I believe that President Obama is taking the right tack with Iran. You don't want to give Grand Ayatollah Khamenei any more rhetorical ammo with which he can bludgeon his people. They can use Obama's words of support to the protesters as evidence that the demonstrators are being used as agents of outside agitators and use it as a pretext to crack down on them.
I get all that. And I've been arguing that for over a week now on our show. On the other hand, the Iranian regime has already been using this pretext whether we gave them the fodder or not. Khamenei has basically declared he is a dictator and is not above any lie or ruse. The Iranian papers are already blaring about CIA plots against the government. And the government has already declared that the demonstrators are in league with foreign agents.
But that doesn't cure the ultimate problem with the "speak clearly in favor of freedom and democracy" argument. Yes, I'd like to beat my chest and say what a fraud the Grand Ayatollah is and how he has robbed his own people of a voice in their own government. But what are you going to back it up with?
As George Will pointed out over the weekend, in 1956 we did something similar with the Hungarians and then didn't support them at all when push came to shove. They all got killed and nothing got accomplished. So, I don't want to give the Iranian people false hope either. But what if it wasn't false hope, what if ...
What if we did back it up? What if President Obama came out tomorrow and gave this speech:
"I, Barack Hussein Obama, the duly elected leader of the United States of America extend my hand to the duly elected leader of the Iranian people -- Mir Hossein Mousavi. After careful examination, we have concluded that the elections in Iran were a sham and that the current government is engaged in wide-scale cover up. The ongoing crackdown on demonstrators is a ruthless act of violence perpetrated by the tyrant Ali Khamenei against his own citizens. The Iranian people have spoken and we are of the firm belief that their newly elected president is Mr. Mousavi. So, from one president to another, I'd like to extend my hand to Hossein Mousavi and offer any help we can provide, including the assistance of the full force and might of the United States Armed Forces. President Mousavi, the 82nd Airborne is at your service."
God, that would feel good. I don't think this has any chance of working in the real world. I am sure there are only a million complications to an offer like that. Who would command the troops? If it's us, it looks like we're invading. If it's Mousavi, we can't have a foreign leader giving orders to US troops.
And, of course, we would have to reassure the Iranians and the world that this is not some sort of pretense to bomb their nuclear facilities or to organize a coup by an American puppet. I'm sure many people wouldn't believe any of those assurances. I'm sure we would turn a lot of the Iranian people against us by doing this. I'm sure this wouldn't be quite legal under UN rules. I'm sure it would be a mess the minute we had American soldiers on the ground in Iran. I'm sure Mousavi wouldn't accept anyway.
I'm sure of all these things and it's just a fantasy. But what if there were a way ...
PS - What the US should really do is lead by example. How? We should accept international monitors in our elections so that they become the standard for how you hold a free and fair election. So, if a country does not have international monitors in their elections, then the elections are not legitimate.
That would go along way toward de-legitimizing sham elections like the one just held in Iran. Of course, this would send our black helicopter folks here into an uncontrollable tizzy, but the point of leadership isn't to be above the crowd (by saying the US doesn't need international monitors); it is to lead the crowd in the right direction by your example. Besides which, in 2000, we had the brother of one of the candidates appoint the person who decided the election. Who are we kidding about fair elections?
I know, I know, we're no Iran. Of course, not. But just because we're not as bad as the Grand Ayatollah in how we handle elections doesn't mean we couldn't benefit from neutral and fair observers of our elections, either. Let alone the great example we would set for the rest of the world.