By Rachel Brody |
President Barack Obama handles the Arab revolt better than the ongoing unrest in Iran. Interests and values coincided in Libya but he acts as if they are out of sync in non-Arab Iran. With NATO allies, a United Nations Security Council Resolution, and an Arab League vote, the president assisted Arab oppositionists in seizing power in Libya, but fails to organize a collation to help the Iranian people.
In response to the Arab revolt that spread internal regime change, consider President Obama's address of March 28, 2011 to justify a limited American military role in Libya: The president said, "When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act." At issue, however, is what happens when interests and values are at odds?
Although the president does not admit to a doctrine, two principles emerged from the speech that allowed him to do better for the Arab world than to the east in the Gulf. First, when interests and values coincide, it can justify use of air and sea power but perhaps not ground forces unless overwhelming interests were threatened. Second, expectation of a humanitarian disaster can warrant use of such limited power if there were an international consensus. Missing is an articulation of what to do when he perceives interests and values to be in conflict. A third principle would be to bring them in harmony by supporting dissidents who reject clerical rule and eschew nuclear weapons.
The president's speech to the United Nations on September 25 mentions Iran seven times, but makes reference to the Iranian people only once. His focus was on interests with scant regard for freedom. The president acts as if the Iranian people's desire for a free Iran were incompatible with Washington's priority to engage Tehran to negotiate a nuclear deal. Were he to pay more attention to the people of Iran—specifically to opposition groups—the regime might conclude that regime change from within is on the table and pay less attention to obtaining the bomb.
Had Secretary Hillary Clinton taken steps earlier to remove the primary dissident organization that rejects clerical rule and nuclear weapons, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, from the U.S. terrorist list, a coalition of dissidents might have formed. Even if oppositionists do not get along, U.S. leadership in support of an alignment could help it come to pass.
About Raymond Tanter Founder of the Iran Policy Committee
Brian Katulis Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress
Michael Rubin Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
Charles Dunne Scholar at the Middle East Institute
Jamie M. Fly Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative
Elizabeth H. Prodromou Affiliate Scholar at Harvard University
Marc Lynch Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University
Marina Ottaway Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace