President Obama, in explaining his approach to what is happening in Iran, does what comes most naturally to him: taking a (subtle) swipe at past American actions to justify his stand today.
According to Obama, given our history in Iran — he has in mind the CIA-assisted overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq that occurred more than a half-century ago — we should not be seen as “meddling” in Iranian affairs.
I understand President Obama is making a judgment, in the midst of rapidly unfolding events, on what posture the U.S. ought to take vis-à-vis the Iranian elections. He thinks downplaying the rhetoric will be more effective than speaking in clear moral terms, as Reagan and others have done. That’s an understandable approach to take, though I differ with it. But in explaining his approach, we are once again seeing an Obama tropism: the tendency to highlight American failures in the past in order to (he thinks) advance American interests, or at least Obama’s interests, today.
But by Obama’s logic the United States, a slave-holding nation in the 19th century, cannot criticize other nations for human rights violations — after all, that would be “meddlesome.” To be consistent in his line of argument, we should probably remain silent on genocide in Sudan, or anywhere else for that matter. The United States was founded more than two centuries ago; there are plenty of mistakes we have made along the way that Obama can zero in on. Do they disqualify us from taking a stand, and taking sides, in the here and now? And certainly Obama should refrain from dictating to Israel what it must do with the settlements. How is that not “meddling” — and meddling with the policies of a nation that is light years more responsible and moral than the Iranian regime? Yet Obama is curiously eager to instruct Israel even as he is reticent to do so with Iran.
I would add one other thing: “meddling’ is an interesting way to describe what we’re talking about. What is at issue is not setting up voting booths or counting hanging chads in Tehran. What is being debated is whether the president of the United States should provide moral support for the forces of liberation in Iran when they are threatening to be crushed; and whether he should speak out against an election that appears to have been rigged and illegitimate. In his Wall Street Journal column today, Bret Stephens writes this:
Here’s a recent comment from one Iranian demonstrator posted on the Web site of the National Iranian American Council. “WE NEED HELP, WE NEED SUPPORT,” this demonstrator wrote. “Time is not on our side. . . . The most essential need of young Iranians is to be recognized by US government. They need them not to accept the results and do not talk to government as an official, approved one.”
Reasonable people can differ on what approach to take. Perhaps the Iranian regime will be so appreciative to Obama for his restraint that they will make concessions to him when it comes to their pursuit of nuclear weapons. We shall see. But the president should be careful to justify his position by making arguments that fall apart under scrutiny. And during his next press availability, perhaps Obama can explain to us when speaking out against the human rights abuse of a government against its own people is not “meddling.”