Monday, 15 June 2009

Bill Kristol thinks Obama Should Speak Up on Iran Elections. Should He?

In a strongly worded online column at the Washington Post, Conservative commentator William Kristol asks the White House to speak up in support of the protestors of the Iranian election.

After a boilerplate introduction in which (for the 37,000th time) Kristol insinuates that Obama is a Chamberlain style appeaser who would have let the Nazis conquer Manhattan before objecting, he goes on to write,

Some argue that the brave Iranians demonstrating for freedom and democracy would be better off if the American president somehow stayed out of the fight. Really?

But Barack Obama is president. His statement wouldn’t be crafted by those dreaded neocons who vulgarly thought all people would like a chance to govern themselves and deserved some modicum of U.S. support in that endeavor. It would be written by subtle liberal internationalists, who would get the pitch and tone just right. And the statement wouldn’t be delivered by the notorious George Bush (who did, however, weigh in usefully in somewhat similar situations in Ukraine and Lebanon). It would be delivered by the popular and credible speaker-to-the-Muslim-world, Barack Obama. Does anyone really think that a strong Obama statement of solidarity with the Iranian people, and a strong rebuke to those who steal elections and shoot demonstrators, wouldn’t help the dissidents in Iran?

OK, I'll bite.

YES. I do in fact, think that the protestors in Iran will be better off if President Obama sticks by his current position - which, by the way, is not silence but rather a steady position in support of the democratic process.

First of all, the glaring (practically blinding) error in Kristol's piece is his meditation on the "subtle liberal internationalists" who are expert in the region and who he imagines would be the ones to craft a White House statement. He appears either never to have considered or to have conveniently ignored the truth that these people are almost certainly the very ones advising Obama to shut the heck up. Precisely because they know that any appearance the protests are American led or supported would add instant credibility to Ahmadinezhad's rapidly unravelling support.

Obama did indeed speak up in a direct effort to inspire precisely this kind of constructive opposition in the Muslim world. If Kristol missed it, he might want to take another look at that Cairo speech.

Meanwhile, looking at it from the other side, it is unclear to me what could POSSIBLY be gained from any direct statement from the US administration at this point. Musavi's supporters are doing what needs to be done - they are taking to the street in direct opposition, by the tens and hundreds of thousands. Largely peacefully - in the face of intimidation and threats. They are getting the word out locally through every available communications method - in the face of increasingly futile efforts by the ruling regime to block the internet. Obama's careful statements in support of "debate" in Iran and calling for verification of the voting results have struck a useful balance - providing encouragement to the protestors, but depriving the Iranian leadership of any opportunity to claim American manipulation of the vote.

It may be hard for William Kristol to believe, but you know what?


The people of Iran are in the process of transforming their country. It may be that the outcome will be favourable to US interests. It may be that the outcome will be a setback for our interests. But either way, this is entirely an event about Iranians, by Iranians, for Iranians.

Obama could win some domestic political support by speaking out on this issue right now. But the brave people leading this movement deserve all the CONSTRUCTIVE support we can give them. And a carefully constructed silence actually is, right now, the very best way we can help.

No comments: