Home/Daniel Larison/The U.S. Couldn’t Miss An Opportunity for Regime Change in Iran That Wasn’t There

The U.S. Couldn’t Miss An Opportunity for Regime Change in Iran That Wasn’t There

I agree with Peter Feaver that this interview with Obama was not very illuminating, but some of Feaver’s “more trenchant” questions are hard to take seriously. For example, here is a “trenchant” question for Obama about Iran:

Governor Romney has offered a fairly nuanced critique of your Iran policy [bold mine-DL], particularly focusing on missed opportunities during the post-election turmoil in June 2009 and then again with the September 2009 revelations of the secret uranium enrichment program. Looking back on that year, do you agree with Romney that you missed some opportunities?

This would certainly be a more provocative question, but I’m not sure that it counts as trenchant. There would need to be some truth behind the claim that Romney’s critique was “fairly nuanced” instead of being the reflexive party-line talking point that it is. According to Romney’s own foreign policy white paper, this is the critique of Obama’s response to the 2009 post-election protests:

In 2009, President Obama refrained from supporting the nascent Green Movement as it was facing a violent crackdown by the Iranian regime. As protestors demonstrating against a stolen election were shot down in the streets, President Obama stated he did not want to “meddle” in Iranian affairs, fearing that his unconditional outreach to the Iranian regime would be endangered if he did so. This was a disgraceful abdication of American moral authority.

This is not a nuanced critique. It is a blunt denunciation. The description of Obama’s response is misleading, and the Romney campaign’s obtuse understanding of this episode leads him to attack Obama for failing to support a movement that didn’t want and couldn’t use his support.

Romney has written elsewhere about the episode, so perhaps his “nuanced” critique can be found there? No, it can’t:

A proper American policy might or might not have altered the outcome; we will never know. But thanks to this shameful abdication of moral authority, any hope of toppling a vicious regime was lost, perhaps for generations.

This shows that Romney doesn’t grasp that it was not the Green movement’s goal to overthrow their government. There was no opportunity for a change in Iranian government that the U.S. missed. The belief that there was such an opportunity is the product of a basic misunderstanding of the protesters’ goals, and it is informed by an equally serious misunderstanding of how U.S. support for Iranian dissidents is perceived inside Iran. Romney’s “nuanced critique” in this instance is simply an expression of the interventionist’s need to “do something” when a foreign political dispute occurs. Romney didn’t just say there was a missed opportunity in the summer of 2009, but that Obama had engaged in a “shameful abdication of moral authority.” I don’t think Obama would agree with that assessment, and neither would most Americans.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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