Tough Line to Walk on Ahmadi

Though Robert Gibbs’ initial statement that Ahmedinejad is the “elected leader of Iran” was definitely a stupid and careless remark (and his correction and rephrasing necessary even if a bit late), I think it’s careful to recognize just how little wiggle-room the Obama administration has on public pronouncements about Iran. It’s easy to bemoan Obama’s lack of a more assertive position as capitulation or the dreaded “a” word (appeasement) if you see the world in black and white and lack any sense of history (hi neocons!).

What Ahmedinejad and his thugs want more than anything is for the U.S. to take a stand on the side of the Green Wave. That would allow comparisons to 1953 — however fallacious — and could reduce support for the resistance among Iranians on the fence, dissatisfied with the illegitimacy of the current regime, but wary of anything tainted by Western involvement. The Obama Administration’s response thus far has been impeccable — express solidarity with the will of the Iranian people while refraining as much as possible from giving the regime anything to use as a marker of Western interference. Obama gets that any sort of change has to come from the Iranian people — American influence, even if only rhetorical, will end up hurting the nascent resistence.

As icky as it may feel to express neutrality in the face of brutality, repression, and an illegitimate coup, tossing on the cowboy boots and brandishing our big swinging Amerkan dick will hurt a lot more than it helps. The challenge is to remain as neutral as possible, to couch every pronouncement in terms that refer to the will of the Iranian people. Hopefully the administration will continue to use the kind of language Gibbs employed when he corrected himself:

“I denoted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was the elected leader of Iran. I would say that’s not for me to pass judgment on,” Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One. “He’s been inaugurated. That’s a fact. Whether any election was fair, obviously the Iranian people still have questions about that, and we’ll let them decide about that.”

And, as Andrew notes, they have. Remember, the 1979 revolution took over a year to play out. This thing is not over, the regime has lost all credibility to a pretty good chunk of the population, and the rifts among clerics and between clerics and Ahmadi are still there. Let’s cool down and let events play out while remaining noncommittal about the legitimacy of Ahmadi’s reelection — neutrality delivers the same message as heated rhetoric without the potential costs to the freedom of the Iranian people.

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~ by Benji on 5 August 2009.

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