In his own words, Obama has told us that he strives for “ruthless pragmatism.” We can see that very clearly in his response to the plight of the Iranian people.
The Iranians put their lives at risk in hopes of achieving freedom from their oppressive regime, but Obama offers cold comfort. Seeking support from their friends in America, the Iranians cry out for justice in English. But Obama is ostensibly unmoved.
At first glance, Obama’s apparent indifference is perplexing. But Obama’s commitment to ruthless pragmatism explains why he has been so circumspect with regard to the struggles of the Iranian people.
In an article published in the Washington Post, Robert Kagan makes some very poignant observations. It’s an excellent piece, and I urge you to read it in its entirety. Here is the condensed version of his argument:
Obama’s supporters railed against the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda” and insisted on a new “realism.” Now Obamaphiles find themselves rooting for freedom and democracy in Iran. But the upheaval in Iran is not good news for Obama. It is an unwelcome complication in his strategy of engaging with the Iranian regime.
One of the great innovations in Obama’s approach to Iran was supposed to be its embrace of the regime’s legitimacy. The idea was that the U.S. could not expect the Iranian regime to negotiate on its nuclear program so long as Washington gave any encouragement to the government’s opponents. This was widely applauded as a realist departure from Bush’s “idealism.”
It would be surprising if Obama departed from this realist strategy now, and he hasn’t. His muted response to the outburst of popular anger at the regime has been widely misinterpreted as reflecting concern that too overt an American embrace of the opposition will hurt it.
Whatever his personal sympathies may be, if Barack sticks to his original strategy, he can have no interest in helping the opposition. His strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of the government’s efforts to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, not in league with the opposition’s efforts to prolong the crisis.
Once Mousavi lost, however unfairly, Obama objectively had no use for him or his followers. If Obama appears to support to the Iranian opposition in any way, he will appear hostile to the regime, which is precisely what he hoped to avoid. Obama’s policy now requires getting past the election controversies quickly so that he can soon begin negotiations with the reelected Ahmadinejad government. This will be difficult as long as opposition protests continue and the government appears to be too brutal to do business with.
Obama needs a rapid return to quiet in Iran. His goal must be to deflate the opposition, not to encourage it. And that, by and large, is what he has been doing. The worst thing is that this approach will probably not prevent the Iranian regime from getting a nuclear weapon. But this is what “realism” is all about.
From a comment posted in the Wonk Room:
…There is no neutral stance in this. A subdued reaction sends a message just like a condemnation does. Obama is hedging his bets so that he can negotiate with the Iranian regime no matter who wins, even if it’s understood by the entire world that an Ahmadinejad-led Iranian Government is nothing more than a fraud…
What is it all for? The truth is that this supposedly prudent restraint has won us nothing. We now have a fresh report that Iran is accusing the United States of “meddling” anyway.
I ask again: what is it all for? At what point does Obama lend rhetorical support on the side of justice?
Comments from William A. Jacobson:
You knew this was inevitable. Regardless of what Barack Obama said or did, the Iranian regime would accuse the U.S. of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs.
Obama’s near silence achieved nothing, as regards the Iranian regime. Which proves the foolishness of those who argue that comments in support of the right of Iranians to free and fair elections somehow would provoke the Iranian regime…
Obama’s statement yesterday that he did not want “to be seen as meddling” all but invited an accusation of meddling…
These accusations appear to be a precursor to, and excuse for, a violent crackdown by the regime, which could start as early as Thursday…
Rather than placating the regime, weakness by the West and Obama may actually embolden the regime to resort to more violence. In the same breath that Obama voice tepid support for the Iranian people, he also voiced an intent to commence negotiations with the current regime. This mixed message was unnecessary, and counter-productive.
If as appears likely, tomorrow brings a new level of regime violence, will Obama remain silent, or straddle the fence once again? Obama’s 3 a.m. test is here.
So the ruthlessly pragmatic Barack Obama has decided not to support the Iranian people. They lost — they’re losers. Why provide them with rhetorical support, only to burn bridges with the tyrants who will likely retain power? Whether or not Ahmadinejad’s victory was legitimate, he won. And winning is the only thing that matters in the mind of a tyrant.
“I won, I have the power, I’m the decider. Capice?” Obama understands that.
Liberals pride themselves on their relentless pursuit of justice. Is this what they voted for?
Obama, Siding With the Regime in Iran
Why Are Iranians Using English On Protest Signs
What doesn't Obama understand about "Where Is My Vote?"
Obama's Muted Response
"It's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling."
‘We the People’ vs. ‘I Won’