cheer-leading from the U.S. government will not do more harm than good. And not only is this probably one of the big concerns guiding the current administration, but I will go out on a very long limb and suggest that perhaps President Bush, too, would have understood how carefully this needs to be played. (Of course, Bush would likely have been accused of secretly supporting Ahmadinejad.)

Call me crazy. Political leaders are just like that sometimes. Their sense of responsibility trumps our vivid sense of justice.

This is, of course, Obama’s call to make, and he will be judged far more harshly for it if the revolution fails than if it succeeds. But those of us who are absolutely sure that he is going about this the wrong way should be given pause by the surprising support he has received from a certain Mr. Netanyahu. Bibi has often been cast as the neocon’s neocon, a supporter of democratic freedom and intervention everywhere, especially in the Muslim world — one who, by the way, has no problem going loggerheads with the current president on other issues. And yet, he has chosen not to second-guess Obama. He has wisely let Shimon Peres do the talking instead.