"The administration will deal with the situation we have, not what we wish it to be."
That's what a senior Obama administration official told Mark Landler of The New York Times.
Of course there is a third, less passive, option. The president could seek to affect that situation. He is the most powerful man alive, after all, and a man whose transformative words, his supporters tell us, can change the world. His Cairo speech, we were told, was just the beginning.
In his passage on democracy, Obama started by saying that no form of government should imposed. He then positioned himself an unapologetic advocate of democratic governance. He spoke of: "Power through consent, not coercion;" a "commitment" to "governments that reflect the will of the people;" a pledge to "welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people;" and an "unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose."
And yet in the face of what appears to be a plainly fraudulent election in Iran, the most his administration can muster is a flaccid statement from the press secretary praising the enthusiasm of those whose votes are being discarded and promising to monitor reports of "irregularities." (Hillary Clinton also offered a meaningless comment.)
The relative silence is disappointing enough. Worse, though, are the comments from administration officials in Landler's article pledging to engage Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's illegitimate government. Even if that's true, why talk about it at a moment when there is a chance -- fleeting though it might be -- to further delegitimize and destabilize that dangerous regime? If you are a student in Tehran or a reformer in Isfahan thinking about risking your life to join other protesters on the streets, why would you do it?
Administration officials talk about their belief in "smart power." But what good is "smart power" if you don't exercise it?