This Iran election continues to fascinate. Again, major news sources are still saying things such as “thousands protest Ahmadinejad victory”, which is terribly misleading because it presumes that such a victory occurred. More accurate would be “thousands (or millions) protest Ahmadinejad’s claim to victory.” Again, protests do not necessarily tell us that any great injustice happened; they just tell us that a lot of people feel that a great injustice happened. For major news sources to trumpet the proclamations of the government we consider part of the “Axis of Evil” seems absurd. The protests should not be the story. Investigating what really happened and whether any of the voting results are legitimate should be the story.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is trying to keep its hands clear of the whole situation. While I’ve seen some sources suggesting that Americans should step in, this makes little sense for two reasons. First, it’s not clear which side is likely to take power, and by choosing a side right now, we may be pigeonholing ourselves into bad relations with Iran’s government for the next four years. Secondly, almost every major problem in the Middle East has had Western meddling as a contributor. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, for example, was a direct response to the United States’ support of the unpopular Shah, who took power in the 1940s. If we were to get in the middle of this one, the protests may be seen as illegitimate and Western-backed. Perhaps it would help a short-term outcome, but could also build up resentment among many of the nation’s voters – of which at least one third did vote for Ahmadinejad.
So what Obama should be doing is making sure that no one does anything stupid. He should be sweet-talking Netanyahu, locking-up Biden, having Clinton work cautiously with leaders of other Middle Eastern countries, and avoid tipping his hand at all costs. Having legitimate elections in which the Iranian people properly elect their president is far more important than who that president is. If we are seen as meddlers, or if the protests are portrayed as a Western coup, the long-lasting results of a potential Mousavi victory would be minimal. However, if the protesting Iranians really do force a change on their own, perhaps with some limited and impartial involvement of outside powers, it could bring about a drastic change.