Tuesday, June 16, 2009

President's Measured Tone on Iran

Some Republicans are beginning to criticize President Barack Obama for, it is alleged, his failure to condemn the Iranian regime for upholding what Republicans assert fraudulent elections results.

When the Iranians went to the polls this Sunday, many pollsters were expecting an upset. Mir-Houssein Mousavi, himself a former Iranian prime minister, was closing the gap on incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's lead with the most recent polls suggesting neither would garner the 51% of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. Both candidates declared victory shortly after the polls closed but when the incumbent was declared the winner, Mousavi's supporters took to the streets, asserting voting irregularities and fraud.

Our president has reacted with restraint. President Barack Obama expressed his concerns regarding the Iranian regime's crackdown on dissidents (7 protesters have died) while prudently refusing to side with either party's claim to power. The president knows that he eventually will have to negotiate with the eventual winner over the country's nuclear program, the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and a stabilization plan for Iraq, so he did not want to and squander any good will he might have by backing the losing party. He also knows that he could undermine the reformers by endorsing their candidate. President Ahmadinejad could always use our support for Mousavi against him by suggesting that he was an American puppet.

His critics are having none of this. US Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), his Republican opponent in the general election, said he should speak out against this "corrupt, fraud sham of an election." Speaking out would do nothing and it may be counterproductive. Since we aren't the ones counting the ballots we cannot say, for sure, whether fraud occurred and if so, whether it was the contributing factor to the incumbent's victory. We are not, after all, counting Iran's ballots. In either case, staking the president's diplomatic credibility on this disputed election makes no sense when the Supreme Leader, and not the president, makes the important diplomatic calls.

The president has not, in his efforts to strike a balance, avoided the concerns regarding Iran's crackdown. He spoke of the right to dissent, free and fair elections, and free speech but by limiting his objections to the government's reaction to the protests he avoided the risk of offending his potential negotiating partner.

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