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Posted at 10:44 AM ET, 02/14/2011

Will Obama now reverse course on Iran?

By Jennifer Rubin

On Saturday, national security adviser Tom Donilon released this statement on Iran:

By announcing that it will not allow opposition protests, the Iranian government has declared illegal for Iranians what it claimed was noble for Egyptians. We call on the government of Iran to allow the Iranian people the universal right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and communicate that's being exercised in Cairo.

In response to Chris Wallace's question on "Fox News Sunday" as to whether it is possible for the "White House [to] reignite the political opposition in Iran that it did so little to support in 2009," Bill Kristol said:

I hope so. I think the political opposition will have to reignite itself. But there is that opposition there, and they've tried to call for a demonstration tomorrow which the Iranian government is trying obviously to suppress. But it is striking to me that the administration will not say that it made a mistake, but I think they now understand they made a terrible mistake in June of 2009 in not supporting the Iranians in the streets of Tehran. . . .

Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, put out a statement Saturday afternoon, which is kind of unusual, calling on the Iranian government which had hailed the demonstrations in Egypt to allow its own people to demonstrate similarly for -- for freedom and democracy. So that's a good sign.

I hope -- and I really hope that -- that June of 2009 was not a once-in-a-generation event and that that can be reignited, and history would suggest that incidentally. There have been plenty of times in the last 30-40 years where there's a democratic protest, Poland, they got suppressed for a while, and then it reemerges. And so I think that would be an unbelievable triumph if Egypt could be followed by -- by Iran.

Now, what would a serious policy to promote the Green Movement entail? For starters, the U.S. official policy should be regime change in Iran. We should re-evaluate the ongoing, useless talks with the Iranian regime on its nuclear weapons program, which have the effect of legitimizing the regime and depressing the opposition. Instead, in international bodies and with allies we should pursue a full court press to isolate the Iranian regime and highlight its dismal human rights record. South Africa faced international ostracism for apartheid. We likewise should seek to turn Iran into a pariah state, not merely because it defies international norms on nuclear proliferation, but because it promotes terrorism abroad and represses its own people.

George Will on ABC's This Week observed, "All modern tyrannies have depended on intellectual autarky, being able to seal of the consciousness of their people from the outside world. . . . It can't be done any more." And we should do everything we can to breakdown this stranglehold that aging despots exercise throughout the region. In other words, we should practice real Muslim Outreach -- engagement of and support for freedom and democratic institutions. That is the only path to that elusive stability, which this administration wrongly pursued by engaging the worst of the region's despots (e.g. Syria, Iran).

Critics of the administration's Iran policy are not optimistic about the administration's willingness and ability to make a dramatic course change. Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative emails me;

I'm not holding my breath for a robust regime change policy. Just weeks ago, U.S. and Iranian officials sat down for talks in Istanbul. If the administration is serious about regime change, it is going to have to give up its hopes of a negotiated solution to Iran's nuclear weapons program. The Donilon/Biden comments about Iran are a positive development, but the administration needs to back up its words with action. If they truly support the Iranian opposition, they should increase funding for dissidents and ensure that they have the technological tools they need to circumvent the government's internet controls. Most importantly, U.S. officials need to express their support for the opposition on a regular and sustained basis, not just when it is politically convenient to do so.

Another Iran specialist is even more blunt. He concedes that the president's thinking on Iran has "evolved," but he contends that "an explicit regime-change policy would be intellectually, ethically, a bridge too far for him."

Certainly, the administration will need to do more than issue Saturday statements if it is to have any impact on Iran's despotic regime. As unlikely as it may be, what is needed is nothing less than a total reversal in Obama's approach to the Middle East. In short, it's time for him to adopt the Freedom Agenda as his own.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 14, 2011; 10:44 AM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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Comments

This talk of identity, democracy, and freedom in Egypt or Iran is all very well but the real problems facing both nations are high food prices and massive unemployment.
Whatever form of Egyptian government emerges and whoever leads it will still have to face the same problems that the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak had to deal with and failed. The same holds true for Iran.
Egypt is deeply in debt and cannot continue to massively subsidize the nation's food, there is not enough oil or Suez Canal revenue for that.
The vast majority of Egyptians are under the age of twenty five, badly educated, and facing a lifetime of unemployment and poverty.
Iran is dire economic straits with a young and unemployed population and a change in government, which is highly unlikely, will do nothing to alter that.
The Egyptian government replacing the Mubarak regime will be facing the unachievable expectations of those demonstrators who helped overthrow Mubarak. The new government will not be able to lower food prices nor will it be able to find jobs for the unemployed.
The instability in Egypt sure to come over the next few months as a result of the military's or the new government's failure to successfully address the core issues of food and employment could lead to wrecking the entire Middle East.
Iran of course will not end up like Egypt, the same Iranian religious police who locked up thirty six young girls in a burning school in Teheran to prevent "immodesty" and forced them to horribly die will have no qualms about using lethal force on young Iranian demonstrators to prevent a government collapse.

