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June 17th, 2009
08:58 AM ET

Dear President Obama #149: To intervene or not to intervene ... that is the question

Reporter's Note: President Barack Obama continues to keep a breakneck schedule of policy meetings, pow wows with foreign leaders, and presumably the odd pickup basketball game. And yet he has not rescinded his call for advice from Americans on how to make the country better. So as long as there is still hope that he will be reading, I will continue writing my letter a day to the White House.

Al-Alam footage shows Ahmadinejad supporters rallying Tuesday in central Tehran.

Al-Alam footage shows Ahmadinejad supporters rallying Tuesday in central Tehran.

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Well, the kettle certainly seems to be boiling in Iran! Those massive protests over the presidential vote are pretty darn captivating to watch, and I would guess worrisome too: Some protesters saying the election was rigged to keep Ahmadinejad in, others saying a legitimate vote is being attacked in an unfair attempt to throw him out, and you…well, not saying much.

I been following the blasts you are taking for not speaking out more strongly on the whole affair. While some of your critics want you to say unequivocally that the election was a fraud, I understand your reticence to do so. Maybe political analysts, pundits, and less powerful leaders can throw their opinions around like bread crumbs, but if they are wrong no one will really care. If you, however, make a wrong pronouncement, I’m sure you’ll never hear the end of it. Kind of like me with my wife the time I tried to “fix” the sink. (And btw, I suspect the Iranians would see you as meddling in their affairs no matter what you said, and that’s never been a popular tune on the old Ayatollah jukebox.)

Still, this (like porcupine romance) is a prickly business. Many presidents before you have wrestled with deciding when to intercede in the affairs of other nations. In World War Two we struggled for quite some time before lending our weight to the war; which, as it turns out, was a good decision, otherwise we might yet be humming “Deutschland über alles” before all of our baseball games.

But other cases have not been as clear in terms of the long term outcome for American interests. Vietnam. Somalia. Iraq. I won’t dive into the old debates about when, where, how, and why we engaged in battles in those lands. I’m just pointing out that in each case a president (sometimes more than one) had to decide if the interests of Americans, or our allies, or humanity itself warranted exerting our power on someone else’s land. Few choices are more daunting in the Oval Office. And each of those presidents had to risk being wrong.

No real advice here, just a reminder: It is easy for critics to hurl stones at any president who moves too quickly or too slowly to take up a cause dear to their hearts. But if you act in haste and make the wrong decision, those same critics will still be there, pounding away. So as I would say to anyone facing a difficult choice, good luck with you assessments, be firm in your decision, and be willing to reconsider whether you were right or wrong.

Got to go. Another political sex scandal has just broken as I write this: GOP Senator John Ensign from Nevada. (Which, between you and me, I could not care less about.) Call if you get a moment. To quote Emerson, Lake and Palmer (or at least one of them!) “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends..”

Regards,

Tom

Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. SMH

    Their elections are no more our business than our elections are theirs. The United States would not stand for interference from another country in our political process. So why does everyone expect us to have some sort of action plan to deal with another country's political process. The people of Iran are doing what they can to make it change and that's the way it should be. The U.S. has it's nose in too many country's affairs as it is and it's weakening us and ruining our reputation and standing in the rest of the world. There are too many wars in the name of regime change as it is. We can't start another one in Iran. Let the people of Iran deal with their own government. It's not our place to intercede. If we do then we might as well intercede in China, North Korea and every other country that oppresses their own citizens. World War III is on the way cause everyone wants to meddle.

    June 23, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  2. Spelmanite08

    All of those who feels like Obama isn't doing enough about Iran must be lucky. I say this because you actually have time to worry about another nation when our nation is crumbling in front of our very eyes. Obama has been working deligently on other USA related issues. Its crazy how Obama has doner so much in a week, but from looking at the headlines, he's the leader of a GBLT, Christian but hateful [themselves] nation! Everyone is complaining that he's not talking "tough" enough or is "too late" to stand up for GBLT rights. For all of you, continue to wait on Bush to recognize your needs then!

    June 22, 2009 at 9:24 am |
  3. james

    Obama has a chance to help the people of Iran Bush got the winds of freedom blowing in Iraq and Afganistan now the breeze is blowing toward Iran especially women's rights thanks bush now pick up the stick Obama

    June 21, 2009 at 4:54 pm |
  4. henry banger benvenuti

    i lived in manhattan in the late 70's and 80's and i learned one big lesson, "mind your own business", meddling in another countries business is a bit bigoted. that's what the u.n. is for. we can't even correct our own human rights problem, ( public health care), and we are concerned of Iran's human rights problem? how about the bush – gore election? let them handle there own business. tell the republican's, that's why you lost the last election. too much hypocrisy!

    June 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm |
  5. Mari

    It is wise for President Obama to keep a LOW profile on the Iran elections! The situation is very delicate, and the U.S. can not be seen as the BULLY it has been in Iraq! We love our democracy and our freedoms, however, we must be cautious not to IMPOSE our will on sovereign countries!

    Part of the problem between the U.S. and the Middle Eastern nations is that they see the U.S. as wanting to ram our values, our beliefs, our system of government down their throats!

