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Don't Iranians Deserve 'Hope and Change' Too?

The Iranian election has given the world a jolt of reality. For those confused about the nature of the Iranian regime, its true colors are now revealed. But it has also been a clarifying event in America.

It has been obvious for some time that the American Left has given up on democracy and human rights as fundamental tenets of American foreign policy. But never before has it been so clear just how ruthless and indifferent they are to the aspirations of those who would be crushed by the boot of despotic regimes. And never before have we seen how Herculean a task it is to deny and obfuscate the nature of these sorts of regimes in order to pursue a policy devoted to stability, engagement, and process as goals in and of themselves (rather than as means to some greater ends).

The Iranian election and its aftermath demonstrate just how vast is the difference in approach between the Obama administration, which has embodied the Left’s total embrace of realpolitik, and its conservative critics.

This illuminating discussion from the Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Juan Williams. Mara Liasson, and Bill Kristol suggests that the hope and change crowd isn’t in the White House, at least not when we get to hope and change for citizens of other countries:

WALLACE: So you think all of President Obama’s efforts or hopes to reach out to Iran on some level — that that’s dead?

WILLIAMS: Well, it looks like it. I mean, the only thing is that there’s the possibility that you get Ayatollah Khamenei and others in search of some kind of domestic appeasement, saying to people, “You know what? Oh, no, we’re going to negotiate with the international community. We’re going to take steps to try to amp down the tensions here.” But that’s the only hope.

I don’t see that there’s much hope now in terms of these negotiations going forward because President Obama would look weaker. It would look as if he was giving in to this man who’s not even legitimately elected.

KRISTOL: Juan’s giving up on reaching out by President Obama. At the moment you should be — this is the moment for President Obama to step up. He does have some credibility, presumably, with people in Iran. He should support the democrats.

HUME: Right.

KRISTOL: He should support the demonstrators. He should say that stealing elections is unacceptable, killing demonstrators in the streets of Tehran is unacceptable. He could work with the Europeans to say, “Let’s bring in international observers to review whether this was a fair election. If it wasn’t, let’s think about having another election.”

WALLACE: But you’re saying turn up the heat, not reach out to the ruling regime.

KRISTOL: Reach out to — right, reach out to the Iranian people. I mean, this is the — I really am shocked that Obama has said nothing so far, and we’ll see what he says today.

But I mean, doesn’t America — when these things happen, there’s — when there are democratic protests and there’s a chance for success, their success depends on outside forces helping them. That was true in Lebanon.

KRISTOL: No, I do want to …

LIASSON: No, no.

KRISTOL: … open communication channels.


KRISTOL: I do want to send money. And I want to tell the Iranians who are on the fence and who do want trade with Europe and do want warmer relations with the U.S., “Look, you’ve got now to back off or else you don’t get anything you want.”

The worst thing the U.S. can say is, “We don’t care what you do in there. We desperately want to engage the regime no matter how thuggish it is.”

LIASSON: It’s worth a try. The worst thing that happens is you get a very clarifying moment if it fails. And that in and of itself might lead to some kind of a resolution of this.

HUME: But does anybody sense that the inclination of this administration is to do what Bill suggests? I think not. This president couldn’t have been blind to what Ahmadinejad is and what he represents, and he was prepared to reach out to him, as has been pointed out here.

I think he will continue to — that’s what they said yesterday in the face of all of this. I mean, I think it’s going to be — you know, it’s going to look terrible to do it now, given the questions about the legitimacy of this election. This will all play out in the next couple of days.

This is the approach which the Obama administration seems to be choosing, a ruthless determination to pursue some deal, any deal (there has to be a deal, right?) with the mullahs.

That necessitates they not rock the boat — and avoid extending even rhetorical support to the Iranian demonstrators. It is a familiar trend. Obama and his supporters, after all, were the ones who called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq (before victory was apparent) despite the risk of regional genocide. Once in office Obama has been content to drop human rights (whether in China or Venezuela) from the agenda, literally embrace Hugo Chavez, and relax restrictions on Cuba with no preconditions. So perhaps we should not be surprised. These are not people dedicated to human rights, democracy, or free and fair elections — or, for that matter, placing any demand on authoritarian states regarding their treatment of their citizens.

This tactic does, of course, have two major drawbacks. First, it becomes morally repugnant at some level. Does Obama continue to coo about the “Islamic Republic of Iran”? At what time do we become facilitators of a regime which badly needs legitimacy in order to maintain its iron grip?  But for those who like “realism” the central defect is that this sort of “engagement at all costs” is wildly unrealistic. After the display of the last few days who thinks these people will give up nuclear ambitions? Who thinks a regime of this type is simply waiting to join the family of nations? It should be apparent that a regime which would declare the election to be free and fair is precisely the sort to string us along in fruitless negotiations and dissemble about its current behavior and future aspirations.

Even Henry Kissinger, the quintessential architect of realpolitik, repeatedly argued that American foreign policy must combine both hard-headed realism and adherence to our deepest moral aspirations (e.g., democracy, human rights). Without the latter our ability to influence, persuade, and rally world opinion fades. And by jettisoning our moral aspirations an administration risks losing the support and affection of American voters. Indeed those Americans who expected something more from their president (who won, you may recall, by tapping into the idealism of many formerly jaded or indifferent new voters)  may recoil in horror as they realize there is nothing more important to the Obama administration — not freedom, not democracy, not justice, not fidelity to allies — than “getting a deal.”

In the end, we won’t have that either, in large part, because the regime we are attempting to deal with has figured out that it can act with impunity. And if they have figured it out in Iran, what must they think in Syria, Moscow, China, and North Korea?