President Obama provided some much-anticipated guidance on his policy towards Iran today in the fourth news conference of his presidency. But even without teleprompters, Mr. Obama proved a master at sticking to his talking points, which were as follows:
- Violence is bad. At the very least, Mr. Obama is finally finding the political courage to say, as he did in his opening statement, that “we deplore violence anywhere.” Regarding the shooting of the 26 year old Iranian girl, who bled to death and whose picture is now being beamed around the world, Mr. Obama called it “problematic.”
- Don’t blame me. More than anything, Mr. Obama did not want to be used as a tool by the Iranian government. Looking, as he often does at world events, through the lens of his own presidency, Mr. Obama took great affront at the charges leveled by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini (who hovers over the political system like a black cloud) that Mr. Obama, along with the CIA, are behind the street protests. “There are reports that I have told protestors to go out into the street to riot. They are patently false.” In no way, shape, or form did Mr. Obama want to take credit for the acts of extraordinary courage we have seen taking place on the streets of Tehran. At least the president is being honest, as his second point serves to illustrate.
- Only history can tell. As though Hegelian historical forces were at play, on which the president of the United States can have no impact, Mr. Obama was at pains to state that only time will tell how the situation in Iran is resolved. Repeatedly, the president stated that “we are watching,” “we are waiting to see how this plays itself out,” “we have to monitor the situation.” Or, at the very end of the press conference, “The Iranian people know that we are watching.” That must be a great comfort to them.
- The choice is up to the Iranian government. If the Iranian government wants to follow the path to international acceptance that Mr. Obama has graciously opened for them, they will have to behave according to international accepted norms of behavior. If not, that is really too bad. Mr. Obama repeatedly declined the opportunity to spell out any consequences for the violence. He did not even want to say that Iranian diplomats might be disinvited from July 4 celebration at the U.S. embassies. Our doors are open, and if the Iranians want to walk in, that is their choice, in other words.
Protesters in Iran have courageously taken to the streets, risking and losing their lives to demand free and fair elections, rather than the political sham in which they have been living for decades. Indeed, the popular uprisings in Iran have been among the most exciting developments in Middle East in decades. Even political leaders in Europe, specifically French President Nicolas Sarcozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have talked about the moral imperative of supporting the Iranian people. That the president of the United States is choosing to wash his hands is a profound disappointment.