That’s the take-away line from President Obama on Iran. That’s not going to do it. One can imagine hundreds (if not thousands) of protesters in Iran asking “Where is the U.S.? What does Obama think?”
Well, he thinks we shouldn’t meddle. He thinks that “we respect Iranian sovereignty.” He thinks that the violence there is “troubling.”
Organic protests of reform rise up too infrequently in tyrannies and someone needs to show these students and these protesters that someone is on their side, that someone gives a damn about them. Our administration’s talk of continuing to press for open dialogue with the leaders of Iran was not and is not appropriate right now.
As Vaclav Havel said yesterday, “Expressions of solidarity with those who are defending human rights, with students and others, are important.” Yes they are, and to reassert respect — that’s the word the president used, “respect” — for Iran’s sovereignty at a time of a stolen and fraudulent election, with brutality on the streets being committed against those demonstrating against the fraudulent election, in a regime that is the lead sponsor of terror in the Middle East, that thwarts weapons inspections as it attempts to nuclearize itself, and speaks of a world without Israel or America . . . well, respect for its sovereignty it the last thing the U.S. should be standing for.
The U.S. can stand with democratic reformers or with brutal thugs in any given country. It can give hope or take it. It cannot do both. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: In times of great moral crisis, we should not be maintaining our neutrality. Diplomacy is one thing, freedom is another — and for all of us who have wanted non-military inspired freedom to take root in Iran, that moment may be upon us (I emphasize the word “may”) and standing by our principle of neutrality;and respect for that which we hope to end is the opposite of what we should be doing. Freedom has always had its limits, but so too should diplomacy.
Mossavi may not be Thomas Jefferson, but as Michael Ledeen keenly pointed out: “He is a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him.” And in any event, he is the “not-Ahmadinejad.”
This may not be Iran’s Tiananmen moment, but it sure is ours.
– Seth Leibsohn is a fellow of the Claremont Institute.