Posted by: Beniyyar | February 14, 2011 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Somehow Obama can't denounce our enemies with the same fervor as our friends. It's a left wing thing.

Posted by: eoniii | February 14, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

To be fair, the Bush administration was hardly perfect about using applicable means of national power to induce regime change in Iran. Even so, to change the regime in Iran will require the confluence of the persistent application of such power with a particular and particularly fortuitous set of circumstances - such as occurred in June 2009. The overthrow of the regime in that case was by no stretch of the imagination remotely guaranteed but the failure of Obama to support the protestors - when doing so was entirely in congruence with our values and our interests severely undermined both made us the laughing stock of the Middle East.

Posted by: cavalier4 | February 14, 2011 11:36 AM | Report abuse

We can't just let an organic protest movement potentially dethrone the Iranian government! That would deny us our God-given right to invade and occupy the country. Stop all this encouragement and start preparing the public for another war!

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | February 14, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

What Rubin wants to ask is will Obama pre-emptively attack Iran?

Nope,get a new President if you want that option. Which one of the GOP list will do the deed, what W Bush was chick--sh-- to do.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 14, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer:

If the Iranians hold a protest demonstration, do you think the Iranian government goons will beat and shoot the demonstrators as the Israeli government goons beat and shoot demonstrators protesting Israel's illegal (International Criminal Court) East German Wall?

Anxious to have your thoughts on governments and their goons.

Posted by: Lazarus40 | February 14, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Iranians have experienced regime change that goes back to 1952, when US and Britain overtrow the domcratically ellected PM Mossadegh and brought Shah (the US Ouppet). It took Iranian 30 years to kick the foreign servant out.
Iranians have mistrust of foreign agents and government from their past expeience, they even mis-trust the Iranians who live abroad. Now, you suggesting a regime change by foreign hand, good luck with your dreams. As far as, war mongering by some people, I bet they never send their loved ones to war in harms way.
8 years of imposed war on Iran by Sadam (supported by the West) solidified Khomeini's regime for 30 years, another imposed war will solidify this regime more likely for generations to come.
I suggest to all warmongers who have no respect for human life, allow people in Iran to choose their destiney without outside intervention, they don't need your war drums to be mislead.

Posted by: abraham3 | February 14, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Quoting Bill (Am I ever right?" Kristol again?

Jeez, at least you could find another misguided neo-con to quote.

Posted by: tracymohr | February 14, 2011 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Giving Iranian protestors more than moral support, which the Obama administration does give them, would be the kiss of death. We would immediately delegitimize protest leaders in the eyes of most Iranians. The Iranian people, like any nationalists, would be much more worried about another American puppet than they are about their current regime. We need to let events play out in Iran, just as we did in Egypt.
It would take an invasion on a scale greater than Iraq to topple the Iranian government from the outside. As sane people learned with Iraq ($1 trillion and counting later), that would be a horrible idea.

Posted by: billyvw | February 14, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse

"Iran of course will not end up like Egypt, the same Iranian religious police who locked up thirty six young girls in a burning school in Teheran to prevent "immodesty" and forced them to horribly die will have no qualms about using lethal force on young Iranian demonstrators to prevent a government collapse."

Beniyyar, that was Saudi Arabia, not Iran.

"The Egyptian government replacing the Mubarak regime will be facing the unachievable expectations of those demonstrators who helped overthrow Mubarak. The new government will not be able to lower food prices nor will it be able to find jobs for the unemployed."

If the new govt is a somehow representative democracy, my bet is that the people will be so thrilled that they're expectations about food prices and jobs will take a back seat to their new found political liberty. And with such a form of govt, the market should eventually dictate the food prices and create jobs, leaving the govt out of it.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 14, 2011 5:11 PM | Report abuse

To RitchieEmmons: Well said, excellent comment, right on the head.

