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The Policy of Condolence Cards

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.


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