For the past week, thousands and thousands of Iranians have been
marching in the streets of their country to protest an election that was
almost certainly stolen by the country's incumbent president, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, with the help of the country's ruling clerics.
It has been, at the same time, a wonderful and terrible event
wonderful to see people in an oppressive nation standing up for their
freedom to choose their own leaders, but terrible because of the
violence, arrests and more that have been thrown back at them by the
regime. At this point it remains very uncertain how or when this is
going to end only that the country will never be the same.
I've been hearing for years about the large class of young, tech-savvy
people in Iran who wanted no part of crazy people in charge. I remember
hearing at a blogging conference at Harvard in early 2004 that Farsi at
the time was the second most-popular language in the Blogosphere,
trailing only English. In the protests, these people have emerged in a
big way, using Twitter as the communications method of choice for both
protest organization and getting the news out worldwide.
Even though the cable news channels all but ignored the story on the
initial weekend, many in the U.S. have been following the story with
rapt attention, with both Twitter and the blogs of Andrew Sullivan and
Michael J. Totten in particular providing a fascinating window into this
complicated, fast-moving story. This has helped fill a vacuum by the
regime's banning of Western journalists from the country.
But some in the U.S. have very much gotten caught up in what the Iranian
clashes mean for us, as opposed to them. For instance, there's been much
obsession with President Obama's reaction to the protests. Obama, in
multiple statements, has ripped the regime for its crackdown on the
demonstrators, calling on the government to "stop all violent and unjust
actions against its own people." On another occasion, Obama evoked
Martin Luther King in stating that "the arc of the moral universe . . .
is long, but it bends towards justice.
What Obama has not done is pledge unconditional support for the
demonstrators, commit the U.S. to installing them, or threaten military
action. Which some on the right have found quite objectionable.
Several of the neocon persuasion have written columns chastising Obama
for failing to back the rebellion. Others have gone farther, arguing
that Obama, by his inaction, effectively wants the regime to win. Others
in the blogosphere and cable news have argued either that Obama's speech
in Cairo earlier this month inspired the protesters, or perhaps
emboldened the regime to crack down on them.
Please. First of all, it's not all about Obama, or America. Secondly,
Obama's stated reason for refusing to forcefully back the resistance is
because doing so wouldn't help the rebellion one iota, and would more
likely set it back. Ahmadinejad and the clerics would turn around and
claim the rebels were a tool of the Western imperialists and evoke the
U.S.-backed 1953 coup which they are doing anyway and a U.S.
government endorsement of the effort would only embolden them. Indeed,
the demonstrators have themselves stated that they don't need U.S. help,
while National Iranian American Council said this week that it backs
I'm working on the assumption that the president is supportive of the
opposition in Iran, but knows that speaking out on their behalf will
hurt more than help them. After all, if the president's stated goal is
to reopen diplomatic relations with Iran, wouldn't a more liberal and
pro-Western government make such a thing easier to do?
The situation in Iran remains very uncertain, and not only because of
the reality that regardless of who ends up on top, Iran's regime will
retain some level of Islamic character, and its nuclear program will
probably not be abandoned. At any rate, its their revolution, not ours,
and its their time to bravely oppose one of the world's worst regimes.