The Corner

Perception and Reality in Iran

It isn’t exactly news that Obama’s strategy of constructive engagement in Iran is failing because of the utter lack of good faith on the other side. The mullahs are happy to take advantage of Obama’s nice-guy approach, because it gives them the one thing they most desperately want: precious time to pursue their nuclear program and amplify their influence in the region, free from pesky American pressure.

This report, however, touches on a more specific failing of the administration:

Iranian leaders are turning inward and rejecting engagement with the West as they blame outsiders for street protests, even as President Barack Obama’s administration pushes for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

The leadership has denounced foreign governments as “enemies” for encouraging demonstrations over last month’s presidential election and plans to put a British Embassy employee on trial for inciting the protests, which were violently suppressed. A French student also has been detained on spy.

When Obama’s supporters urged him to show restraint and stay on the sidelines during the recent Iranian uprising, one of their main arguments was that any forceful statements or material support America gave in aid of the protests would help the regime tar the protestors as American dupes and foreign puppets. But of course, the mullahs were always going to make that argument anyway, with a significant amount of credibility. The question, then, is how much the regime’s propaganda efforts would have been helped if their charges of American meddling would have been true. And would this harm have been outweighed by the benefits if America came out in full-throated support of the dissidents? To me the answer seems far from clear, despite the legions of Obama apologists who are vehemently committed to the creed that the best way we can help democracy in Iran is to avoid standing up for it, whatever we do.

Absent any conclusive evidence that this passive approach is tactically sound, though, it seems quite indefensible. Shouldn’t we want the leader of the free world to err on the side of standing firmly and openly with the brave souls who fill the streets clamoring for liberty and democracy, and against the tyrants who send bullets and soldiers to crush any hope of reform?

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