Now, my question is if the Iranian DEVIL REGIME falls, how the West is going to convience Arabs to buy billions of dollars worth of military machines that they can't even operate. Think about it.
The West needs a DEVIL, there is no longer Communist CCCP (Russian) to bash around, the west sleep with commucist China in the same bed, then who else left except Iran. The West needs a DEVIL, we must be nice and thankful to Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran for the opportunity.

Posted by: abraham3 | February 14, 2011 6:36 PM | Report abuse

A typically intellectually weak post on Iran Jennifer.

For starters, it's pointless comparing Iran to Egypt. The Egyptian revolution had nothing to do with US involvement, indeed, the US opposed it or was ambivalent. Secondly, the revolution was directed as US sponsored dictator.

As such, Egypt is no template for Iran.

The Green Movement has actually shrunk since 2009. During those demonstrations, the US was actively supporting it, and it produced nothing for one very simple reason - the Green Movement is a minority in Iran. Hence promotion of the Green Movement is futile unless the US can carry out a coup of come kind.

The events in Egypt also served as a huge embarrassment for the US, where our hypocrisy and double standards (re democracy and human rights) was exposed for the world to see. it's going to be pointless to complain about Iran's human rights record when we were propping up a human rights abuser in Egypt and referring to him as our friend.

FYI Jennifer, Iran is not defying any norms on nuclear proliferation and while we're supporting terrorist groups against Iran, it is hypocritical to accuse Tehran of promoting terrorism abroad.

Critics of the administration's Iran policy who are disappointed bout the administration's unwillingness and ability to make a dramatic course change, might want to reflect on the catastrophic failures of the previous administration's polices, which elevated Iran's influence and power.


Posted by: Shingo1 | February 14, 2011 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: eoniii | February 14, 2011 11:17 AM

Somehow Obama can't denounce our enemies with the same fervor as our friends. It's a left wing thing.

___________________________

No, it's an American thing. We did the same thing to Marcos, Suharto, Noriega, and Saddam Hussein after all.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 14, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Beniyyar | February 14, 2011 11:16 AM

... the same Iranian religious police who locked up thirty six young girls in a burning school in Teheran to prevent "immodesty" and forced them to horribly die will have no qualms about using lethal force on young Iranian demonstrators to prevent a government collapse.

___________________________________


Where did you read about this Beni? Antijihad.com?

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 14, 2011 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 14, 2011 5:11 PM

Beniyyar, that was Saudi Arabia, not Iran.

_____________________________________

Too funny. Beni never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to embarrass himself.

That would be the same Saudi Arabia who stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel in support of the human rights abusing dictator in Egypt right? I guess when it comes to US foreign policy, human rights is a bit like democracy – a blunt instrument to go after those who don't kiss the ring of US empire.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 14, 2011 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: abraham3 | February 14, 2011 6:36 PM

Now, my question is if the Iranian DEVIL REGIME falls, how the West is going to convience Arabs to buy billions of dollars worth of military machines that they can't even operate. Think about it.

_________________________

Good question.

My feeling is that Saudi Arabia are not buying these weapons to use, so much as a quid pro quo deal with the US government to buy a security guarantee. The arms dealers get to make money and the Saudi's get protection.

Rest assured that if SA were to be attacked, the US would be doing the fighting, not the Saudis.

This security arrangement might well extend even further to protecting the leadership from overthrow.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 14, 2011 7:40 PM | Report abuse

"Too funny. Beni never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to embarrass himself."

Does this mean the same as Beni never embarasses himself?

Not funny enough? ;-)

Not taking sides, no siree; but it MIGHT be a bug in the computer code in this edit box which somehow screws up the comment when it's edited. Something with the newline character; haven't figured it out but a lot of comments repeat words for some reason, has anyone noticed?

Posted by: aardunza | February 14, 2011 10:56 PM | Report abuse

See there it is! I cut and pasted your comment exactly Shingo, and it added an extra 'embarrass' at the beginning of the next line. Weird, huh?

And I am indeed embarrassed to mispell it. Watch out for the Spelling Monster!

Posted by: aardunza | February 14, 2011 11:03 PM | Report abuse

I cut-pasted the line, then added a quote before and after. Did that do it? Strange.

Posted by: aardunza | February 14, 2011 11:06 PM | Report abuse

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