Rhetorically, anyway. President Obama began his press conference today with the ringing endorsement of the Iranian protesters that he should have delivered a week ago. It was good. To give him full credit, I’ll quote the whole thing:
First, I’d like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days.
I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.
I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.
But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.
The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in Iran — some in the Iranian government, in particular, are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the elections.
These accusations are patently false. They’re an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders.
This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran and the future that they — and only they — will choose.
The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That’s precisely what’s happened in the last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers. And so we’ve watched what the Iranian people are doing.
This is what we’ve witnessed. We’ve seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence. We’ve seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard.
Above all, we’ve seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we’ve experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech.
If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion.
That’s what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.
Characteristically, however, Obama wouldn’t admit that today’s position represented an almost complete reversal of his original reaction to protests in Tehran. Asked by Major Garrett of Fox News, “What took you so long?” Obama claimed that “we’ve been entirely consistent, Major, in terms of how we’ve approached this.” Sure. No doubt some of the more slavish Obamaphiles will actually believe it. The others–those who have been vigorously defending Obama’s “smart” refusal to take sides for the last week–presumably will feel a little foolish.
Still, notwithstanding his ringing oration, Obama couldn’t bring himself to disinvite Iranian diplomats from the annual Fourth of July hot dog events at American embassies that Paul and Scott wrote about earlier today. Major Garrett again:
Are Iranian diplomats still welcome at the embassy on Fourth of July, sir?
Obama’s answer was so incoherent that Garrett followed up:
QUESTION: But the offer still stands?
OBAMA: That’s a choice the Iranians are going to have to make.
Meaning, evidently, that the offer still stands. Which would seem to represent another Obamanian disconnect between words and actions.
UPDATE: The White House has posted a video of Obama’s comments on Iran with a Farsi translation. Good! That’s the kind of thing they should have been doing all along (although, of course, it would not have been helpful to translate Obama’s earlier statements for the benefit of Iranians). Let’s hope they didn’t translate the Q and A about the hot dog roast.
What is preventing Obama from supporting not just the protesters’ right to assemble and speak, but also their broader aspirations — the ones that cause them to assemble and about which they are speaking; the ones that can only be fulfilled through regime change?
The Iranian people are, indeed, trying to have a debate about the regime. The United States should do more than “bear witness” to the measures the regime is taking to curtail the debate. The United States should side with the protesters against the evil, terrorist-supporting, American-hating tyranny that is the Iranian regime.