Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We would think President Obama would want to lend his considerable oratorical talents to history-making events in Iran. Instead, he makes fumbling statements like “there is a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures toward the international community that have taken place in the past.” Witness also Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s wooden and noncommittal statement in Canada on Saturday that the United States is “monitoring” events, “waiting and watching.”

Other world leaders have seized the initiative. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the arrests of oppositionists. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned that the regime’s response would “have implications for Iran’s relationships with the rest of the world.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy denounced the election as a “fraud” and said the vote-rigging was unacceptable.

Administration defenders claim this is a no-win situation, that comments from the United States would be seized by the religious leaders to justify a crackdown. The counterargument is that by not saying anything, the United States signals tacit approval of whatever actions the regime decides to take. This could be a replay of Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 and Tiananmen Square 1989, when the most powerful democracy in the world stood by while freedom fighters were crushed beneath the treads of regime tanks.

Contrast these timid examples to 1981, when martial law was declared in Poland. President Reagan announced strong support for dissidents who he said were “an imperishable example of courage and devotion to the values of freedom in the face of relentless opposition.”

American dithering radiates weakness and indecisiveness. It tells the Iranian regime that the United States is so eager to make a deal that it will not even defend its principles. The crisis seems to be an inconvenience that risks delaying the implementation of the vaunted “engagement” plan. The administration would like to see this messy situation go away so the stately process of diplomacy can continue its march, unburdened by annoying freedom seekers with their banners, their chanting and their ideals.

The president should make a strong statement of support for the Iranian people to make clear that the world’s greatest democracy approves of their actions. The United States must stand for the ideals that have been the hallmark of American idealism since the country’s founding. We must take a strong stand against arresting opposition politicians, killing peaceful demonstrators, harassing and intimidating the press and perpetrating election fraud. It is our vocation as a nation to take a stand for freedom of speech; freedom of assembly; the right to redress grievances; free, fair and transparent democratic processes; and the aspirations of human liberty.

The Iranian people are fighting to create change they can believe in while the Obama team is sending a signal that says “No, you can’t.”

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