Michael Rubin has a question he wants to ask the presidential candidates:
The question for the next U.S. administration regardless of party is whether when (not if) the Iranian people rise up again against the backdrop of unfulfilled expectations, will the White House stand aloof as President Obama did in 2009, or would it lend moral and perhaps greater support to the Iranian people to finally realize basic freedom and liberty denied them by successive dictators and international interests over the years. Perhaps this is a hypothetical on which every major candidate should speak, for it would give insight into his or her understanding of the importance of morality in foreign policy and their conception of U.S. interests. At the same time, it would be useful to get him or her on the record given the likelihood that they will face this scenario during their own administration.
It would be useful to have the candidates answer this question, if only to identify the ones that want to meddle in the politics of other countries. It would be especially helpful for the candidates to say specifically what they would do to lend “moral and perhaps greater support” to a protest movement so that we could gauge just how reckless they are. Perhaps they could try to explain how the U.S. government’s support wouldn’t backfire and harm the protesters when there is every reason to expect that it almost certainly would do just that. Maybe they could also tell us why it is the business of our government to interfere in another country’s internal political disputes. Finally, it would be valuable if they could spell out why destabilizing one of the last relatively stable countries in the region is desirable for the U.S.
The story Rubin cites in his post has some interesting details on the Green movement and the administration’s response to their protests. While there is some evidence that some Green movement leaders wanted the U.S. to warn Iran’s government against using violence, there is nothing in the report to support the standard Iran hawk line that the administration missed a chance to topple the regime. There is evidence that some Green movement leaders didn’t want U.S. support for fear of being damaged by the association:
U.S. officials said the White House also was getting conflicting messages from Green Movement leaders. Some wanted Mr. Obama to publicly warn Mr. Khamenei against using force. Others said such a declaration would give Iran’s supreme leader an excuse to paint the opposition as American lackeys.
Iran hawks like to present themselves as “standing with the Iranian people,” but that doesn’t stop them from endorsing every punitive measure against the country that harms the well-being of those people. They want our government to support the opposition, and they can’t admit that having the U.S. government providing that support would discredit and undermine them rather than help them. They take for granted that the U.S. “must” side with protesters against their governments, but never explain what practical benefit they or the U.S. would derive from doing this. I assume most of the presidential candidates’ answers would suffer from the same problems, but it would be interesting to hear them anyway.