On Iran, the Power of Obama's Silence

Before we Americans come rushing onto the scene with an offer of help for the process of democratization in Iran, we need to be certain that it won't in fact do more harm than good.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

"Help us." That was a comment, translated from Farsi, that was posted on the blog that I manage for the NationalIranian American Council yesterday. It came from a reader in Tehran,imploring that someone in the West do something to stop what he or she calls"a military government" being set up in Iran.

For those watching intently for anybit of information they can grasp, it is a painful waiting game. Even forthose of us who are relatively well connected to Iranians--either throughfriends or family--it is difficult to find out any really conclusive news. The mainstream media has largely taken the weekend off from this story--due inpart to the government's suppression and intimidation ofjournalists--leaving the heavy lifting to new media and the blogosphere (whichhas performed amazingly well over the past 48 hours). And it is mostlikely that our government doesn't have much more information that therest of us, as illustrated by the relative silence coming from the White Houseand the State Department on the events of the weekend.

Though Obama, Biden, Clinton andGibbs have all gone on record with brief statements about the election, theyhave been extremely prudent, preferring to "monitor the situation"and "wait and see"--a stark contrast to some of their predecessors,who jumped on every opportunity to call for uprisings in the Middle East. In a remarkable display of message restraint, public pronouncements coming outof the White House have made no mention of anything that could even remotely beseen as trying to influence the outcome of the weekend's events.

Given Iran's well-knownallergy to foreign meddling--and the hardliners' adept ability to justifytheir harsh repression by blaming alleged foreign plots--the Obamaadministration is doing exactly the right thing. Just as the absolute worstthing the US government could have done in the days leading up to the electionswas impose new sanctions to"cripple" Iran's economy, the worst thing theadministration could do now is take sides in the political infighting beforeknowing that its help would actually be welcome.

Of course, there are some who viewthis weekend's events as an opportunity for the US to support aparticular Iranian faction loudly and clearly; Indiana Republican Mike Pence said

that he hopes President Obama will throw his support behind Mousavi by the endof the day. But these people are playing with dynamite. At themoment, lectures on democracy and Jeffersonian diatribes against tyranny arethe last thing the Iranian people need. At best, such grandstanding wouldgive the hardliners in Iran a reason to paint the reformist camp as a stooge ofthe West; at worst, it could incite the crowds even more and risk blowing thetop off an already tumultuous situation.

Before we Americans come rushing ontothe scene with an offer of help for the process of democratization in Iran, weneed to be certain that the parties on the ground actually welcome ourinvolvement, and that it won't in fact do more harm than good.

Human rights defenders in Iran are alwaysthe first to speak up in support of greater transparency and political opennessin the Iranian system. Their commitment to their cause is beyond measure,and the events over the next few days will determine just how much progressthey have been able to make. But thesebrave activists have also made it abundantly clear to policymakers in the Westthat we have to be very careful about how we get involved in the affairs oftheir country.

For now, the Obama administrationis just taking a step back and assessing the situation, and rightly so--at themoment, the only certainty in this entire ordeal is that the more accurateinformation everyone has, the better. But the Obama administration isalso making it perfectly clear that, regardless of the outcome of the next fewdays, theyare committed to engage in direct diplomacy with the Iraniangovernment.

At this point, that's thebest we, as Americans, can do.

Popular in the Community


What's Hot