By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
As the unrest in Iran nears its second week, President Barack Obama continues his strange silence, having failed to speak out forcefully in support of the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people. It is almost as though he is hedging his bets, trying to preserve his ability to negotiate some kind of "Grand Bargain" with the Mullahs who are behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
These people are not friends of the United States and they are not friends of the values this nation represents, like freedom of thought, popular sovereignty, equality between men and women and the hope for a better world. Trying to preserve the appearance of an honest broker to those who have no interest in dealing with you honestly is both foolish and dangerous.
But criticizing Obama is the easy part. The hard part is coming up with a strategy he could adopt that deals effectively with the crisis that encourages the demonstrators without putting them at additional risk and does not commit the United States to act beyond its capacity at the current time.
Former Bush State Department officials Dan Senor and Christian Whiton, writing in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, suggest five ways Obama could promote freedom in Iran without endangering the protestors or putting U.S. interests further at risk. To summarize, Senor and Whiton says Obama should:
- Contact former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi to signal his interest in the situation and in Mousavi's ongoing security.
- Deliver another taped message to the Iranian people - only this time he should "acknowledge the fundamental reality that the regime lacks the consent of its people to govern" and that this requires him to reach out to the opposition and find out what they want.
- Direct the U.S. ambassadors in Europe and the Gulf region to meet with local Iranian anti-regime expatriates.
- Provide additional funding for Radio Farda, an effective Persian-language radio, Internet and satellite property of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
- Help the reformers and dissidents level the playing field in the battle of ideas.
"Just as providing photocopiers and fax machines helped Solidarity dissidents in communist Poland in the 1980s, today's reformers need access to the Web and other means of communication. Grants should be given to private groups to develop and field firewall-busting technology," Senor and Whiton suggest.
None of these steps are overtly provocative toward the incumbent regime. All of them are effective ways to reach out and to support the pro-democracy movement by explaining all they need do is ask for help and it will be provided. The stakes increase with every passing day and hour. Things in Iran have gone beyond the legitimacy of one election; the people are now openly questioning the legitimacy of the entire regime. Things could turn at any moment and it is important for the United States, that "shining city on a hill," to be holding the lamp of freedom high so that all who chose to see it may.
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