Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Week Later, Obama Still Mum on Iran. Why?

A full week after Iran's clearly fraudulent "election", President Obama remains conspicuously reticent on the subject; no forceful denunciation of the Mullahs and no verbal support for the protesters.

As I wrote below, the President famously campaigned on the slogan "Hope and Change", yet as the Iranian people flood the streets, literally risking their lives in a bid for "Hope and Change", the President does not even feel compelled to pay them lip service.

If the President of the United States will not champion democracy, who will?

Yesterday, Iran's "Supreme Leader", Ayatollah Ali Khamenei clearly stated what is to come:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's supreme leader sought Friday to end the deepening crisis over disputed elections with one decisive speech—declaring the vote will almost certainly stand and sternly warning opposition leaders to end street protests or be held responsible for any "bloodshed and chaos" to come.

But a first sign of possible resistance came shortly after nightfall in Tehran. Cries of "Death to the dictator!" and "Allahu akbar"—"God is great"—rang from rooftops in what's become a nightly ritual of opposition unity.

The sharp line drawn by Iran's most powerful figure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a gambit that pushes Iran's opposition to a pivotal moment: either back down or risk a crushing response from police and the forces at Khamenei's disposal—the powerful Revolutionary Guard and their volunteer citizen militia, the Basiji.

Also yesterday, the President reiterated his "position":

WASHINGTON — With Iran on a razor’s edge after a week of swelling protests, the Obama administration has fended off pressure from both parties to respond more forcefully to the disputed election there. But if Iranian authorities carry out their latest threat of a more sweeping crackdown, the White House would reconsider its carefully calibrated tone, officials said Friday.

Administration officials said events this weekend in Tehran — when demonstrators plan to rally in defiance of the authorities — would be a telling indicator of whether President Obama would join European leaders and lawmakers on Capitol Hill in more harshly condemning the tactics of the Iranian government.

Congressional Republicans and conservative foreign-policy experts stepped up their pressure on the White House to take a firmer stand in support of the demonstrators, even as Mr. Obama worked to keep Democrats from breaking openly with him on Iran.

For now, administration officials said they had not been swayed by criticism that Mr. Obama’s refusal to speak out more had broken faith with democracy advocates in Tehran, or by the fact that European leaders and even members of his own party in Congress had responded more assertively than he had.

In an interview with CBS News on Friday, Mr. Obama spoke cautiously about warnings by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of bloodshed if the protests go on. “I’m very concerned, based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made, that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching,” Mr. Obama said.

First, when European leaders, such as Germany and France and the U.S. Congress are out in front of the President in a foreign policy crisis such as this, denouncing the Iranian thugs and defending democracy, does this not signal a lack of leadership?

Secondly, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is already whining about foreign "interference" :

TEHRAN, June 19 (Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned on Friday what he said was interference by "some foreign powers" in
this month's election in the country.

"After street protests, some foreign powers ... started to interfere in Iran's state matters by questioning the result of the vote. They do not know the Iranian nation. I strongly condemn such interference," Khamenei said.

"American officials' remarks about human rights and limitations on people are not acceptable because they have no idea about human rights after what they have done in Afghanistan and Iraq and other parts of the world. We do not need advice over human rights from them," he added.

In view of this, why won't the President, at the very least, issue statements of condemnation of Iran's thuggish tactics and verbally support the protesters who are risking their lives? After all, since we're already being blamed for meddling, the President should at least state the traditional American position in favor of democracy. Is he trying to position himself to "deal" with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, once the uprising has been quelled?

If that is the case, it would represent an unspeakable level of cynicism and wanton disregard for the lives of the Iranian people who simply want their freedom.

Alas, it's already too late; the die has been cast. Waiting to see "if Iranian authorities carry out their latest threat of a more sweeping crackdown", in the words of the White House, to "reconsider its carefully calibrated tone" is unacceptable and vacuous. The "bully pulpit" from which presidents once spoke in support of the oppressed, from which presidents once spoke in favor of the American values of liberty and democracy, stands vacant at a pivotal time in history.

President Obama's silence is deafening, and those Iranians who may well die in their struggle for "Hope and Change" deserved more from the Leader of the Free World. They deserved, at least, his moral support, and all they received was equivocation.

No comments: