Commentary Magazine


Topic: Persian New Year

On Iran Rights, Obama Finally Echoes Bush

As Alana noted, Barack Obama’s Nowruz message to Iran has evolved from being solicitous of the Iranian regime to supportive of the Iranian people. Good for him, I guess, in the way that it’s always considered “fair” to say “good for him” after Obama weakly imitates the right move too late.  But it should not be forgotten that this approach is precisely what George W. Bush used in 2008 as the first American president to extend Nowruz greetings directly to Iran. Bush said:

First of all, the United States of America wishes everybody a Happy New Year. Secondly, [the] people of the United States respect the great Iranian history and culture. We have great respect for the people, and we’ve got problems with the government. We have problems with the government because the government has been threatening, has made decisions that –and statements that — really have isolated the people of Iran.

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As Alana noted, Barack Obama’s Nowruz message to Iran has evolved from being solicitous of the Iranian regime to supportive of the Iranian people. Good for him, I guess, in the way that it’s always considered “fair” to say “good for him” after Obama weakly imitates the right move too late.  But it should not be forgotten that this approach is precisely what George W. Bush used in 2008 as the first American president to extend Nowruz greetings directly to Iran. Bush said:

First of all, the United States of America wishes everybody a Happy New Year. Secondly, [the] people of the United States respect the great Iranian history and culture. We have great respect for the people, and we’ve got problems with the government. We have problems with the government because the government has been threatening, has made decisions that –and statements that — really have isolated the people of Iran.

My message to the young in Iran is that someday your society will be free. And it will be a blessed time for you. My message to the women of Iran is that the women of America share your deep desire for children to grow up in a hopeful society and to live in peace.

The cowboy bellicosity of that man! Reaching out to oppressed Iranian women and children! Not to worry, one year later Obama, was sure to put the focus on the true sufferers — the disrespected mullahs:

[I]n this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders.  We have serious differences that have grown over time.  My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community.  This process will not be advanced by threats.  We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.

Lest the mullahs doubted that respect, he adorned his message with Googleable Persian quotes. (The Obama speech writing team must retain a full-time foreign language phoneticist.)

Four months later, protecting a rigged election, the objects of Obama’s respect killed, jailed, and raped the objects of Bush’s concern in the streets of Tehran. Three years later, we’ve got an Iranian terror plot in D.C., a terrorist campaign against Israelis around the globe, a Hezbollah incursion into Latin America, a newly revealed enrichment facility, and a few months left on the Iranian nuclear countdown clock. That is some season of new beginnings.

Who among the vaunted liberal-smart power-realist foreign policy set will acknowledge that Obama spent years ignoring the Iranian people in favor of Iranian theocrats only to return—too late, naturally—to Bush’s approach?

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Obama’s Slams Iran’s “Electronic Curtain”

President Obama’s annual message commemorating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is packed with sharp condemnation of the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, marking the second year in a row that he’s has made human rights the focus of his Nowruz address. It’s a clear contrast to his 2009 and 2010 messages, which were intended to extend an olive branch to the regime, and glossed over its oppressiveness and belligerence.

This year, Obama also specifically called out Iran on its nuclear program, though he framed his criticism carefully:

“The Iranian government has a responsibility to respect its rights. Just as it has a responsibility to meet its responsibilities in regard to its nuclear program. Let me say again if the Iranian government pursues a responsible path it will be welcome once more among the community of nations and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper.”

He also slammed the regime’s censorship and control of the Internet, describing it as an “electronic curtain,” in an allusion to the Iron Curtain:

“Yet increasingly the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want. Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power. And in recent weeks the Internet restrictions have become so severe that Iranians can’t communicate freely with their loved ones in Iran or beyond its borders. Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them. Because of the actions of the Iranian regime, an electronic curtain has fallen around Iran, a barrier that stops the free flow of information and ideas into the country and denies the rest of the world the benefit of interacting with the Iranian people who have so much to offer.”

Obama finally spoke about his administration’s “virtual embassy” for Iranians, a website intended to reach out to the Iranian people directly.

As frustrating and naïve as the administration’s comments on Iran still are at times, it really is remarkable how much worse it was back in 2009. Watching how the president’s Nowruz messages have changed over the past four years highlights how far he’s backed away from his misguided outreach to the regime. The recent focus on human rights and the candid assessment of the regime’s repression is very encouraging – especially when framed in terms of internet freedom – and hopefully signals that the administration will do more to assist Iranian dissidents on this front.

President Obama’s annual message commemorating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is packed with sharp condemnation of the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, marking the second year in a row that he’s has made human rights the focus of his Nowruz address. It’s a clear contrast to his 2009 and 2010 messages, which were intended to extend an olive branch to the regime, and glossed over its oppressiveness and belligerence.

This year, Obama also specifically called out Iran on its nuclear program, though he framed his criticism carefully:

“The Iranian government has a responsibility to respect its rights. Just as it has a responsibility to meet its responsibilities in regard to its nuclear program. Let me say again if the Iranian government pursues a responsible path it will be welcome once more among the community of nations and the Iranian people will have greater opportunities to prosper.”

He also slammed the regime’s censorship and control of the Internet, describing it as an “electronic curtain,” in an allusion to the Iron Curtain:

“Yet increasingly the Iranian people are denied the basic freedom to access the information that they want. Instead, the Iranian government jams satellite signals to shut down television and radio broadcasts. It censors the internet to control what the Iranian people can see and say. The regime monitors computers and cell phones for the sole purpose of protecting its own power. And in recent weeks the Internet restrictions have become so severe that Iranians can’t communicate freely with their loved ones in Iran or beyond its borders. Technologies that should empower citizens are being used to repress them. Because of the actions of the Iranian regime, an electronic curtain has fallen around Iran, a barrier that stops the free flow of information and ideas into the country and denies the rest of the world the benefit of interacting with the Iranian people who have so much to offer.”

Obama finally spoke about his administration’s “virtual embassy” for Iranians, a website intended to reach out to the Iranian people directly.

As frustrating and naïve as the administration’s comments on Iran still are at times, it really is remarkable how much worse it was back in 2009. Watching how the president’s Nowruz messages have changed over the past four years highlights how far he’s backed away from his misguided outreach to the regime. The recent focus on human rights and the candid assessment of the regime’s repression is very encouraging – especially when framed in terms of internet freedom – and hopefully signals that the administration will do more to assist Iranian dissidents on this front.

Read Less