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The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss discusses the Iranian protests on MSNBC.

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"The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss discusses the Iranian protests on MSNBC."

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This afternoon, the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss appeared on MSNBC to discuss the ongoing Iranian protests over last week’s disputed presidential elections. He praised President Obama for taking the U.S. “out of this equation” and thus refusing to give the hardliners in Iran an “excuse” to crack down further on the protesters:

DUSS: I think the lesson to be learned is the United States’ ability to intervene and change these outcomes is rather limited. As Americans, we like to believe that our ability to move, to promote democracy and to move events in the world at our will is a lot bigger than it actually is. … Right now President Obama’s treatment of the demonstrations going on in Iran is pretty near perfect. He has taken the United States to the extent possible out of this equation, he, the United States, and our role in the Middle East is not — he’s not going to give that to the hard liners as an excuse for an even greater crackdown.

Watch it:

Transcript:

SHUSTER: When you remember the pictures of the thousands of Chinese who were in Tiananmen Square, and then you match it up with the thousands, the hundreds of thousands…who are now demonstrating in Iran, are there lessons learned in terms of the United States’ role in all this?

DUSS: I think the lesson to be learned is the United States’ ability to intervene and change these outcomes is rather limited. As Americans, we like to believe that our ability to move, to promote democracy and to move events in the world at our will is a lot bigger than it actually is. I think there’s arguments that the United States could have spoken out a bit more strongly around Tiananmen. However, right now President Obama’s treatment of the demonstrations going on in Iran is pretty near perfect. He has taken the United States to the extent possible out of this equation, he, the United States, and our role in the Middle East is not — he’s not going to give that to the hard liners as an excuse for an even greater crackdown.

SHUSTER: Does there come a point though at which perhaps the Obama administration ought to change? In other words, while the United States tries to stay out of it, tries not to be a distraction, should there come a point, or can you envision a set of circumstance where it would be incumbent upon president obama to be more aggressive, at least in the rhetoric?

DUSS: I can imagine if the crackdown got to be much more severe than we’re seeing, I can imagine the president’s rhetoric would probably ramp up a little bit to increase his calls for respect for human rights and respect for the Iranian people’s voices to be heard. But as we’re seeing from these pictures that you’re showing, their voices are being heard right now on the streets of Iran, and that’s very, very significant.

SHUSTER: What are some of the crucial things we should be looking for as the story develops in the days ahead?

DUSS: We should look to see if police are following orders to crack down, if a crackdown is called upon. That picture that I heard that you showed of the man standing in front of the tank — that’s a very important picture in a number of ways because the tank commander stopped his tank. Now as you said, that crackdown in China was very severe, but the key thing here is whether the instruments of state repression, the militias, the IRGC, but most importantly the police, who are the rank and file, they’re not necessarily the most ideological parts of the system — if they choose to cross over, that’s something that could be very significant.

SHUSTER: One of the reasons of course is that the Chinese, at least some of the initial security forces did not attack and why the tanks stopped is because they were from Beijing and so the Chinese called out troops who were not from that city so they would not be fighting against essentially their neighbors and families. Do you see any of that being a potential part of what may be going on in Tehran, in other words, that the security forces that may be asked to essentially crack down may know some of these people as their neighbors or friends?

DUSS: Well there was a picture that I saw a couple of days ago that was very moving. It was a policeman who was being beaten up by protesters and one of the protesters covered him with his body and stopped the other protesters from beating him up, just saying, Listen, he is an Iranian, we are together in this. Let’s not fight amongst ourselves. I don’t know if that will be happening more. I should hope that it might. But I think the key thing to recognize is the United States’ ability to affect the outcome on the ground in Iran is limited.

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