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What Now?

Despite the skepticism of many in the West about whether the Iranians are really capable of a sustained fight for their own freedom and dignity, there are many in Tehran who didn’t get the conventional wisdom memo that the revolt was wilting. To the contrary, over the weekend, we see fresh evidence that the Iranian people aren’t giving up yet:

Riot police clashed with up to 3,000 protesters near a mosque in north Tehran on Sunday, using tear gas and truncheons to break up Iran’s first post-election demonstration in five days, witnesses said. Witnesses told The Associated Press that some protesters fought back, chanting: ‘Where is my vote?’ They said others described scenes of brutality — including the alleged police beating of an elderly woman — in the clashes around the Ghoba Mosque.

And we see that the regime is reverting to type — becoming increasingly brutal and antagonist toward those in the West who have given visibility and support (at least rhetorical) of the protesters. Engagement? Well, the mullahs have their own ideas about “engaging” the West:

Iran’s government said Sunday that it had arrested Iranian employees of the British Embassy, while the police in Tehran beat and fired tear gas at several thousand protesters who joined a demonstration at a mosque in support of the defeated presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi. The government’s arrest of nine Iranian employees of the British Embassy was a significant escalation in its conflict with Britain, which Tehran has sought to cast as an instigator of the unrest since the disputed June 12 election.

So what now? The president and his “realists” might have banked on a quick resolution to the protests. But what if the Iranians don’t give up? Then the president will be called upon to do something – to lead. Marty Peretz is stinging in his assessment:

We don’t yet know just how desperate is the situation of the great mass of Iranian dissenters. But this is a moment about which presidents and prime ministers, ordinary people and the so very savvy foreign policy elites will be held to account: “which side are you on?”

[. . .]

In behalf of what cause is this oratorical master so reserved? It is actually his doomed conceit that he will entice the ayatollahs to give up their nukes.

So the American people must learn this lesson from the winning “yes, we can” candidate. And this lessson is that we won’t even try when the stakes are as obvious as other people’s decent freedoms. We won’t even cut off trade with Tehran. The smug and cool Brent Scowcroft is now enthroned as the foreign affairs sage of Washington, D.C. Here is what he had to say late last week: U.S. government support for those Iranians who are protesting against electoral results would provoke a more intense crackdown by the government in Tehran. I think he gave the good news to the mullahs over Al Jazeera.

Well, maybe the president can take a break from efforts to squeeze the elected Prime Minister of Israel and instead get to work on pushing the despotic mullahs over the edge. (It is odd that meddling in Israeli politics and internal policy is fair game with this crowd.) Obama has an array of diplomatic, economic, and rhetorical tools at his disposal to assist the protesters. He might do well to try them out. Someone might one day ask what he did to promote hope and change in Iran.



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