Actual Democracy Promoters Support Obama’s Approach

An excellent point from Spencer Ackerman:

Amazingly, someone who doesn’t think Obama’s statements about Iran have been detrimental to democratic impulses is Jack Duvall, the president of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a non-governmental organization which provides tools and training for political reformers and democracy activists around the world. Duvall told me that Obama’s statement yesterday about Iran was “extraordinary,” in a way that I hadn’t considered. “He shifted the frame,” Duvall noted, “from [the question of] ‘were the elections fradulent’ to ‘what’s the responsibility of the Iranian government for peaceful dissent?’ That lays down a marker going forward: this is how we’re assessing you. He doesn’t have to send that in a giant shell shot out of a Howitzer, but it’s a matter of record.” In fact, Duvall said, Obama’s statement was “the first time you’ve heard a president articulate” that “how governments respond to the clamor of their people to be heard should be a measure of how we assess their legitimacy.” While the Bush administration surely wouldn’t have disagreed, he continued, Obama sharpened the point by “focusing it and giving it such visibility” during the largest protests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

You actually see this time and again, where people who work full-time, all-the-time on the difficult issues of democracy, human rights, and humanitarianism are much less interested in tough talk and posturing than are political pundits who like to parachute into situations and start demanding maximalist rhetoric. The appropriate test of US policy toward the Iranian political crisis continues to be whether or not it actually improves the situation—helps save lives, helps promote political change—not whether or not it’s deemed adequately expressive.