Commentary Magazine


Topic: Babol

Iranian Dissidents Show Courage—Can Obama Do the Same?

The unstable situation in Iran is clearly escalating, as the Islamist regime has not been able to intimidate anti-government protesters, who keep returning to the streets despite the state-sponsored violence intended to keep them quiet. Yesterday, 10 dissidents were reportedly killed, including the nephew of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was reportedly assassinated outside his home. Yet, despite the attempts to repress dissent, demonstrations and clashes with government forces have apparently spread from Tehran to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil, and Orumieh.

Yet while the people of Iran are taking to the streets to show they want to oust the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad despotism, we must ask where is the voice of the leader of the free world? President Barack Obama is a noted orator but, as has been the case throughout his first year in office, his rhetorical talents have not been put to use when it comes to Iran. Obsessed with the notion that engagement with Iran’s tyrants can resolve our concerns over their drive for nuclear weapons as well as Tehran’s support for terrorist groups elsewhere in the region, Obama has consistently downplayed America’s concerns about the need for change in Iran.

Yes, the White House did issue a statement about events in Iran and rightly condemned the “unjust oppression” being conducted there. But if the administration thinks a mere quote attributed to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer is enough, they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.

What then can the West do? Last week the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post suggested that “to signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.” It’s a modest suggestion that unfortunately was not taken up by any nation, not even the United States.

Even better would be a personal statement of outrage that came directly from the mouth of Barack Obama,  followed by an announcement that on January 1, the West will begin to enact the “crippling” sanctions they have occasionally threatened throughout the year. Unfortunately the various deadlines for Iran to respond to Western entreaties to play nice on nukes have been ignored and there is little reason to believe that the administration takes this most recent date to be a signal for action. The administration’s passion for “engagement”—despite the fact that the Iranians have shown they have no interest in diplomacy other than as an effective delaying tactic—and the growing conviction among some elites that we can live with an Iranian bomb have resulted in the current stalemate that works well for Tehran.

Defenders of appeasement of Iran have told us that a strong stand will only hurt the dissidents and spur the regime to greater violence. But as recent events illustrate, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have no compunction about unleashing their thugs on their own people. With so many willing to risk death to oppose the Islamist tyranny, now is the time for Barack Obama to find both his courage and his voice. If instead he continues the current path of engagement, it will inevitably mean a delay of tough sanctions and a sign that the world doesn’t care about the blood shed in the streets of Iran. Such a double betrayal would be an especially inauspicious way to begin his second year in office.

The unstable situation in Iran is clearly escalating, as the Islamist regime has not been able to intimidate anti-government protesters, who keep returning to the streets despite the state-sponsored violence intended to keep them quiet. Yesterday, 10 dissidents were reportedly killed, including the nephew of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was reportedly assassinated outside his home. Yet, despite the attempts to repress dissent, demonstrations and clashes with government forces have apparently spread from Tehran to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil, and Orumieh.

Yet while the people of Iran are taking to the streets to show they want to oust the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad despotism, we must ask where is the voice of the leader of the free world? President Barack Obama is a noted orator but, as has been the case throughout his first year in office, his rhetorical talents have not been put to use when it comes to Iran. Obsessed with the notion that engagement with Iran’s tyrants can resolve our concerns over their drive for nuclear weapons as well as Tehran’s support for terrorist groups elsewhere in the region, Obama has consistently downplayed America’s concerns about the need for change in Iran.

Yes, the White House did issue a statement about events in Iran and rightly condemned the “unjust oppression” being conducted there. But if the administration thinks a mere quote attributed to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer is enough, they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.

What then can the West do? Last week the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post suggested that “to signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.” It’s a modest suggestion that unfortunately was not taken up by any nation, not even the United States.

Even better would be a personal statement of outrage that came directly from the mouth of Barack Obama,  followed by an announcement that on January 1, the West will begin to enact the “crippling” sanctions they have occasionally threatened throughout the year. Unfortunately the various deadlines for Iran to respond to Western entreaties to play nice on nukes have been ignored and there is little reason to believe that the administration takes this most recent date to be a signal for action. The administration’s passion for “engagement”—despite the fact that the Iranians have shown they have no interest in diplomacy other than as an effective delaying tactic—and the growing conviction among some elites that we can live with an Iranian bomb have resulted in the current stalemate that works well for Tehran.

Defenders of appeasement of Iran have told us that a strong stand will only hurt the dissidents and spur the regime to greater violence. But as recent events illustrate, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have no compunction about unleashing their thugs on their own people. With so many willing to risk death to oppose the Islamist tyranny, now is the time for Barack Obama to find both his courage and his voice. If instead he continues the current path of engagement, it will inevitably mean a delay of tough sanctions and a sign that the world doesn’t care about the blood shed in the streets of Iran. Such a double betrayal would be an especially inauspicious way to begin his second year in office.

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