I must say, Mr. Saunders reads a lot into short answers to short questions in an interview here. He has a long disquisition on “encouragement,” and “support,” which seems to me beside the point. The issue I thought I was addressing was that Obama was saying he didn’t want to be accused of “meddling,” or “encouraging” the protests. I just pointed out that we hadn’t encouraged the protests at all, but that it was proper for us to give the dissidents moral and political support by condemning the regime’s brutality and endorsing the people’s call for freedom.
Mr. Saunders says he wants to see freedom in Iran, which I welcome. I don’t for a moment doubt his patriotism, it’s just that he and I have disagreements about what a patriot should do. He says, cool it for a while. Don’t get involved. I want to support the Iranian people in their pitched battle against an evil regime that wants to treat us as it is treating its own people. He says he’d be willing to reconsider if the crisis gets worse. How much worse does it have to be? Is he waiting for thousands of murders and tens of thousands of wounded? Yet he’s upset with me for calling him out.
On Mousavi, I have argued that anyone who looks at the statements he made during the “election campaign” and, above all, the role and the statements of his wife, will see that he has called for radical changes, and in effect for the end of the Islamic Republic as we know it. When they both say that it is fine with them if Iranian women choose not to wear the hijab, that’s the end of Khomeini’s state. On terror and the atomic bomb: I do believe that Mousavi would end Iranian support for organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic Jihad. His followers have apparently been beaten and killed by non-Iranian Arabs, and they don’t appreciate it. There have been numerous demonstrations for many years featuring banners that say “don’t talk to us about Palestinians, talk to us about us.” I believe Mousavi is with them. I think that’s what he means when he talks about Iran playing a peaceful role in international affairs, and when he criticizes Ahmadinejad’s foreign and nuclear policies. I don’t claim to know what he would do about the nuclear-weapons project, and I don’t think anyone over here does either. But it would not surprise me if he wanted to cancel it.
I have written repeatedly that, whoever or whatever Mousavi was a couple of weeks ago, today he finds himself the leader of a mass democratic movement aimed at the heart of the Islamic Republic. I’ve been saying for years that the Iranian people want to be free, and that we should help them. That assessment looks pretty good today. Yet no president since 1979 has seen fit to do anything to help them. Obama is just like Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and the two Bushes; he’s trying to make a deal. I think it’s embarrassing, while Mr. Saunders applauds it.
Mr. Saunders says that if Obama were to say that “Iran must be free,” that single statement would “(make) it likely that . . . many others will die . . .” As if the thugs around Khamenei needed an open statement from our president to kill as many of their enemies as they can. Obama still hasn’t said it, and the murder goes on apace. And Khamenei accuses us of fomenting the insurrection anyway. Churchill said of Chamberlain that he had a choice between war and dishonor, chose dishonor, and would get the war anyway. So it is with Obama and Khamenei, to whom the president apparently sent a warm note on the eve of the electoral circus.
I have heard arguments like Mr. Saunders’s for many years, about many places. I heard it about the Soviet Union, when we in the Reagan administration were warned that open support for Soviet dissidents would make their lot even more miserable. Now we know that the “evil empire” speech and the practice of making American diplomats constantly tell their Soviet counterparts that political prisoners must be released, encouraged the dissidents and sapped the morale of the regime. The same argument was made to Franklin Roosevelt about speaking out on behalf of the European Jews, and it is being made today to President Obama about the threats to the Jewish community in Venezuela, and about actively supporting the people of Darfur against the regime in Khartoum, and denouncing the evil regime in North Korea, not just for its bombs and missiles, but for the mass murder of its own people. I’m for doing the same with Iran. I don’t think we have to wait for “the crisis (to) significantly escalate,” as Mr. Saunders puts it. I think it’s clear enough right now.
Finally, he thinks that if Obama says “Iran must be free,” as I proposed, it would “discredit the United States” and set back Iranians’ chances for a better future. I think he’s got it backwards. I think our president’s failure to say “Iran must be free” is what discredits him — most Americans surely believe Iran must be free — and I think the Iranians fighting for their freedom would welcome those words.