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How to score cheap political points, and how to fail

June 17, 2009

The climate in Iran is volatile.  The tenuous political grip held by the religious ruling class is being strengthened only by sheer brute force and other thuggish machinations, not the least of which include shutting out all media coverage of the protest rallies by its citizens.  There is uncertainty in Iran, and across the globe,  about the validity of election results that showed incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning a second term.   There are countless cases of human rights abuses by the brutal military authorities, at the behest of the clerical regime.   We have reached a point where the the ferocity of the chaos has left us all stunned and dazed.

What a perfect opportunity then for some in the GOP to weigh in and offer their disjointed calls for harsher rhetoric, and a more forceful stance toward the Islamic republic.  The GOP is wrong.  They see President Obama being prudent, cautious, and measured in his response toward this situation, and they mistake it for weakness and indecision.  I call it foresight and political clarity, given that our policy now is to try and negotiate with Iran, whomever is leading the country.  To back one side or the other is simply the wrong play.  It limits our ability to negotiate on good faith.  It undercuts our moral authority, our greatest strength.  If we are seen as favoring the resistance and Mousavi, then we would be accused of conspiring to topple Ahmahdinejad if he is recognized as the winner.  This is clearly a stratagem that Ahmahdinejad would savor, since he would be justified in his vilification of the West.  Try having any meaningful dialogue with him after that.  If we are seen as validating the election results, which clearly are questionable at best, we are propping up a corrupt, brutal regime that tramples the democratic rights of its people in order to preserve its power.  Both are losing strategies.

It seems to me that the GOP has lost its footing on this issue.  They cannot seem to form a cohesive position.  John McCain and Lindsay Graham seem to favor a much stronger hand, while others in leadership positions like Richard Lugar and Mel Martinez favor the president’s approach.   Congressman Dana Rohrabacher even went as far as to call for “regime change”, in his assessment of the situation.  Here is a quote in a press release from the congressional  website:

The Iranian presidential election was clearly a fraud.  It is time for the mullahs to go back to their mosques and let democratic reform take its rightful place in Iran. This fraudulent election underscores the need to have a government that can live at peace with its own people and the people of the United States.

I ask that my fellow members of Congress call on President Obama to issue a statement making it clear to the people of the world that we are on the side of the students and reformers and not on the side of the torturers and radical Islamic clerics of that country…

It’s very easy to criticize the president of the United States when you are the minority party.  Democrats did it routinely during George W. Bush’s administration.   But what are the realities in this situation?  Is it wise to undercut the president’s strategy, attacking him for being soft when you have no clear-cut, unified strategy of your own?  Or do you ride the waves of dissent in your party, and hope that it bears fruit and weakens him politically?  It’s a tough call to make.  Which way they go may determine how well their party can navigate muddy waters in a 21st century post-Bush foreign policy world.  And if they pass or fail.

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