Iran Isn’t About Us (UPDATE)


Conservatives are hitting President Obama over Iran, arguing that he should be doing more to support the opposition there. I bristle at the politicization of the situation in Iran because, ultimately, what the Iranian people are going through isn’t about us, it isn’t about American politics and we shouldn’t be making it about us.

First off, I find it pretty disingenuous for conservatives–who spent years calling for the United States to bomb Iran–to suddenly show so much concern for the Iranian people. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out a few days ago:

During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-ing Iran. The Wall St. Journal published a war screed from Commentary‘s Norman Podhoretz entitled “The Case for Bombing Iran,” and following that, Podhoretz said in an interview that he “hopes and prays” that the U.S. “bombs the Iranians.” John Bolton and Joe Lieberman advocated the same bombing campaign, while Bill Kristol — with typical prescience — hopefully suggested that Bush might bomb Iran if Obama were elected. Rudy Giuliani actually said he would be open to a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran in order to stop their nuclear program.


Advocating a so-called “attack on Iran” or “bombing Iran” in fact means slaughtering huge numbers of the very same people who are on the streets of Tehran inspiring so many — obliterating their homes and workplaces, destroying their communities, shattering the infrastructure of their society and their lives.

Second, like I said, this isn’t about us. It’s about Iran and the Iranian people. The uprising in Iran is really two simultaneous conflicts–the fist is pro-democracy demonstrators facing off against an oppressive government. To that extent, Obama has done what should be expected of a President of the United States—he spoke out in favor of democracy, in favor of free speech and free assembly, and denounced the Iranian government for their violent, brutal crackdown against their own people.

But there’s another conflict here that conservatives are not seeing or not acknowledging–the political conflict over the disputed election. The major players in Iran’s unrest are the ruling party and the opposition party. That’s partially why Obama hasn’t done what conservatives want and side with the demonstrators—that would, in effect, be telling the Iranian people who their next president should be.

One of the basic tenets of democracy is that sovereign states should be able to hold elections without interference. The Iranian people have a right to decide—as much as they are allowed to—who should govern them; it’s not the job of the United States (or anyone else) to declare winner.

Iran’s election occurred, was stolen, and resulted in violence. But, in the end, this is still an Iranian political dispute, though a decidedly violent one. Iran–and only Iran–should determine the course their country takes. They have that right, and Obama has said from the start he isn’t going to take that right away from them.

Honestly, if Iran’s conflict didn’t involve a disputed election, I too would be criticizing Obama for not doing more. But the fact that the core of this fight is about who will run Iran makes it infinitely more complex.

Third, if Iran’s opposition wanted America to get involved they would ask us to. Mousavi and his movement are the center of the world’s attention at the moment; they have a large microphone at their disposal. Yet, we’re not hearing the opposition call for the United States to get involved. As the National Iranian American Council says,

People in Iran have told NIAC’s Iranian-American membership that they don’t want the US to get itself involved in the conflict, but they do want to see the government’s use of violence condemned


If America’s posture returns to that of the Bush administration, these indigenous forces for change may be quelled by the forces of fear and ultranationalism

I trust the opposition to understand more than anyone how American involvement would affect their movement. The the fact that they haven’t called on Obama to do what conservatives say he should do is telling.

Fourth, it’s funny how conservatives–who like to dismiss Barack Obama as nothing but lofty rhetoric–are now suddenly believers in the power of a speech. But even if Obama did what conservatives wanted and spoke out in favor of the opposition, nothing would change. The opposition would still demonstrate; the government would still crack down; the situation would be as bloody and violent as it currently is if not moreso. As it is, the Iranian government is trying to portray the protesters as puppets for America and the West; if Obama came out fully on the side of the opposition, it would vindicate those paranoid, conspiratorial fantasies and justify even more violence and murder. Obama taking the opposition’s side would do little to help but a lot to hurt; the opposition knows this and that’s why they aren’t asking for Obama’s support.

As an additional note, conservatives are outraged that the administration is going ahead with a planned diplomatic meeting with Iranian representatives on July 4th. But that shouldn’t be surprising or controversial—Obama has always said that America shouldn’t talk only to its friends and that diplomacy shouldn’t be a reward for good behavior. And Obama’s foreign policy was the one chosen by the American people last November.

And how idiotic is it that conservatives are calling for Obama to make a speech, which would accomplish very little, yet they attack him for wanting to engage iwth Iranian diplomats, even though that would actually give us a chance to affect Iran’s polity. And for anyone who would claim that a despotic, terrorism-supporting nation cannot be changed through diplomacy, all I have to say is: Libya.

The arrogant conservatives who would have America further meddle in Iranian affairs don’t know what they’re talking about; they’re the same arrogant conservatives who engineered the Bush administration’s failed, disastrous foreign policy. Iran isn’t about us. It isn’t about Barack Obama or the Democrats or the Republicans; it’s about Iran and the Iranian people. If you truly believe in democracy, then you must believe that the Iranians should decide their own fate instead of having America decide it for them.

UPDATE: Super special note to Sen. John McCain: you lost the election. Get over it.