Monday, June 22, 2009

How NOT to help the protesters in Iran

Republicans are nothing but loony to snipe at Obama for his low-keyed response to the crisis in Iran. Just when hardliners in Tehran are doing their best to link the opposition protesters with us, our GOP bigmouths are pushing our president to play right into their hands.

Obama's response is correct. "The last thing that I want to do," he said Sunday, "is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States."

But Republicans, again, don't get it. Either that or they're cynically pretending not to get it, out to score points with a public that itself, perhaps, still doesn't get it.

Here's Lindsay Graham: "The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it. He's been timid and passive more than I would like."

Lead the free world? How does a US leader do that vis-a-vis what's happening in Iran now? Iran is not quite part of what we call "the free world."

Those who think the US should get noisier about the current impasse don't understand to what extent the theocracy in Iran feeds off our image as an Evil Empire only interested in manipulating less powerful countries. When Obama, some months ago, made a friendly gesture to Iran in the form of holiday greetings, it was exactly what the leadership there didn't want. It undermines their whole game.

What many Americans--apparently many Republican senators among them--forget is that millions of Iranians voted for Ahmadinejad and are more than willing to see the protesters as corrupt stooges of the West, making it all the easier for them to beat and arrest them. For a US president to come out solidly in favor of the protesters is to help the Iranian hardliners cement that identity: protest equals American influence equals "the Great Satan."

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley: "If America stands for democracy and all of these demonstrations are going on in Tehran and other cities over there, and people don't think that we really care, then obviously they're going to question, do we really believe in our principles?"

It is quite the reverse. To stand for democracy, in this instance, is to let the people of Iran stand up on their own. We must try to criticize the Iranian regime in balanced tones and do nothing that would give it the excuse it seeks to paint the protesters as un-Iranian, as ideological puppets of our own ideals.

How long will it be before Americans realize that the world is not an appendage of our own political process? You'd think we'd have learned our lessons already. At present America helps the Iranian protesters precisely by not rallying loudly to their side.

No comments: