Iran Burning, Pt. 10


In Foreign Policy, the Brookings Institution’s Suzanne Maloney bolsters the case that Iran’s political unrest isn’t about the United States–and that the Iranian people alone can decide their country’s destiny:

If anyone needs another reminder of how minimal Americans’ understanding of and access to Iran has become, the discourse in Washington over the past week certainly provides one. As scenes of Iranian bravery and bloodshed have unfolded, American pundits and politicians have fixated on President Obama’s syntax and inflection. Although a passing familiarity with Iranian history, as well as Iranians’ appeals for Washington not to meddle in their nascent movement, buttress the case for caution, the tempest over presidential semantics is at best a pointless exercise and at worst a distraction from the serious question ahead: How will Iran’s internal crisis will impact U.S. policy?

The fact is, no matter how much Americans like to think they are the ones shaping events in Iran, it’s just not true. The dramatic events in Iran have been wholly internally driven. They are the product of three decades of semi-competitive Iranian elections, a sophisticated population that warily guards its limited rights and freedoms, the tensions of a longstanding elite power struggle, and the ever-important force of unintended consequences among other factors. Better for the United States, then, to focus on those areas where it actually has some capacity for influence: namely, its own Iran policy, and more specifically, how Washington can move forward with engaging Tehran in light of the dramatic changes of the past 10 days.

As profound as recent events have been, engagement remains the only path forward for Washington. Whenever the dust settles in the tumultuous battle on the streets and behind the scenes, direct U.S. diplomacy continues to represent the most viable mechanism for addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. After all, Obama’s interest in engagement was never about the Iranian leadership, and until very recently, most experts expected a second Ahmadinejad term. Instead, the case for engagement was – and still is – rooted in the urgency of the world’s concerns about Iran’s ambitions and the even-less promising U.S. policy alternatives, such as military action or externally sponsored regime change.


But what about Iran’s burgeoning democracy movement? And what useful role can and should the United States can play in advancing it? Given recent events, it was inevitable that some American pundits and policymakers would renew their calls for additional U.S. democracy assistance programs for Iranian reformers. This would be precisely the wrong move – not because it would compromise the climate for nuclear negotiations, but because Iran’s own activists have consistently rejected such funding. They don’t want it, and elections-related news such as the massive reformist vote monitoring effort suggests they don’t need it. Better for Washington to focus efforts on where it can be both useful and welcome, such as last week’s timely intervention to encourage Twitter to defer network maintenance during a crucial moment of the protests.

[Emphasis mine]

In an interview with Al Hunt, both former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger side with President Obama:

HUNT: What the critics say is that we wouldn’t have taken that attitude in South Africa in the 1980s, we wouldn’t have taken – shouldn’t have taken that attitude in Tiananmen in 1989, or in Hungary or in Czechoslovakia in the ’50s.

ALBRIGHT: I think very different. And I think the point here is you have to understand the differences.

So for instance, I know a lot about Czechoslovakia and Poland. Those were very different kinds of bottom up revolutions against the Soviet Union. And frankly, there was a very big issue in Hungary. And this is something that people have to be careful of.

The administration in the 1950s kept saying to the Hungarian people, we will help you if you rise up. And then we didn’t. And so there’s a lot of blame that goes around. Czechoslovakia in 1968, same thing.

So first of all, they’re very different. Those revolutions were very nationalistic. And just a different situation.

BERGER: Now the fact of the matter is what the President has said has been very tough. And he’s escalated his rhetoric as the situation has escalated. In the early first days, it was not appropriate to prejudge how this thing would unfold. But his rhetoric over the past few days and his statements have been clear, have been strong, and have been appropriate.

[Emphasis mine]

HuffPo brings us a 10-minute long video of yesterday’s brutal crackdown:

And Reza Aslan writes about the possibility of a compromise solution emerging:

Reliable sources in Iran are suggesting that a possible compromise to put an end to the violent uprising that has rocked Iran for the past two weeks may be in the works. I have previously reported that the second most powerful man in Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts (the body with the power to choose and dismiss the supreme leader) is in the city of Qom—the country’s religious center—trying to rally enough votes from his fellow assembly members to remove the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from power. News out of Iran suggests that he may be succeeding. At the very least, it seems he may have gained enough support from the clerical establishment to force a compromise from Khamenei, one that would entail a runoff election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi.

[Emphasis added]