More on Iran

Throughout the editorial and op-ed pages of major newspapers and all over the web - including here at NDN - the debate cotinues to rage inside the US about what our proper response should be to what is happening in iran.   All sorts of heavyweights have weighed in, and all in all I think this is a very healthy and needed discussion about what the goals of American foreign policy should be after the disapointing age of Bush.   I offered up a big picture analysis earlier this week which was front-paged for an entire day over at Huff Po, and am sure Sam and others at NDN will be weighing with more later today, but couple of things caught my eye this morning:

- Nico Pitney continues to be a must read over at Huffington Post.  He all sorts of new information and video this morning, including a report that the regime appears to have decided to crack down today.   He also offered up this fascinating nugget last night:

6:20 PM ET -- Mousavi spokesman on Obama. Via reader Heather, Foreign Policy speaks with Mousavi's external spokesman in Paris Mohsen Makhmalbaf:

FP: There has been growing criticism here in Washington that U.S. President Barack Obama hasn't said or done enough to support those demonstrating in the streets of Iran. Do you think Obama is being too careful? Or even that he is helping Ahmadinejad by being cautious?

MM: Obama has said that there is no difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Does he like it himself [when someone is] saying that there is no difference between Obama and [George W.] Bush? Ahmadinejad is the Bush of Iran. And Mousavi is the Obama of Iran.

FP: Would Mousavi pursue a different foreign policy than Ahmadinejad?

MM: As you may know, former President Mohammad Khatami, who is supporting Mousavi at the moment, was in favor of dialogue between the civilizations, but Ahmadinejad talks about the war of the civilizations. Is there not any difference between the two?

We [Iranians] are a bit unfortunate. When we had our Obama [meaning President Khatami], that was the time of President Bush in the United States. Now that [the United States] has Obama, we have our Bush here [in Iran]. In order to resolve the problems between the two countries, we should have two Obamas on the two sides. It doesn't mean that everything depends on these two people, but this is one of the main factors.

- I also liked David Ignatius' column today, and offer up this excerpt:

What's happening on the streets of Tehran is a lesson in what makes history: It isn't guns or secret police, in the end, but the willingness of hundreds of thousands of people to risk their lives to protest injustice. That is what overthrew the shah of Iran in 1979, and it is now shaking the mullahs.

This is politics in the raw -- unarmed people defying soldiers with guns -- and it is the stuff of which revolutions are made. Whether it will succeed in Iran is impossible to predict, but already this movement has put an overconfident regime on the ropes.

To understand why the regime is frightened, ask yourself this question: How many of the demonstrators in the mile-long parades along Vali-e Asr Avenue were Iranian nuclear scientists -- or their siblings, or cousins? We read that the oldest daughter of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is a nuclear physicist, but how many more?

And how many disgruntled Revolutionary Guards and war veterans?

Nobody knows, and that's the point: The regime must be frightened of the forces it has unleashed. The more it attacks its own people, the more vulnerable it becomes.

If you take a step back, you can see a similar process of ferment across the Muslim world these days. Muslim parties and their allies have suffered election setbacks over the past several years in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco and Pakistan. The most extreme group of all, al-Qaeda, has alienated former supporters everywhere it has tried to put down roots.

The reasons for these political setbacks vary from place to place. In some countries, Muslim radicals have overreached and created a public backlash; in others, they have been seen as timid and corrupt. But there's a common theme: "The Muslim parties have failed to convince the public that they have any more answers than anyone else," says Marina Ottaway, the director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

President Obama was right to speak carefully about the events in Iran during the first week of protest. But it's time for him to express his solidarity with the Iranians who are so bravely taking to the streets each day. He can do that without seeming to meddle if he chooses his words wisely.

Obama should invoke the Iranian yearning for justice -- which was a powerful theme of the revolution. He should cite Iran's own rich history of political reform, going back to Cyrus the Great, whose declaration on good governance was chiseled in the Cyrus Cylinder in 539 B.C. He should cite the Iranian constitution of 1906, which established elections and basic freedoms. Democracy is not an American imposition but an Iranian tradition.

"We clearly have to be on the right side of history here," says Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment and an informal adviser to the White House. But he cautions that "if we try to insert ourselves into the momentous internal Iranian drama that's unfolding, we may unwittingly undermine those whom we're trying to strengthen."

What we also need to begin debating, considering, is how much the President's remarkable recent Cairo speech has contributed to this uprising, and the success of the pro-western forces in the recent Lebanese election.  As I wrote in my Huff Post essay the President's own life story, words and inspiring "brand" has injected a very new and powerful dynamic into global politics, one we are only just beginning to understand.