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Pivotal Power

June 19, 2009
Iran dust-up

President Obama’s response to the turmoil in Iran has thus far been measured.

I’m annoyed to feel compelled to write about this, but there have been a number of attacks on Obama’s policy toward Iran lately, which, to my mind, makes a lot of sense and is a big improvement over what came before. President Obama is being very careful not to say anything that President Ahmadinejad can use to show that America is meddling in Iran’s affairs — a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

ThinkProgress notes that Henry Kissinger, the “smartest guy in the world” according to John McCain, and a McCain supporter, said yesterday of the Iran situation that Obama has “handled this well.”

In contrast, McCain himself said on CNN yesterday: “I do not believe that the president is taking the leadership that is incumbent upon an American president, which we have throughout modern history, and that is to advocate for human rights and freedom, and free elections are one of those fundamentals.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter much what McCain says now. But I shudder to think what the man who advocated the pleasant-sounding but totally unworkable “League of Democracies” would be doing now if he were the president.

In support of Obama’s approach, NSN had this list of quotes from various experts last week:

  • Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns: “President Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to see aggressive statements, a series of statements, from the United States which try to put the US at the center of this.” [Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns, 6/16/09]
  • National Iranian American Council President and Iran Expert Trita Parsi: “I think it’s quite reckless to turn this into a political football here in the United States. In reality, this can have severe repercussions on the streets of Tehran, if the protests are being casted as being orchestrated from the United States.” [Trita Parsi, 6/16/09]
  • Iran Expert and Former NSC Official Gary Sick: “Anything we do or say is going to be interpreted in Iran as interference in their domestic affairs and it will tarnish anyone who is in anyway seen as being supported by the United States.” [Gary Sick, 6/15/09]
  • Carnegie Endowment Iran Expert Karim Sadjadpour: “[W]e don’t want to denounce these elections and insert ourselves into that political process which is playing out in Tehran. Historically, we have unwittingly hurt those whom we’ve tried to help in the past.” [Carnegie Endowment Iran Expert Karim Sadjadpour, 6/15/09]
  • Spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran Hadi Ghaemi: “It is better for the U.S. not to comment and make itself part of the equation… By supporting one faction versus another, the U.S. would not be helpful at all.” [Spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran Hadi Ghaemi, 6/15/09]
  • Iranian Expatriate via Andrew Sullivan: “I’m an Iranian living in Canada. A few hours ago I talked to my brother who is a student at Sharif University, he was at the big rally yesterday and they were only feet away from Karoubi when they marched from the university entrance to Azadi square. He asked what had Obama had said and I started reading the transcript. When I got to ‘the United States can be a handy political football, or discussions with the United States [can be]’ my brother sighed and said thank God this guy gets it.” [Iranian expatriate reported by Andrew Sullivan, 6/16/09]

Enough said.

– Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Shahram Sharif under a Creative Commons license.

For more, view our Voices of Iran extended coverage page and listen to our online radio show on Baha’i faith and modern Iran.

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1 comment


I totally agree. Any perceived meddling by US will only strengthen anti US sentiment in Iran.

Nina Hachigian is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the co-author of “The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise.” She has worked on the staff of the National Security Council in the White House and been a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. She specializes in U.S.-China relations and great power relationships, multilateral institutions and U.S. foreign policy.

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