Will Obama now reverse course on Iran?
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.
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