As reports intensify of how the Iranian government continues to attack, arrest, and otherwise attempt to prevent the Iranian people from protesting, at least one good thing is happening in the midst: Obama.
Many Iranians, in the country and abroad, shudder to think of what might have been in these uncertain and violent days, if instead of Barack Obama, George W. Bush or John McCain were Commander-in-Chief of the United States -- if instant counter-productive threats of force were hurled at the Iranian government instead of measured and productive calls for support of peaceful protesters.
Already one can see the difference in trajectory: one route is focused on the aggressor, the other on the victim.
As this column has said in the past, one would sincerely hope that all governments -- certainly one with such a significant mandate for democratic change -- would care more for the innocent people who are giving their all for change, than the government which is breaching international standards to stop them from realizing their hopes.
These last few years have unequivocally demonstrated the direct relationship between Western, and particularly American, aggression toward Iran and the strengthening of the Iranian government and its image as an apparent voice for the world's oppressed.
As an exercise in history, simply look at exactly how much this Iranian government prospered under years of Bush threats and antagonizations. Just a short while ago -- before the presidential election in Iran -- Ahmadinejad was riding a wave of substantial international support from people worldwide who had suffered at the hands of Western imperialism. He had formed alliances with popularly elected -- oftentimes Western-rejected -- leaders as far away as South America. He had apparently united Sunni and Shiite people as a leader against oppression of all Muslims -- embracing his role as the leading voice for support of the Palestinian people.
In my own experience in the last year alone, ordinary people from Sri Lanka to Brazil and everything in between had cheered me for being Iranian, exclaiming the only Persian "word" they knew: Ahmadinejad. It's a simple but personally astonishing experience to see exactly how much his anti-imperialist rhetoric had resonated across the globe, in the hearts of people whose own governments have been as ruthless as the colonizers before and the imperialists after them.
In more concrete terms, the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Occupied Territories, which Bush et al either supported or outright committed, actually strengthened the Ahmadinejad government. Iraq is now run by an Iran-favorable majority Shiite government and anyone who's been in Eastern Iraq will tell you that that part of the country is reinforced and managed by a strong Iranian presence. The utter destabilization of Iran's neighbor to the East, Afghanistan, eliminated one of Iran's most significant enemies: the Taliban. The 2006, war against Lebanon further strengthened the Iran-backed Hezbollah party. And Iran's support for the people in the Occupied Territories has dwarfed Arab and Sunni support of the Palestinians with whom they have more in common than Iranians do.
Keep in mind that most Iranian people are opposed or indifferent to the Iranian government's international support for Palestinians, Lebanese Hezbollah and Chavez, to name a few of Ahmadinejad's causes, all of which have attempted to overshadow his government's growing suppression of the Iranian people. Many, if not most, Iranians will tell you that they don't care about these issues at all. Even former supporters of this regime have recently come to despise all of these causes. It's hard to feel sympathetic for others when in one's own streets, the number of Basij and paramilitaries now outnumber civilians.
Now look at today's post-election Iran: two weeks of protests and sacrifices by the Iranian people have -- on their own -- made massive headway toward reversing years of international glorification of the Ahmadinejad government. Now the world is looking through a different lens: that of the Iranian people who have shown Ahmadinejad and his government as despots who collaborated in manufacturing election results and are leading efforts to punish the people they are meant to protect.
Obama has so far wisely chosen not to reignite any semblance of the Iranian government's glorious pre-election days as the self-proclaimed voice of justice for world suffering at the hands of imperialism. He has resisted threatening the Iranian government with force and gifting it with American meddling in Iranian domestic affairs, all by doing the one thing he should do: support the Iranian people.
It is no wonder that during his pivotal Friday prayer speech last week, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei could no longer pounce on the American threat -- as the Iranian government has successfully done for years -- and instead deemed the British as the biggest enemy of Iran. The diplomatic fallout has been seen by the world: recalling of ambassadors on both sides, and now arrests of British passport-holders in Iran.
What is happening in Iran today is not yet a revolution -- the 1979 Revolution in Iran actually began regularly manifesting itself on the streets in 1978 -- and is not Tienanmen Square. These early conclusions on the unrest prematurely encapsulate a movement that is still moving ahead. This is the beginning of something bigger in Iran and world governments should, as Obama has said, be patient and see "how this thing is going to play out". In this way, they can situate themselves in a better position to help the Iranian people, without risking the success of the people's movement for change, or risking their own chances at negotiating with Iran on issues of mutual necessity.
There is enough blood being spilled on the streets of Iran without useless threats which can be used to further justify the Iranian government's suppression of the people. Obama is smart - he will find other ways to assist the Iranian people -- ways that do not involve more violence.
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