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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Avoiding Doom In Iran

There has been much dialogue, including on this blog, about the proper posture for the Obama administration to take with regard to the reform movement and protests in Iran. Many commenters argue that only Iranians can decide what is right for Iranians, and point to anecdotal assertions that silence is best.

According to the CNN report below (via the great blogger Michael J. Totten), however, many Iranian students do not want Obama to accept the election results, otherwise the reformers will be "doomed."

Read the rest of Totten's posts, including reports from Iranians about how imported Hezbollah Arabs are carrying out much of the street violence for the regime.

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  1. Obama can certainly walk the middle line on this, expressing concern and hinting obliquely that the results of the election are in question. The important thing is to keep the end goal in mind.

    Beyond doubt, that overriding goal should be to see an end the brutal, bloody, hyperaggressive, and soon to be nuclear armed theocracy in Iran. The goal should be to see a true democracy put in its place, both for our self defense and for the good of the Iranian people. The only restraint on that goal should be that none of our overt actions provide a pretext for the regime to claim that the grass roots resistance to the theocracy is actually a foreign plot - a replay of the 1953 CIA led Mossadeq coup. And do not underestimate Iran's fixation on that coup. It is central to the theocrat's historical narrative. Anything that smacks of U.S. invovlement in Iran's internal politics is cast through the lens of that coup.

    I think that Obama went as far as he could reasonably go in his speech yesterday. We are not at the point where there is massive repression and tanks in the street, in which case it would be appropriate to lend much more direct, overt support to the protestors. Until then, it would be very easy for anything Obama says to cross the "Mossadeq" line and allow the regime to justify such acts of repression.

    That said, Obama's continued statements regarding his intent to go forward with unconditional talks is absolutely wrong headed. It sends the message that whoever occupies the Presidency in Iran will be sufficiently legitimate for the U.S. and, conversely, that the protests do not matter in that regards. Those are the polar opposite of the messages we should be sending.

    Further, I am concerned that Obama may not be pursuing regime change in Iran, particularly given his statment on unconditional talks. Iran has been an intelligence nightmare for thirty years because it is so closed and repressive. But with the border between Iran and Iraq now open, and with thousands of Iranians and Iraqis crossing it every day, Obama has a golden opportunity for gathering intelligence and as a means to covertly support the protest movement. This should be happy hunting and low hanging fruit for the CIA. I hope that is what Obama is doing, but everything that I know about Obama - his apologetics for America, his refusal to actively promote democracy, etc. - suggests that we are not. Time will tell.

    In sum, Obama's overt pronouncements are probably striking the right notes. Obama's promise to hold unconditional talks with Iran is naive and counterproductive. But a failure to exploit this golden opportunity for intelligence and covert support of regime change in Iran would be far worse. It would be criminal.

  2. GW, you are right about a lot of things in your post except about the intelligence gathering. That would require the use of human intelligence resources which would be a great idea, but most of those in charge nowadays think that electronic intelligence can do it all. Why trust a person on the ground that can tell you about the people's moods, gossip and attitudes when you can rely on a good old satellite or UAV that shows you a pretty picture. The picture can tell you what the mood on the street is and what the people's real feelings are about the elections. Besides if they want that, they can get an unbiased report just by turning to their favorite media source and get an unbiased and knowledgeable opinion every time. Wow, I almost said that with a straight face too.