Crisis In Iran

Today is one of those days when there is so much news on so many fronts that it’s impossible to keep up. The biggest news, of course, comes from Tehran. Rival candidate Hossein Mousavi defied a government ban and led a protest in Revolution Square:

As we’ve written before, Mousavi has absolutely no history as a reformer or dissident. Yet for whatever reason, he seems to be seizing the moment and may become a historical figure as a result. The analogy of Boris Yeltsin comes to mind.

Earlier today, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard fired on protesters in Azadi Square, killing at least five or six. Be forewarned; demand for this video is such that it may not come through, for now:Events have turned bloody; this man reportedly was shot by a militia member:

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Gateway Pundit has done a good job of staying on top of the story with photos and videos.

Some have criticized President Obama for his silence in the first days of demonstrations. An hour or so ago, he held a press availability following a meeting with Silvio Berlusconi:

QUESTION: Mr. President, on Iran, does the disputed election results and the fact that there’s been violence on the streets in any way change your willingness to meet with Mr. Ahmadinejad without preconditions? And also, do you have anything to say — any message to send to people who are in the streets protesting who believe their votes were stolen and who are being attacked violently?

OBAMA: OK, I want to say this straight through. Then you can translate at the end.

Obviously, all of us have been watching the news from Iran, and I want to start off by being very clear that it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be, that we respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran, which sometimes the United States can be a handy political football or discussions with the United States.

Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television. I think that the — the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent, all those are universal values and need to be respected.

And whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting and whenever the American people see that, I think they’re rightfully troubled.

My understanding is, is that the Iranian government says that they are going to look into irregularities that have taken place. We weren’t on the ground. We did not have observers there. We did not have international observers on — on hand, so I can’t state definitively one way or another what happened with respect to the election.

But what I can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful, and so engaged, and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed. And I think it’s important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views. Now, with respect to the United States and our interactions with Iran, I have always believed that, as odious as I consider some of President Ahmadinejad’s statements, as deep as the differences that exist between the United States and Iran on a range of core issues, that the use of tough, hard-headed diplomacy, diplomacy with no illusions about Iran and the nature of the differences between our two countries, is critical when it comes to pursuing a core set of our national security interests, specifically making sure that we are not seeing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East triggered by Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, making sure that Iran’s not exporting terrorist activity.

Those are core interests not just to the United States, but I think to a peaceful world in general. We will continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries, and we’ll see where it takes us.

But even as we do so, I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we’ve seen on the television over the last few days. And what I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was.

And they should know that the world is watching. And particularly to the youth of Iran, I want them to know that — that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.

I think Obama went one for two in this answer. He struck the right note, I think, with respect to Iran’s election and the ensuing protests. He was appropriately measured and Presidential in expressing support for Iranian democracy and for the demonstrators without sounding like a rabble-rouser. On the other hand, his expression of endless willingness to talk with Iran’s government–presumably still headed by Ahmadinejad–regardless of the circumstances, was wrong-headed:

I have always believed that, as odious as I consider some of President Ahmadinejad’s statements, as deep as the differences that exist between the United States and Iran on a range of core issues, that the use of tough, hard-headed diplomacy, diplomacy with no illusions about Iran and the nature of the differences between our two countries, is critical when it comes to pursuing a core set of our national security interests, specifically making sure that we are not seeing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East triggered by Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon….

But Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Mousavi yields nothing to Ahmadinejad in his support for Iran’s nuclear program. Earlier today, Ahmadinejad reiterated that Iran’s entitlement to pursue nuclear development is a “closed file” that will not be reopened. So how, exactly, will Obama’s chatting with Ahmadinejad (or whoever) “make sure” that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons?

….making sure that Iran’s not exporting terrorist activity.

But, again, Iran is exporting terrorist activity, and has been for many years. How does Obama think that participating in a photo-op with Iran’s President will persuade the regime to give up its core principles?

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Obama has an irrational belief in the value of talk for its own sake. The events of the last few days remind us that Iran’s mullahs have no illusions about the power of words.

UPDATE: Scott’s take on Obama’s comments is less charitable than mine.

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