What’s missing here is an effort at determining what the Iranian dissenters want from the Obama administration. The fact that it’s not clear what the answer to that question is itself serves as a powerful indicator that the protest movement is first and foremost concerned about handling this on its own. As best I can tell from NIAC and from Twitter and from talking with Iranian human rights advocates in the United States, the dissenters want the Obama administration to refuse to recognize Ahmadinejad’s claims of victory; to express concern for the safety of the protesters; and then to get out of the way. The Obama administration can be fairly criticized for not saying enough on the second point, though if, as Michael Scherer believes, Obama’s going to say something at 5 p.m., maybe that will change. But it doesn’t follow from Obama’s muted discussion of the dissenters that he’s indifferent to their plight. From talking to administration officials, I am convinced that they are very concerned that American rhetorical support will immediately become a cudgel in the hands of Ahmadinejad. Would that outcome advance human rights?
It’s emotionally unsatisfying not to proclaim unequivocal support for the protesters. But the truer measure of support, as Trita Parsi told me, is to follow their lead. Moussavi, for instance, has not issued any statement about what he wants the international community to do. If the protesters begin calling for a more direct American response, then that really will have to compel the administration to reconsider its position. But until then, with so many lives at stake, the administration can’t afford to take a stance just because it makes Americans feel just and righteous.