Dan Senor, the Romney campaign’s chief foreign policy adviser, said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe today that President Obama stayed “silent” during Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009:
SENOR: The president chose not to weigh in on behalf of dissidents, with the theory you just articulated, that to weigh in would strengthen the regime, and the regime would use that, would argue, you know what the Americans are meddling, they argue that anyways. We didn’t weight in, and Khamenei and Ahmadinejad were still accusing us of weighing in so we stayed out of it, we got nothing out of it, and we let down the dissident movement. We let down the dissident movement. People storm the streets in a country, fighting for freedom and the American president is silent? The American president is silent.
Mitt Romney himself has repeatedly used the line to attack President Obama’s foreign policy. While it might make for a nice soundbite, the argument doesn’t align with the facts. That’s because on June 15, 2009, just two days after post-election demonstrations began in Iran, President Obama spoke out against the Iranian government’s hard-handed crackdown on Iranian activists:
OBAMA: I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we’ve seen on the television over the last few days. And what I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was. And they should know that the world is watching.
And particularly to the youth of Iran, I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.
The President reiterated his comments a day later in another press conference.
OBAMA: What I will repeat and what I said yesterday is that when I see violence directed at peaceful protestors, when I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, wherever that takes place, it is of concern to me and it’s of concern to the American people. That is not how governments should interact with their people. And my hope is, is that the Iranian people will make the right steps in order for them to be able to express their voices, to express their aspirations. I do believe that something has happened in Iran where there is a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures towards the international community that have taken place in the past, and that there are people who want to see greater openness and greater debate and want to see greater democracy. How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something ultimately for the Iranian people to decide. But I stand strongly with the universal principle that people’s voices should be heard and not suppressed.
While some Iranian protesters did reportedly call for Obama to endorse them more forcefully, what’s missing in President Obama’s initial response is a full-on endorsement of Iran’s reformist candidates in that election, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize winning activist, believed this was the right move, saying: “What happens in Iran regards the people themselves, and it is up to them to make their voices heard. I respect his comments on all the events in Iran, but I think it is sufficient.”
Iranian journalist Omid Memarian, who himself was imprisoned by the Iranian government, says Obama rightly decided to not name Mousavi or Karroubi as the protests built up: “If President Obama had publicly supported the pro-democracy protesters, he would have played right into the regime’s hands. The movement would have lost its authenticity in the eyes of a wide range of supporters, irrespective of class, ethnicity, or political beliefs. Remember that in 1953 the CIA helped overthrow the most democratic government Iran had ever seen; for years, the American government also helped prop up the corrupt and feckless government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It’s no wonder that people in Iran, and the Middle East, are highly suspicious of any U.S. political interference.”