On Friday, President Obama had this to say about the election in Iran:
We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran. Whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact there has been a robust debate hopefully will advance our ability to engage them in new ways.
This was an extremely foolish comment for at least two reasons. First, the debate in Iran was circumscribed. The candidates were screened by the mullahs. Four were permitted to run; hundreds were deemed insufficiently in tune with the “Revolution.” And there appars to have little or no debate on the issue of primary concern to the U.S. — Iran’s nuclear program. Ahmadinejad’s main rival, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, was in full agreement with the regime on this matter.
Second, there was always a strong possibility of election fraud. Robust debate, even had it existed, would be meaningless in the face of a fraudulent election. Thus, Obama should not have lauded the election, much less characterized it as advancing our ability to engage Iran in new ways, until he was satisfied that the election was honest. A fraudulent election in which the existing, intransigent regime claims a landslide victory will not advance our ability to engage in Iran in new ways.
A day later, it seems clear that the election was fraudulent. U.S. officials have said as much off-the-record. They find it “not credible” that Mousavi would have lost the balloting in his hometown or that a third candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, would have received less than 1 percent of the total vote.
So Obama has praised an election that appears to have been a travesty. It’s difficult to see how either Iran’s rulers or its dissidents can view him as other than a fool — usefully so in the case of the rulers; criminally so in the case of the dissidents.