The Seeming Iranian Sitzkrieg

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 27, 2009

bloody-hand-in-iranOutwardly, it would appear that there is nothing new happening in Iran; the protests have become sporadic as a consequence of the massive security crackdown. But that does not mean events relating to the protests do not deserve attention.

The Obama Administration now appears to be coming out with tougher language against the actions of the Islamic regime:

President Barack Obama on Friday praised the bravery of Iranians who protested against a disputed election in the face of “outrageous” violence, while a hardline Iranian cleric called for the execution of leading “rioters.”

Iran’s top legislative body, which had said it found no major violations in the presidential election which set off the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, said 10 percent of ballot boxes would be recounted.

Authorities have rejected a call for annulment of the vote by reformist former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi who led mass protests after he was declared a distant second behind

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the poll two weeks ago.

Obama, whose administration along with major powers is locked in a row with Iran over its nuclear program, said hopes for U.S. dialogue with Iran would be affected by the post-election crackdown.

“There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks,” Obama told a White House news conference, adding: “We don’t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran.”

This, of course, is the kind of language that many of us were calling for the Administration to use from the outset. The Administration was late to use such language, informing us that it was better not to be seen as “meddling” in Iran’s internal affairs. This restraint was praised as “realist,” but that turned out to be a ridiculous appellation; the Administration’s initial reluctance to speak out against the regime’s crackdown on protests did nothing to alleviate the crackdown, and it also did nothing to prevent the regime from accusing the United States of meddling(!). The United States got all of the blame for employing tough language, without the potential benefits of actually having employed it early on, and without having worked early on to create an international consensus against the abuse of human and political rights in Iran. Seeing as how creating fissures in the regime would have benefited the United States down the road in the event that it has to deal with the regime on security matters, the Obama Administration’s early silence also failed to advance American interests. It is nice to see that the Administration is taking a tougher line, but events forced it to do as much. All of the praise the Administration got for its supposed wise initial decision to hold its tongue when it came to events in Iran seems pretty laughable now, doesn’t it?

The following passage from the story deserves special attention:

Ahmad Khatami, a member of the powerful Assembly of Experts, said the judiciary should charge leading “rioters” as “mohareb” or one who wages war against God.

“I want the judiciary to … punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson,” Khatami told worshippers at Tehran University on Friday.

“They should be punished ruthlessly and savagely,” he said. Under Iran’s Islamic law, punishment for people convicted as “mohareb” is execution.

Did no one in the Obama Administration see this kind of talk coming? How did the President and his advisers come to the decision that refraining from criticizing this language–and the actions associated with it–would help improve the situation in Iran?

While the Obama Administration has been hesitant about speaking out, Iranians remain defiant. One can only hope that despite the massive security crackdown, something fundamental has indeed changed in Iran, and the regime’s long-term prospects are as poor as I and others hope they are.

How utterly laughable:

The United States may have been behind the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year-old Iranian woman whose fatal videotaped shooting Saturday made her a symbol of opposition to the June 12 presidential election results, the country’s ambassador to Mexico said Thursday.

“This death of Neda is very suspicious,” Ambassador Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri said. “My question is, how is it that this Miss Neda is shot from behind, got shot in front of several cameras, and is shot in an area where no significant demonstration was behind held?”

He suggested that the CIA or another intelligence service may have been responsible.

“Well, if the CIA wants to kill some people and attribute that to the government elements, then choosing women is an appropriate choice, because the death of a woman draws more sympathy,” Ghadiri said.

The CIA chose to actually dignify this nonsense with a comment.

One certainly does need to anticipate the possibility that at some point in time, the United States will have to engage Iran in discussions over matters of mutual interests. As I have written before, those discussions should not happen while the situation in Iran remains in flux, but the situation in Iran will certainly serve to shape our negotiating strategy when the time does come for talks. If a government emerges in Iran that is friendly to the United States, I will be delighted, and it will make for easier cooperation on some matters (we must remember, of course, that irrespective of their governmental makeups, nation-states have a significant number of permanent interests that are not affected by changes in the ideology or nature of their governments). But if the current regime lumbers on, and we have to engage it in negotiations, then we are going to have to be harder-edged in our dealings. That’s why I am glad to see that Peter Feaver is thinking along the same lines that I have been thinking for the past three years. I don’t mind if no one in the White House sees fit to listen to me. But I hope that someone listens to him.

Previous post:

Next post: