The Current Discussion: Are we witnessing a pro-regime coup in Iran? What should the world do in response? How will the election aftermath affect Iran's projection of power into the Middle East?
The best and only serious way to help the protesters is for the United States and Europe to refuse to recognize a new Ahmadinejad-led government in Iran. Read Bret Stephen's column on his interview with Mohsen Kadivar, a prominent Shiite cleric in exile. Kadivar was a university colleague of the opposition candidate Hossein Mousavi. With Mousavi's help, Kadivar was released after 18 months in prison in 1999.
"There are two interpretations of Islam. The aggressive Islam of Ahmadinejad, or the mercy Islam of Mousavi," Kadivar says. Stephens writes that, "Mr. Kadivar praises President Obama's 'no meddling' stance so far, but insists the president not recognize Mr. Ahmadinejad's government once its second term officially begins in August."
Obama should start saying now that the U.S. will not recognize a government that has stolen an election with brute force. This is the approach that was successfully taken by the West in the case of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. While it is true that the U.S. does not consistently refuse to recognize dictatorships, the question is which precedent to follow: the many cases where the democracies have sided with popular opposition to illegitimate governments (Ukraine, South Africa, Philippines, Nicaragua, etc), or the other times when they have turned a blind eye toward oppressive rulers.
Another way of putting this is which principle takes precedence, freedom or non-intervention? While it may be difficult to formulate hard and fast rules on this, a regime that has turned violent intervention into an art form would seem to have lost its right to cry "non-intervention." What is Iran doing in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and half a dozen other countries if not intervention?
In this case the U.S. would not be supporting terrorist proxies, as Iran does, but supporting a truly popular mass movement. This would be more than legitimate. It would be fulfilling the basic obligation of free peoples to take minimal steps to help others secure their own freedom. Further, it would be a legitimate act of self defense against a regime that not only brutalizes its own people, but is seeking a nuclear umbrella for the terror it foments outside its borders.
As for the negotiations the Obama wanted to conduct with the regime over the nuclear issue, we should remember that such negotiations were never an ideal solution to begin with. In the absolutely best case, such negotiations would result in a Libya-style total dismantling of Iran's nuclear program and an end to support for terrorism. But even this solution would not relieve the suffering of the Iranian people. And the more likely scenario is a North Korean-style bait and switch that facilitates the regime's nuclear ambitions.
Negotiations should be seen as Plan B, while Plan A is what is happening now: the real possibility of a new government in Iran that both reflects the will of the people and does not threaten other nations. While the U.S. might not have right or ability to force such an outcome, what is wrong with supporting the Iranian majority if they seek it for themselves? Legitimacy, freedom, national interests -- and even support for what Kadivar calls "mercy Islam" -- all point in the same direction, if only the U.S. will take such a path.
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