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June 18th, 2009
12:11 PM ET

With Iran, think before you speak

[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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Filed under: 360° Radar • Iran
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Allen Tan, Hong Kong

    I applaud the measured, reasoned and intelligent approach taken by the Obama Administration in responding to the dramatic events that have taken place in Iran over the last week or so. As many other commentators have already pointed out, probably the best thing that America can do right now is provide moral support for the Iranian pro-reformist protesters being very careful to stop short of seeming to meddle in the country's internal affairs. This way lies damnation as they say and can only hurt the cause of the courageous people of Iran who are risking their well being and in some instances their lives with their daily acts of defiance against the conservative establishment.

    Bravo Obama. Bravo the new and improved brand of American Diplomacy.

    June 18, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  2. Justin

    I cringe hearing McCain talk about our response not being strong enough. I think we have all learned the lesson on what can happen if we stick our nose where it does not belong, Re: Iraq.

    Let the Iranians deal with their own problems, it is not America's place to champion our way of thinking wherever we can find an open ear, it's a different story if we are being asked.

    June 18, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  3. @baldshag

    We know "this is an Iranian moment, not an American one." We are just showing our support for those who are protesting and trying to get their voices heard. It's not like us as Americans are going to enrage the clerics by turning our twitter avatars green, and tweeting news and support. They are already in control! We just want the Iranians to know that we support their cause, we are hopeful for their success, and we pray they finally get their voices heard.
    Senator Kerry, you need to be a proud American and stop blaming "us" for the rest of the world's issues. You try to make it seem as if our support for freedom is enraging to the leadership there and causing the problem. I'm sorry sir, but I think you are an idiot. The problem has been there all along. Let's not be weak and turn our backs. That's not what America does. Spread democracy, Senator Kerry, not apologies. I love my freedom, and I support anyone who fights for their own.

    Mike Gordon
    Huntington, WV
    U.S.A.

    June 18, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  4. Robin in Florida

    Personally, I am extremely PROUD of President Obama's response to the Crisis in Iran! We as Americans SUPPORT Human Rights and "THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH" but we MUST NOT interfere with the Election Process of another Country! What if another country tried to interfere with our Election Process in 2000 or 2004...WE WOULD NOT TOLERATE IT!!! The Best we can do as a Country is to HOPE that THE WILL OF THE IRANIAN PEOPLE IS HEARD!! Nothing more...Nothing less!!

    June 18, 2009 at 1:13 pm |
  5. Kathy

    Korosh – I hope you are not saying that America should "arm" the protesting Iranians. Their peaceful protest in the face of extremism is what will prevail in the end. Violence is not – as the Iranians protesters can see – the answer to their problems. Steadfastness, peace, and courage will prevail here.

    June 18, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  6. George

    How we can help is by doing just what we are doing, watch, listen and admire. Democracy is not something that can be given to a country, it is something each nation has to develop on their own. It's like learning to swim, the swimmer has eventually take off the water wings and go it alone. The Iranain people will earn their democracy and it will last because of what they have gone through. It may not happen for several years, but the writing is on the wall, and it cannot be erased or painted over. We gave them the technology of the internet and cell phones, now they have to do the rest on their own. I have faith!

    June 18, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  7. korosh

    Thank you for your courageous coverage of Iranians protest of election cheating. Mr.: cooper this is a critical time that Iranians need help as you have seen in the pictures that revolutionary guards have attacked them with guns, batons, machetes etc. can you advice to how the opposition organizations, outside of Iran, can get in touch with governments to make them even more aware of this anti human acts and get help for the unarmed Iranians. Thanks

    June 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
  8. Michael C. McHugh

    I'm the first to say that we should praise the democracy movement in Iran, and also be very cautious of their nationalist sensibilities, and the very b ad history between our countries–Operation Ajax in 1953, supporting the shah all those years, supporting Iraq in the war of 1980-88. There's not a lot of positive history to build on there.

    Obama has made it clear that he does not want to revert to the bad old days of the Cold War, CIA coups, imperialism and colonialism, and perhaps it would be good to remind the Iranians of that from time to time–that we don't want to just rush in and bring the Shah back or grab control of the oil supply.

    June 18, 2009 at 12:18 pm |