Thus, in 2009, when protesters took to the streets of Iran’s cities to demonstrate against their country’s stolen election, the administration remained silent. President Obama said he did not want to “meddle.” In short order, the Iranian protesters were crushed. By failing to offer moral support to those seeking peaceful change in Iran, America retreated from our own principles. A chance to weaken or dislodge Iran’s vicious Islamic dictatorship was lost, perhaps for a generation.
I find the Republican hawkish fixation on the Green movement protests fascinating, because it’s clear from all of their other policy preferences that they have no interest in what happens to the Iranian opposition. If they did, they wouldn’t favor an even stricter sanctions regime than the one that is already punishing the civilian population, wrecking Iran’s middle class, and undermining the opposition. If they wanted the Iranian opposition to flourish and succeed, many of them (including Romney campaign advisers such as Mitchell Reiss) wouldn’t have spent much of the last two years flacking for the MEK, a fanatical cult that most Iranians despise and the legitimate Iranian opposition rejects. They certainly wouldn’t support launching military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, which would be a disaster for the Iranian opposition if they happened.
It apparently can’t be emphasized often enough that the protests in 2009 and 2010 never had the goal of regime change and would not have resulted in regime change even if they had been successful. The current Iranian regime wasn’t going to be “dislodged” no matter how successful the protests had been, because “dislodging” the regime was never what most of the protesters had in mind. It is doubtful that the regime would have been “weakened” if the protests had succeeded, and Iran’s position on the nuclear issue certainly wouldn’t have changed regardless of the outcome. It was not within the power of the U.S. to make the Green movement’s success more likely. It’s bad enough that many Americans take for granted that the U.S. government is supposed to interfere in other countries’ political disputes, but the belief that our government can always have a decisive effect on the outcome is just the worst sort of arrogance.
Had the U.S. offered more “moral support” to the Green movement, it would have changed nothing, except perhaps to make things even worse for the protesters by linking them directly with America. Had the U.S. provided more “moral support,” the protests would still have been crushed, but in all likelihood creating the appearance of U.S. backing would have done additional long-term damage to the Iranian opposition among Iranians. U.S. “moral support” would have quickly been exposed as nothing but empty rhetoric, which is all that Romney has offered as an alternative to what Obama did.