The best part of this story is the way Iranians are making sure that images of today’s government-created violence are making their way out to the rest of the world, via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. While not as huge as the coverage would be if western journalists were still there to tell the story, the whole world is still watching, listening, and reading about what the Iranian theocratic dictatorship is doing to its own people. It is that information, and those images, which will set the tone of what happens next, and determine whether Iran’s younger, more open and tech-savvy generation can wrestle control from the hardliners, who have all the ammunition of oppression.
Watching yesterday’s coverage, I was struck by the difference in the crowds at the day’s two big events. At the prayer meeting led by Ayatollah Khamenei, there were no women present at all. The place was instead filled by angry middle-aged men, followers of Ahmadinejad, who were quick to join chants of “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” At the protest rallies in Tehran and elsewhere, the crowd was younger and included both men and women, visibly hopeful for a new direction for their nation, carrying signs proclaiming freedom of speech and calling for the truth about the recent elections.
As for how the matter is handled from Washington, it’s one thing for an American leader to stand for freedom and all that embrace it, and denounce violence by those who seek to restrict it. It’s another for him to stick his nose into another nation’s internal politics — which the United States has done far too often, and almost never with positive long-term results. Despite the calls from some in Congress who never miss an opportunity to aim meaningless invective, President Obama has wisely leaned towards the former in his public comments about the situation in Iran, even after things turned ugly today.
Last night on CBS, Harry Smith asked President Obama, “People in this country say you haven’t said enough, that you haven’t been forceful enough in your support for those people in the street. To which you say?” The president responded:
To which I say the last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That’s what they do. That’s what we’ve already seen. We shouldn’t be playing into that. There should be no distractions from the fact that the Iranian people are seeking to let their voices be heard.
Now, what we can do is bear witness and say to the world that the, you know, incredible demonstrations that we’ve seen is a testimony to, I think what Dr. King called the the arc of the moral universe. It’s long, but it bends towards justice.
For some historical perspective, check this quote from Fareed Zakaria, who was asked by a CNN anchor today whether the US (meaning President Obama) should be more vocal in supporting the protesters in Iran. He answered:
I think a good historic analogy is President George H.W. Bush’s cautious response to the cracks in the Soviet empire in 1989. Then, many neo-conservatives 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 protestors and the Soviet Union could send in 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.
One last thing. When the House of Representatives voted almost-unanimously in favor of a measure condemning the Iranian government, the only “no” vote came from Congressman Ron Paul, who offered this explanation from the House floor:
I rise in reluctant opposition to H Res 560, which condemns the Iranian government for its recent actions during the unrest in that country. While I never condone violence, much less the violence that governments are only too willing to mete out to their own citizens, I am always very cautious about “condemning” the actions of governments overseas. As an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, I have always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives…..I have admired President Obama’s cautious approach to the situation in Iran and I would have preferred that we in the House had acted similarly.
I adhere to the foreign policy of our Founders, who advised that we not interfere in the internal affairs of countries overseas. I believe that is the best policy for the United States, for our national security and for our prosperity. I urge my colleagues to reject this and all similar meddling resolutions.