I have a new column up on Iran and the Obama Administration’s reaction to the ongoing protests. A sample:
With the onset of new demonstrations in Iran, every self-styled foreign policy expert is urging the Obama Administration to say and do little in terms of trying to help the reformist camp in the country. Reticence is urged because if the United States involves itself too heavily, it will supposedly create a backlash against the reformist movement, and its presumed imperialist patron–the United States. There is certainly something to be said for not getting the United States too involved. It naturally would not do to revive memories of Operation Ajax amongst the Iranian people, and at the end of the day, the only people who can save Iran from the theocrats and the fundamentalists are the Iranians themselves.
At the same time, however, too much reticence on the part of the United States may only serve to do to the reform movement what it did to the Shah; namely, signal that the United States does not have much invested in the reform movement, and that it considers the movement dispensable. Whether or not the United States is denounced by Iranians as an imperialist power, Iranians still do view the United States as powerful. If America invests itself in a foreign policy goal that affects Iran, Iranians notice it, and enter the fact into their calculations as they seek to determine whether the goal stands a good chance of being achieved. Independent of whether a particular goal is seen as desirable, the likelihood of it being achieved plays a central role in determining the actions of Iranians down the line.