While President Obama continues attracting criticism for a too-tepid stance on the uprising in Iran from neoconservative Republicans and liberal interventionist Democrats alike, experts in Islamic affairs almost universally approve.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, told an Atlantic Council audience that President Obama was taking just the right approach to the situation in Iran, balancing a respect for the shared values that the West and the Muslim world share with a respect for the sensibilities that a history of imperialism created.
Similarly, as CSM’s Robert Marquand reports, Obama is getting “high marks from Iranian specialists in Europe.”
“If you support [presidential challenger Mir Hossein] Mousavi too openly, you destroy him,” says Dominique Moisi, a leading French intellectual who has worked extensively on Middle East geopolitics. “So [if you are the American president] you support human rights, you don’t support a particular person. It’s a correct policy of prudence … at this time.”
Prior to Obama’s press conference, Paris-based Iran expert Clément Therme warned of Tehran’s creative use of disinformation. “Iran is a special country in the Islamic world,” offered Mr. Therme of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). “It uses the USA as a tool to justify its domestic problems. To take a position of distance … as Obama is doing, pressures Iran’s leadership. Why is the supreme leader focusing on Great Britain? Because Obama is not giving him anything to attack. It’s a new policy, and it is working.”
The Mideast director of IFRI in Paris, Denis Bouchard, says that “if you support the opposition in Iran, you make them an agent of the USA – a very risky policy.”
Obama has gradually ratcheted up his rhetoric as the regime in Iran overplays its hand and it becomes clear that the protests have staying power, going further in remarks yesterday than he has before:
The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.
I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.
This cautious approach may not satisfy the domestic audience and it is a bit awkward for the President of the United States to be behind the leaders of our major European allies in supporting democracy. But if the goal is to give the protestors in Iran the best chance to change their government, Obama seems to be playing his hand correctly.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.