I agree wholeheartedly with Phil about the inadequacy of President Obama’s response to the Iran situation and what he should say — he should condemn the crackdown without endorsing the protests or any Iranian political faction. (It’s a little early in this struggle to compare Mir-Hossein Mousavi to Lech Walesa.) But his continued insistence on engagement may be less a reflection of stubbornness or ideology, though both are surely factors, than a realization that we don’t have many good options.
The Iranian regime has been discredited in the eyes of its own people and many of its own supporters, something more dangerous to its legitimacy and continued hold on power than a hundred Washington denunciations. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has revealed himself as a thug and corrupt dictator to people who were once inclined to support him. Nothing could do more to undercut the protesters, rally Iranians behind their government, and allow Ahmadinejad to divert attention from his deepening failures than U.S. military action.
The United States is not in a good position to wage a third war in the Middle East. Even some supporters of targeted military strikes concede we might not be able to hit all potential nuclear sites and could accelerate the process toward nuclearization as an unintended consequence. Obviously, there are many options between war and coddling the mullahs. Ronald Reagan forcefully condemned the Communist suppression of Solidarity — and continued to talk with the Soviet Union. We rightly condemned the Communist butchery in Tiananmen Square, but George H.W. Bush did not break off relations with China. Eisenhower continued to talk to Kruschev after the Soviets gruesomely put down the Hungarian revolution in 1956.
No one knows what the future holds for Tehran. But that future belongs to the Iranians, who are losing confidence in the ayatollahs and the revolution of 1979. Let’s put pressure on the government of Iran where we can and deal with them where we must. For now, though, we must most of all let the future unfold.
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