Wait and see.
I should start out by saying that I’m not a political activist or analyst. I’m just a relatively well-educated and thoughtful American citizen.
I’ve been following what’s going on in Iran more closely than most Americans. I’m stuck in a 22-foot travel trailer in a golf course RV park in Quincy, WA. I don’t have a television, but I do have a radio tuned in to NPR (National Public Radio, for those of you who don’t know) and Internet access. I spent a good — probably unhealthy — portion of the past three days listening to news and analysis from NPR and reading Web content linked to from Twitter, as well as on blogs by Andrew Sullivan and the New York Times. My few attempts to find “real” news on MSNBC and CNN Web sites failed miserably; more on that in a moment.
While I’m not ready to believe everything I read on the Web, it’s quite clear that the Iranian people are in some kind of revolutionary mode. While I side with the young people protesting against what appears to be an ultra-conservative dictatorship masquerading as a democracy, I cannot assume that the majority of Iranians feel as these young people do. None of us can.
Andrew Sullivan summarized yesterday’s activity in his post, “What Happened Today?“:
What’s going on in Iran is very hard to understand from the distance we are at. And interpretations of the dizzying events of the last few weeks have varied widely – and still do. In fact, it’s hard to remember an event like this on which there is still such a debate. Some today have argued that Ahmadinejad won and that what we are seeing is some sore losers. Others have seen this as a turning point in the history of Iran. Others still think it may be somewhere in between. And the truth is: we do not know. At this point in time, I do not know. We may be misjudging this, over-reading it, misunderstanding it. All we can do is assemble as many facts and test as many theses as possible in real time.
It is not the job of the United States to step in and take sides on this matter. Rather, we should be part of a concerned global community making objective conclusions based on observations.
President Obama is taking a wait and see approach. His comments yesterday (embedded here) made it clear that he has no intention of stepping in.
Obama is a smart man and I think he’s doing the right thing. The United States is too often seen as an imperialistic power. We’ve messed around in Iran’s politics before — remember the Shah of Iran and how that ended up? We have no right messing around in the politics of other sovereign nations, applying our views and values to their people. We have enough trouble here in the U.S., with crises in health care, education, and the economy. We’re already practically bankrupt from money poured into unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I think it’s far more important for the global community, as a team, to see the extent of any election wrongdoing in Iran before they step forward with any assistance for the wronged. I think it’s more important to side with the legitimate leader of Iran — even if it’s Ahmadinejad — than to help the Iranian people with a new revolution that might or might not benefit us in the future.
When will we learn? The Muslim world simply does not like us. Let’s not become guilty of the meddling they so often accuse us of.
I realize that this is an unpopular point of view. I’ve read reactions to Obama’s comments on The Daily Dish and most folks — including Andrew Sullivan, its author — seem to think we should seize the moment to help the Iranian people in their efforts to “become free.” But I believe that Noah Millman has the right idea in his post on The American Scene titled “How Do You Say “Tiananmen Square” In Farsi?“:
If the regime survives by brute force, it will be revealed to be relatively weak in terms of popular support and will be less credible globally than it was before. If the regime simply waits the protests out, then very little will have changed at all. If the regime survives by abandoning Ahmadinejad, then it will be focused on maintaining its credibility internally, and Mousavi will not be in a position to go off the reservation much if at all €“ so negotiations with America, if they happen will not really go anywhere. If the regime does not survive, it will be because the military turns on it decisively (which I would be really surprised by), and whatever regime emerges to replace it will have to establish its own credibility as a patriotic guardian of the Iranian people. That means no dramatic rapprochement with America, whatever happens behind the scenes.
All of which means that America should be playing it pretty cool right now. There are states that could plausibly bring pressure to bear in support of proper democratic procedures and against stealing elections or shooting protestors, but they would have to be states with real credibility both as democracies and as friends of Iran €“ i.e., places like Germany or India, not us. But it’s not obvious to me why Germans or Indians would want to interfere like that. We, unfortunately, can’t do much more than watch.
Now, about the mainstream media (MSM). While I realize that I must take anything written in a blog or on Twitter with a grain of salt, there is a huge disparity between what’s being reported on respected weblogs (like the ones listed above) and the MSM. I also find differences in what I read on US MSM sites and other countries’ MSM sites, such as BBC’s. I find this horrifying. Who do we believe?
But that’s really just fodder for another post.