[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/18/iran.university/art.campus.afp.gi.jpg caption="Students rally atop a building Monday on the campus of Tehran University."]
Senator John Kerry
For The New York Times
The grass-roots protests that have engulfed Iran since its presidential election last week have grabbed America’s attention and captured headlines — unfortunately, so has the clamor from neoconservatives urging President Obama to denounce the voting as a sham and insert ourselves directly in Iran’s unrest.
No less a figure than Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, has denounced President Obama’s response as “tepid.” He has also claimed that “if we are steadfast eventually the Iranian people will prevail.”
Mr. McCain’s rhetoric, of course, would be cathartic for any American policy maker weary of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hostile message of division. We are all inspired by Iran’s peaceful demonstrations, the likes of which have not been seen there in three decades. Our sympathies are with those Iranians who seek a more respectful, cooperative relationship with the world. Watching heartbreaking video images of Basij paramilitaries terrorizing protesters, we feel the temptation to respond emotionally.
There’s just one problem. If we actually want to empower the Iranian people, we have to understand how our words can be manipulated and used against us to strengthen the clerical establishment, distract Iranians from a failing economy and rally a fiercely independent populace against outside interference. Iran’s hard-liners are already working hard to pin the election dispute, and the protests, as the result of American meddling. On Wednesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry chastised American officials for “interventionist” statements. Government complaints of slanted coverage by the foreign press are rising in pitch.
We can’t escape the reality that for reformers in Tehran to have any hope for success, Iran’s election must be about Iran — not America. And if the street protests of the last days have taught us anything, it is that this is an Iranian moment, not an American one.
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