On Saturday, the Washington Post editorial board echoed the sentiments of speech given by John McCain that called on Obama to essentially say meaner things to the Iranians. The Post’s editorial headline leadingly asked the question: “What if the Obama administration fully sided with Iran’s Green Movement?”
The least surprising thing about the Washington Post’s editorial was that it never answers its own question, because the answer is, well, clear: not much if anything would change, in fact there could be some seriously negative blowback.
While there has been legitimate criticism that the Obama administration should have over the last year spoken more forcefully for human rights in Iran, the basic problem with “fully embracing” the green movement is that doing so hurts the green movement. Following last year’s June 12th election the Iranian regime desperately sought to portray the green movement as a western-inspired plot, not an indigenous movement. Stating explicitly that it is US policy to support the green movement is handing a gift to the Iranian regime.
But even if that weren’t the case, what exactly are McCain and the Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt advocating? McCain talks about deploying “moral power” to undercut Iranian legitimacy domestically and in the region. McCain never says what he means by that and how that would differ from what the President has done with his Nowruz message, his statement on human rights abuses, and his speech to the Muslim world – all acts that conservatives on the right have derided. While “moral power” is a good rhetorical phrase, it would also be helpful if US moral authority wasn’t still being eroded in the Middle East by the fact that, among other things, that Guantanamo bay is still open.
The Washington Post got a little more specific, by suggesting the administration do some “internet firewall-busting.” Additionally, others have noted that the US should work to expand Iranians access to email and the internet and others note that some sanctions should be removed to allow Iranians greater access. These ideas may have some merit – but basing US foreign policy toward Iran on the assumption that President Obama can somehow will the green movement to topple an entrenched regime is silly.
Furthermore, McCain and Hiatt both say the President should mobilize like-minded countries against Iran. But isn’t this exactly what the administration has done by getting UN sanctions and by pushing the Europeans to take stronger action?
Instead, what McCain and Hiatt are advocating is the exact same failed bluster-based foreign policy that was pursued by the Bush administration, which enabled Iran to develop its nuclear program unimpeded.