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Obama's Smart Approach to the Iranian Elections
Submitted by Zaid Jilani on 19 June 2009 - 12:51pm
The Obama Administration's response to the ongoing Iranian election crisis has been remarkably intelligent.
Rather than make blustering statements in support of one side or the other, President Obama has urged restraint and caution when it comes to US commentary on what is going on in Iran. In a CNBC interview, he told the press,
It is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling - the US president, meddling in Iranian elections.
Obama shows himself to be a wise student of history by taking this stance. The last time the Iranian people had a functioning democracy was under Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Following efforts by Mossadegh to nationalize the oil industry, American and British intelligence agencies organized astroturf protests and eventually had him overthrown. What followed was the brutal reign of the autocratic Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Most Iranians view the Shah's reign as a very dark period of their history, and they harbor resentment against the American government for organizing the coup that toppled their last truly freely and democratically elected government. Which is why if the United States chose to intervene in this election on behalf of the protesters, hard-liners within Iran could easily portray the student movement as nothing more than the sort of demonstrations that acted as tools of the Western governments to overthrow Iran's government in 1953. This would ultimately undermine the pro-democracy movement within Iran and turn public support towards Iranian reactionaries.
While Obama has faced fierce criticism from many of his political opponents over his approach to Iran, people who actually work in the field of democracy and human rights have praised him.
Journalist Spencer Ackerman notes
Amazingly, someone who doesn’t think Obama’s statements about Iran have been detrimental to democratic impulses is Jack Duvall, the president of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a non-governmental organization which provides tools and training for political reformers and democracy activists around the world. Duvall told me that Obama’s statement yesterday about Iran was “extraordinary,” in a way that I hadn’t considered.
“He shifted the frame,” Duvall noted, “from [the question of] ‘were the elections fradulent’ to ‘what’s the responsibility of the Iranian government for peaceful dissent?’ That lays down a marker going forward: this is how we’re assessing you. He doesn’t have to send that in a giant shell shot out of a Howitzer, but it’s a matter of record.”
Additionally, Morehead Kennedy, who was actually a hostage in the 1979 Embassy takeover, told the Daily Beast in an interview,
It's very counterproductive to interfere in someone else's election. I think the best thing the U.S. can do is shut up."
Lastly, Iranians themselves seem to agree. Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian Nobel Laureate,told the Washington Post,
What happens in Iran regards the people themselves, and it is up to them to make their voices heard. I respect his comments on all the events in Iran, but I think it is sufficient."
Although President Obama's approach to foreign policy has been far from perfect, on the subject of the Iranian election crisis, he has hit a home-run. If you support his response, please sign our petition here: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/election.