Is the Obama Administration’s Response to Iran the Right One?

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I think the administration has responded to the protests in Iran almost perfectly. It is the people of Iran crying out for change, and they are the only people who can bring on that change. Any response on the part of the US that could be deemed interference (a common theme in US foreign policy) would only reinforce the hard liners.

Fareed Zakaria has a good description of the debate taking place and provides some perspective on the issue:

Neoconservatives are already denouncing Obama for his caution. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary under Donald Rumsfeld, has compared the White House reaction to Ronald Reagan’s reticence when Ferdinand Marcos’s regime was challenged on the streets of the Philippines. But the analogy makes no sense. Marcos was an American client—he was in power courtesy of the United States. The protesters were asking Reagan to withdraw that support and let events take their course. Iran, on the other hand, is an independent, fiercely nationalistic country with a history of British and U.S. interference in its politics and economy. Britain essentially took over Iran’s oil industry in 1901; the United States engineered a coup in 1953. The chief criticism of the Shah of Iran was that he was an American puppet. As in many such countries—India is another example—this anti-imperial sentiment is quite powerful. Iranians know this is their fight, and they want it to be.

The appropriate analogy is actually to George H.W. Bush’s cautious response to the cracks that started to appear in the Soviet empire in 1989. Then, as now with Obama, many neoconservatives were livid with Bush for not loudly supporting those trying to topple the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. But Bush’s concern was that the situation was fragile. Those regimes could easily crack down on the protesters, and the Soviet Union could send in its own tanks. Handing the communists reasons to react forcefully would help no one, least of all the protesters. Bush’s basic approach was correct and has been vindicated by history.

I can only hope that the US continues down the path Obama has set out in handling the relationship with the Iranian regime and the Iranian people.

1 Comment

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