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Re: The Bright Side

Max, I am somewhat doubtful that the Obama administration will be inclined to drop its fixation on “engagement” — at least not without some serious pressure from those who would rather not legitimize the mullah’s handiwork. You write: “Even the Obama administration will be hard put to enter into serious negotiations with Ahmadinejad, especially when his scant credibility has been undermined by these utterly fraudulent elections and the resulting street protests.” Perhaps, but the initial signals from the Obama administration over the weekend suggest that they aren’t persuaded to alter their approach (which would entail carrying on with business as “normal.”)

The initial indication from an unnamed official, via the  New York Times, was that the administration isn’t inclined to let brutality, fraud, violence and illegitimacy stand in the way of negotiating with the Iranian regime. Joe Biden confirmed on Sunday that there is nothing Iran could do which would dissuade the U.S. from conferring the mantle of legitimacy on Ahmadinejad:

The Obama administration is determined to press on with efforts to engage the Iranian government, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other officials said over the weekend, despite misgivings about irregularities in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.“The decision has been made to talk” regardless of the election outcome, Mr. Biden said Sunday.

Sen. Joe Lieberman has other ideas and put out a statement which reads:

We as Americans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with people when they are denied their rights by repressive regimes. When elections are stolen, our government should protest. When peaceful demonstrators are beaten and silenced, we have a duty to raise our voices on their behalf. We must tell the Iranian people that we are on their side.

For this reason, I would hope that President Obama and members of both parties in Congress will speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now, and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support.

And there are plenty of actions the administration might take, as Bill Kristol pointed out:

For example: Statements of support for fair elections and peaceful protest; personal outreach to endangered opposition leaders (if not by us, then by Europeans–though how dramatic would it be if Sec. Clinton placed a phone call to Mousavi to make sure he’s not under arrest and is free to talk?); an immediate infusion of funds to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda service, which provides invaluable information from and within Iran; technical assistance against the regime’s attempts to block websites, shut down cell phone networks, etc.; suspension (by the Europeans) of various cultural and commercial contacts; pressure through international organizations on behalf of the Iranian people.

At the very least, some are urging the administration to resist the urge to put its stamp of approval on Ahmadinejad by continuing to plunge ahead with “engagement,” as if nothing has changed. Mitt Romney on This Week suggests some more forthright talk:

Well, first of all, the comments by the president last week that there was a robust debate going on in Iran was obviously entirely wrong-headed. What has occurred is that the election is a fraud, the results are inaccurate, and you’re seeing a brutal repression of the people as they protest. The president ought to come out and state exactly those words, indicate that this has been a terribly managed decision by the autocratic regime in Iran.

Rep. Mike Pence had similar thoughts. And the Washington Post editors implore the administration to at least “make clear that a government wanting to be taken seriously by the international community should not use violence against peaceful protests, arrest opposition leaders and their followers, jam radio broadcasts, or block Internet use.”

All of these are valuable suggestions and realistic responses which the administration could offer. For now the administration is trying to lay low. (As the Washington Post dryly notes,  “The administration has remained as quiet as possible during the Iranian election season and, more recently, in the days of street protests since Friday’s vote.”) It is in quite a quandary. The president has been falling over himself to convey respect for the Iranian regime and shy from any harsh words that might give offense. It is critical to his game plan of ingratiating himself and searching for some new relationship with a regime that has given no sign of willingness to change. How can the charade continue any longer? It seems inconceivable — so perhaps the Obama administration can be convinced to stop trying.

Those looking for any excuse to defend Obama’s muteness argue that it’s better that we “stay out of it.” But there is no staying out of it. We either carry on with business as usual, throwing the protesters under the Obama hope-n-change bus, or we employ an array of diplomatic and rhetorical tools to make clear our unwillingness to countenance thuggery. (The protestors seem quite anxious about Obama’s willingness to recognize the legitimacy of the election.) Resisting the urge to confer legitimacy on Ahmadinejad obviously won’t further the aim of “rapproachment” with the current regime, but that was a pipe dream all along. Perhaps it’s time for hope and change.

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