Kristol, compatriots push Obama to condemn Iran

Some of the president's critics believe his language about the turmoil in Iran hasn't been strong enough

By Alex Koppelman

Published June 16, 2009 4:01PM (EDT)

Here's a surprise -- Bill Kristol thinks President Obama isn't being tough enough on Iran. In a post on the Weekly Standard's blog, Kristol noted that administration officials, including the president, have avoided using the word "condemn" in talking about the situation in Iran right now, and wrote:

Question for White House spokesman Robert Gibbs: As "things" have continued to unfold, is President Obama now willing to condemn the brutal actions of a violently illiberal regime? If not, what would the regime have to do to generate clear moral and political condemnation from our "deeply troubled" president?

Some of Kristol's ideological allies, like Michael Ledeen and Daniel Pipes, have taken a similar stance. And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has also come out to say he believes his former rival needs to take a more forceful public stand.

It's unclear what any of these people believe a stronger stance from Obama would actually accomplish. Tough talk isn't an end in itself, and it's unlikely to do much in this case. In fact, the popular belief in a case like this -- and the Obama administration clearly believes this -- is that a too-forceful stance from the U.S. is likely to backfire and help the Iranian government. But the critics (including McCain, since he lost to Obama last year) don't actually have to deal with the real-world effect of what they're advocating, since they don't run the U.S.

There are criticisms of Obama from people worth listening to, though. Slate's Fred Kaplan, always a good source for defense and foreign policy commentary, says that in the aftermath of the election and the post-election turmoil, the president needs to rethink the idea of engaging with Iran's current government.

"Whatever is going on inside Tehran's ruling circles, now is not the time for Obama to engage in outreach. Rather, it's time to up the ante, to make the mullahs -- especially those who might be inclined to cast off Ahmadinejad -- realize that if they're going to play democracy, they can't rig the deck and violate the will of their people, at least not so blatantly," Kaplan says. "This is not to say that we should send in spies or special-ops troops to provide covert aid to the protesters or their favored candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi. The discovery of American fingerprints would spur a backlash, raising memories of the CIA-backed coup of 1953. Nonetheless, it wouldn't be a bad idea for someone with a knack for subtlety to probe the fissures for possibilities of new leaders rising to power."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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