07/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Kristol Says It Would Be A 'Mistake' To Hope Obama Fails On Iran

As the streets of Tehran continue to roil in the wake of a disputed election, Bill Kristol is urging his own ideological brethren to follow a cautious path where criticizing President Obama is concerned:

We could be at an historical inflection point in Iran. The United States may be able to play an important role. The task now is to explain what the Obama administration (and Congress) should be saying and doing, and to urge them to do what they should be doing. Presuming ahead of time that Obama will fail to exercise leadership, and cataloguing this episode pre-emptively as another in a list of Obama failures, would be a mistake. The U.S. has a huge stake in the possible transformation, or at least reformation, of the Iranian regime. If there's some chance of that happening, and some chance of U.S. policy contributing to that outcome, we should hope Obama does the right thing, and urge and pressure him to do so--because then the United States will be doing the right thing, and the United States, and the world, will benefit.

Thing is, I worry that Kristol is making too much of the notion that U.S. policy could or should have a guiding influence on whatever transformation is taking place, and that "pressuring" Obama to undertake some activity might rob the opportunity for achievement. Yesterday, Kristol took to Fox News Sunday to describe the Ahmadinejad regime as an unambiguously "jihadist" "war party" regime and suggest Obama should demonstrate unequivocal support for the reformers. This ran against the advice of "strongly anti-Ahmedinejad Hadi Ghaemi, New York-based spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran," who said:

"But I think it's wise for the U.S. government to keep its distance," Ghaemi says. The White House can and should "show concern for human life and protesters' safety and promote tolerance and dialogue." But to get any further involved, even rhetorically, would "instigate the cry that the reformers are somehow driven and directed by the U.S., whether under Bush or under Obama, and there's no reason to give that unfounded allegation" any chance to spread.

Via the Washington Independent, those same sentiments are echoed by Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council:

Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian American Council who has played a leading role in the American press over the weekend in denouncing Ahmadinejad and defending the protesters, said that Obama was taking care not to subvert the Iranian opposition. "The framing that Ahmadinejad is presenting is one in which essentially the whole [opposition] is a Western media conspiracy," he said. "If the administration is saying things or doing things before Moussavi and the opposition figures out what the plan is, then that's a real problem, because then it seems like it's between Ahmadinejad and the west and not Ahmadinejad and the opposition. So the administration is doing exactly the right thing. They're not rushing in and they're not playing favorites. They might prefer the democratic process to be respected, but that's different than [supporting a] specific faction."

Parsi took issue with Lieberman's statement and those of others who have urged the United States to back the opposition. "They're saying 'Support Moussavi.' Well, did you talk to Moussavi to learn if this is helpful? A lot of people seem to have the propensity of knowing what the Iranian people want or what specific people want but [don't] contact them. And in past it's been detrimental" to Iranian opposition figures, Parsi said. If such American politicians have "not learned from that, it's sad."

Parsi went on to add that it was important for anyone outside the opposition effort on the ground to remain "two steps behind the opposition and not two steps ahead." Kristol has recognized the NIAC's opinion, but his statement, full of calls to "urge" and "pressure," doesn't seem pitched in favor of remaining "two steps behind."

UPDATED: On this subject, Spencer Ackerman makes an observation that deserves mention:

I don't presume that the Iranian opposition speaks with one voice. But what's been very, very striking about following the #iranelection hashtag on Twitter is how few tweets from Iran are calling for U.S. involvement.

Kristol: Memo to Conservatives [The Weekly Standard]
Obama's Iran Policy to Focus on Human Rights, Not Election [Washington Independent]
But Will Kristol Listen to the Iranians? [Washington Independent]

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