    When the U.S. starts to impose their will on the Middle East they see us as arrogant. We, in the U.S. forget or do not even consider the FACT that the Middle Eastern nations have been around since time began, and that we are seen as an "infant nation" in comparison. Also, we do not seem to take into account the FACT that their culture is totally different from our own.

    President Obama's caution is correct. Americans can pray, support and hope for the best outcome in Iran, but lest not be the "bull in the china shop" ! The ayatolahs (sp?) are watching, IF they even smell that the U.S.'s involvement they might seize to be willing to look at the problems with the elections.

    Peace.

    June 17, 2009 at 3:10 pm |
  6. M

    As much as President Carter did back then in 1979 by bringing up the Human Rights issues which toppled the Shah of Iran...I guess it's ok to just bring that one up just once again.

    June 17, 2009 at 1:17 pm |
  7. Melissa

    Obama should stay out. It isn't his country. This is up to the Iranians. They may be in a civil war, but the US can't afford to enter another war right now, and with all the Iranian allies, it would likely be a world war.

    June 17, 2009 at 12:23 pm |
  8. Eva Marie Willis

    I say we don't intervene. Number one it wouldn't do any good and may harm some of our foreign relations. So don't waste our time. We have enough other things to concern ourselves with.

    June 17, 2009 at 11:59 am |
  9. Carol B. in MD

    Hi Tom. When the President makes a statement about the rigged election in Iran, you know each word will be meted out very carefully. The Clerics will glady look for a diversion and skapegoat to take some of the heat off a corruption scandal. "The meddling, devil President of the Western world says..."

    June 17, 2009 at 11:56 am |
  10. Lynnette Perry

    I feel that wars in this region have gone on thousands of years and they need to choose to resolve this or not.
    Whenever we are close to any peace treaty or get their word to stop what they are doing, they break their treaty or their word. They have no wish or intent for peace.
    I do NOT believe our president should have anything more to do wiht this. He should wash his hands of this mess and allow them to fight it out or ..here's an idea. Maybe it is time for a country OTHEr than the USA to do something. I am tired of going ot war to have other countries sit on their laurels and watch. Always standing behimd us.
    Let Japan and China deal wiht north Korea. Let other mid-east countrieds get off their duffs and se what they can do with Iran.-Mabe Russia will finally do something.
    We have done TOO much. What do we do for our own people? We have kids in the Appalaichains that are starving, yet first we go to Africa to help? Time to do something to help our own! Time to have expectations for other countries to stop being lazy and get it done. Otherwise..let it go.
    Protect our borders, I say, and let the world resolve their differences or ..just stay where you are and live with it! Our soldiers are worn out and too injured to be stretched further. Forget Iran. Let our men and women in uniform come home and help keep us safe here. Let each country take care of its own.
    Our president has the intelligence to keepp restrained, and he should STAY that way. Iran has never been a decent place and it is not up to us to change that. They have a government in place. -Let them work it out.

    June 17, 2009 at 11:41 am |
  11. Jeanette

    Adding to Toms letter to you:

    President Obama, Please don't interfere in Iran's politics any more than you have too. This is a civil war which I certainly hope the protesters for freedom will win, but we need to keep silent at this time. We don't need the USA to be blamed for causing this uprising.

    June 17, 2009 at 11:03 am |
  12. V. Madsen

    Was happy to read your article.

    June 17, 2009 at 10:02 am |
  13. Brian

    Dear Tom,

    Please put a picture of pro-mousavi protestors in this article to make it balanced. Pretty bad you only show pro-ahmadi....do you work for the Irani press?

    June 17, 2009 at 9:52 am |
  14. True

    I agree with the President's decision to remain silent on the election. I think about how I would feel if England, China, Russia, or some other country tried to intercede in a presidential election in this country because they had a preference of one candidate over another. I also feel it's important for the people of any given country to decide their own fate, and resolve their own internal crisis. The world does not belong to the US and we have to let other cultures live the way they wish whether it aligns with our beliefs or values or not. Imagine having a neighbor constantly trying to dictate how to raise your kids, treat your friends, manage your finances, and deciding what is appropriate behavior on your part. Doesn't sit too well and as a country we have to avoid behaving in such a manner. Now if they try to take over our yard, hurt our families, etc..... Well, that's a different story, but so far that has not happened with this election.

    June 17, 2009 at 9:41 am |
  15. Lyndi

    And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1,vs. 11-12).
    This was the third day even before he created man. God prepared for mankind everything necessary for our survival. Of all the herbs, fruits, fowls, animals and other thingsGod created why is one singled out and considered illegal?
    Man have created for instance alcohol which have been proven to cause so much harm to society and it is legal. I think we need to take a serious look at our actions and let those who chose to use marijuana use it. Just like other vegetable or fruits people would grow their own and a lot of the so call drug problem would be solved. Those who sell marijuana for a living would have to find another profession cutting out so much of the criminal activities which are associated with the possession and distribution of it.
    Genesis 1, v 29. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
    My question is, do we as human knows better than God what is best for us? Who will be the one to say to God what he have given us is illegal?

    June 17, 2009 at 9:09 am |

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