Conservative Grandstanding Doesn’t Help Iranians

Our guest blogger is Peter Juul, a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

President Obama’s measured response to Iran’s pro-democracy demonstrations has driven conservatives crazy. With the notable exceptions of Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, many conservatives are rending their garments and gnashing their teeth at the president’s cautious response. Robert Kagan went so far as to accuse President Obama of “siding with the Iranian regime”; House Republicans compared themselves to Iranian protestors; and a number of conservatives have spoken as if Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric alone –- and not Mikhail Gorbachev’s “new thinking” or the human rights activism of Eastern European dissidents –- was responsible for ending communist rule in Eastern Europe.

All of this overheated grandstanding over to the Iranian protests has exposed a deeply silly strain of contemporary conservativism. Stunts like comparing their vacuous Twittering to the use of technology to organize demonstrations by Iranian protesters or calling President Obama a “cream puff” are juvenile to most observers.

But the height of conservative inanity during the protests has been the almost narcissistic focus on American action -– in particular being “steadfast” (in what?) and assuming that Iranian protesters “await just a word that America is on their side.” Because obviously people can’t act unless they know where the United States stands in bright, screaming neon letters. This particular silliness is tied in with the previously mentioned misreading of the end of the Cold War, in which conservatives believe that Reagan’s speechifying caused the end of communism.


What the particular silliness that is the conservative response to the Iranian protests reveals is the more fundamental moral and intellectual bankruptcy of conservative foreign policy thinking. There is apparently little more to it than sloganeering, where somehow the utterance of words by the United States magically transforms their sentiments into action. Rather than thinking through what the United States’ interests, ideals, and objectives are and how best to obtain them, conservatives have decided that it’s enough to simply shout what we want at the top of our lungs and demand the world bend to our wishes. It’s as though conservative foreign policy thinking amounts to nothing more than the applied power of positive thinking.

This pose is deeply morally unserious as well. People like Charles Krauthammer and Dana Rohrabacher aren’t putting their lives on the line marching in the streets of Tehran. But they’re certainly holding themselves up as the moral equivalent of those marchers (both implicitly and explicitly) in their demands that President Obama perform an act of moralistic preening on the world stage. They don’t betray any sense of having thought about the possible consequences of their actions for those who really do have their lives on the line. Whereas President Obama’s concerns about meddling –- so derided by conservatives –- are rooted in the tortuous history of U.S. interference in Iranian politics and the way that strident U.S. support could undermine demonstrators. Conservatives can crow all they want about “moral clarity,” but it’s clear they’re more interested showing off their own perceived moral superiority than the actual fate of democracy in Iran.

By their general reaction to the Iranian protests, conservatives have shown that they’re more interested in satisfying their own need for moral posturing than in engaging in a serious policy debate of how best to support the Iranian pro-democracy movement. For all their prattling about democracy and freedom, conservatives don’t seem to understand that Iranians (and Eastern Europeans and others before them) are quite capable of protesting for greater rights and freedoms without being the United States making a noisy fuss about it.