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Reality Check

3:28 PM, Jun 15, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Iran apologist Roger Cohen in today's Times:

I've argued for engagement with Iran and I still believe in it, although, in the name of the millions defrauded, President Obama's outreach must now await a decent interval.

I've also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness.

There's an amazing thing happening in the blogs over the last few days that one assumes is a fair reflection of a broader shift in attitudes towards Iran. Six months ago, few Americans would have disputed that Ahmadinejad was a thug and a tyrant, but there were many on the left who supported Obama's push for direct engagement with the Iranian president anyway. America deals with all kinds of thugs and authoritarian leaders, and Obama and his supporters made the case that we should deal with this one, too. But the left, I think a little to their own surprise, became deeply invested in the Mousavi campaign. Perhaps you could see it most clearly on Andrew Sullivan's blog, but much of the media liked the simple narrative of Mousavi the Obama-like reformer against Ahmadinejad the Bush-like ideologue. And after the Lebanese elections, the media was primed for a story on the "Obama Effect" in the Middle East.

When things went the other way, something changed. The left, which may have reviled Ahmadinejad but was willing to do business with him anyway, seems to have become deeply hostile to any kind of diplomacy that could be seen as legitimizing this election result. The administration hasn't quite caught up to this reality, offering weak statements about "irregularities" in the voting but no real sign that it will stand up and support the Iranian kids who are pleading for help as they're beaten in the streets. I suspect it will soon. If Roger Cohen can''t stomach seeing Obama reach out to this regime after what has happened and what is happening, then who can?