Pulled across the Rubicon

Fox News reports that President Obama has finally called on the Iranian government to respect the wishes of its citizens, abandoning his earlier reluctance to comment on events now shaking that country and taking a mild, but definite stand in favor of the demonstrators.


“The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights,” Obama said in a written statement. …

“I believe that,” Obama said. “The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.”

The President’s actions suggest that he has finally torn up the draft agreements he had hoped to conclude with the Iranian regime simply because there is no one any longer to send them to. Reuel Marc Gerecht in the Weekly Standard and the Belmont Club argued some days ago that whatever happens things in Iran will not go back to the status quo ante. Gerecht wrote “Everyone in Tehran may have crossed the Rubicon. It was always questionable whether the office of the velayat-e faqih would survive Khamenei; he has now pretty much guaranteed that it will not. If it turns out that Mousavi has actually had one of those life-changing epiphanies that sometimes happen on the Iranian ‘left'”.

“‘Crossing the Rubicon’ is a popular idiom meaning to pass a point of no return”, according to Wikipedia. Now it would appear that President Obama has crossed this fateful river as well. But unlike some of the demonstrators in Iran, for whom things are literally win or lose, live or die, there is no way of knowing whether he has hedged his bets. “In finance, a hedge is a position established in one market in an attempt to offset exposure to the price risk of an equal but opposite obligation or position in another market — usually, but not always, in the context of one’s commercial activity.” A great power, unlike a teenage demonstrator, has the luxury of placing not just one but several wagers.


But in this case hedging will make no sense. The game in Teheran will probably be zero-sum. By coming out publicly for the demonstrators, President Obama has very little to gain by further ambiguity. The side deals are no longer important compared to the basic goal of coming out on top. It is in his interest to hope that the popular movement succeeds. Indeed, it is his interest to help them, in whatever way appropriate, to win their fight.

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