About Time

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 13, 2010

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After months and months of saying that it will not get involved in supporting the protesters in Iran, the Obama Administration . . . is getting involved in supporting the protesters in Iran:

The Obama administration is increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran’s government and moving to find ways to support Iran’s opposition “Green Movement,” said senior U.S. officials.

The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran’s dissident forces, said the U.S. officials, rather than just those involved in Iran’s nuclear program.

U.S. Treasury Department strategists already have been focusing on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has emerged as the economic and military power behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In recent weeks, senior Green Movement figures — who have been speaking at major Washington think tanks — have made up a list of IRGC-related companies they suggest targeting, which has been forwarded to the Obama administration by third parties.

Names on the list include Iran’s largest telecommunications provider, Telecommunication Company of Iran, which is majority-owned by the IRGC, and the Iranian Aluminum Co. A U.S. official involved in Iran said the administration wouldn’t comment on whether it was acting on the information.

American diplomats, meanwhile, have begun drawing comparisons in public between Iran’s current political turmoil and the events that led up to the 1979 overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlavi.

“In my opinion there are many similarities,” the State Department’s chief Iran specialist, John Limbert, told Iran-based listeners this week over U.S. government-run Radio Farda. “I think it’s very hard for the government to decide how to react to the legitimate and lawful demands of the people.”

Better late than never, I suppose, but what took so long? It could not have been the concern that coming out in favor of the opposition would have hurt it somehow, and that the protesters did not want to be associated with open American assistance for their movement; the Wall Street Journal report informs us that one of the protesters’ favorite chants is “Obama, Obama, either you are with us or you are with them [the regime]!” I suppose that the best explanation for the Administration’s delay in this matter is that it wanted to wait and see whether the Green Movement is for real. The problem, of course, is that by hanging back–while Iranian protesters were demanding engagement and involvement–the Administration might have inadvertently crushed the movement.

Thank goodness that it didn’t. But from here on out, the Administration should try to remember that at times, it is called on to lead, and not just to observe events.

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