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Regime Preservation

Obama tries to stabilize Iran.

12:00 AM, Jun 17, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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President Barack Obama said Monday he was "deeply troubled" by the violence in Iran that he's been seeing on television. "I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent--all of those are universal values and need to be respected."

He was right to say these things. He should have stopped there.


But Obama rambled on. And out of the four muddled paragraphs that followed, his approach to the Iran Moment became clear.

Under President Obama, our approach to Iran--the world's foremost state sponsor of terror, a rogue regime racing toward nuclear capability--is not only not regime change, it's de facto regime preservation. So he delicately sought to say something that would mute the growing criticism of his silence--"It would be wrong for me to be silent about what we've seen on the television over the last few days," he said--without saying anything that could further destabilize the Iranian regime.

It was a missed opportunity. He got bad advice. "Our hated enemy for 30 years finally comes to a crisis moment," says Michael Anton, director of communications at the National Security Council during George W. Bush's first term. "And many of the same people who have been telling us for at least 20 years that the population is largely on our side decide to use this moment not to give the regime a push, or to throw the population a life vest, but to help keep the hated enemy in power."

President Obama said that he admired the protesters, not that he supported them. He refused to say anything at all that might have been understood as a direct criticism of the plainly fraudulent election. (On Tuesday, in his most aggressive statement, he said he joins the rest of the world in its "deep concern" about the election.) And by pretending that the coming "investigation" of perceived "irregularities" might actually be a serious undertaking, he strengthened the position of a criminal regime--or, as he prefers, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

His supporters say that any stronger statement would undermine those in the streets and give Ahmadinejad the upper hand. That's curious. By declaring his support for the protesters and directly questioning the results of the election, the same man who can commence "a new beginning" in America's relationship with the "Muslim world" in just 6,000 words can be outmaneuvered by a lunatic whose fraudulent claims to victory have inspired millions of Iranians to risk their lives in the streets?

Obama says he doesn't want to be seen as "meddling" given the long history of US-Iranian relations. Leave aside the question of whether simply stating the obvious is "meddling." If the majority of Iranians believe that Ahmadinejad's re-election is not legitimate, isn't it more likely that Obama's silence in the face of a stolen election will be viewed as another chapter in that long history rather than the end of it?

Obama's comments are disappointing, but not surprising. He is a naturally cautious politician (think about his reaction to the Russian invasion of Georgia or the collapse of the economy during the campaign). And he is no doubt being told by his intelligence services, perhaps correctly, that a revolution that results in the overthrow of the real powers in Iran remains unlikely. So he sees Ahmadinejad as his negotiating partner and wants to do as little as possible to antagonize him or his sponsors.

Why?

Either Obama believes that he can engage in meaningful negotiations with Ahmadinejad, in which case he's a fool, or he believes that his spurned good-faith attempts at those negotiations will win him credit from our allies in Europe and elsewhere, good will that he can use to gain support for tough sanctions. In that case, he's fooling himself.

Ahmadinejad has declared many times that negotiations about Iran's nuclear program are dead. The nuclear issue "is closed" he said on May 25, a declaration he reiterated at his post-election press conference on Saturday. We don't have to take his word for it. The Iranian regime has rejected every overture Obama has made and several made by the Bush administration before it.

But even if Ahmadinejad reversed course and came to the table, why would we believe any promises he made? Any regime willing to defraud its own people so brazenly cannot be regarded as a serious negotiating partner.