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October 22, 2012

Debating America's Response to the Green Movement
Posted by James Lamond

In tonight's debate, Gov. Romney brought up a repeated criticism on Iran. That President Obama made a huge mistake in not being more supportive of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran. The argument has been repeated by conservatives critical of the administration for three years. The oversimplification of this argument is astonishing. However, if one remembers correctly the whole reason for caution in support of the uprising was that this was that the both the U.S. and the protesters did not want this to be perceived as a a U.S. inspired political movement. It is also simply a counter-factual argument, but as usual, Dan Drezner says is best:

The beauty of this criticism is that it rests on a magical counter-factual that will never be tested: according to this narrative, if only Barack Obama had been more forceful in June 2009, then the Iranian regime would have crumbled and sweetness and light would have prevailed in the Middle East. It's a great campaign argument, because we'll never know what would have happened if Obama had acted as Rubin, Romney et al would have liked him to act. Romney can pledge that he would have acted differently in the summer of 2009, and he'll never, ever have to flip-flop on it.

The thing is, this argument that Obama could have tipped the scales in 2009 is utter horses**t. Recall that, during the uprising, the leaders of the Green Movement wanted nothing to do with more sanctions against Iran or with military action -- it took them six months of brutal repression for them to even toy with embracing targeted sanctions. Indeed, the reason the administration tiptoed around the Green Movement was that they did not want the Khamenei regime to taint the resistance as a Western-inspired creation. If Obama had been more vocal during the initial stages of the movement, it likely would have accelerated the timetable of the crackdown. And no U.S. action short of a full-scale ground assault could have stopped that.

Drezner also points out a potential side effect that that is so often left out of this line of this arguemnt: "such an approach would also spur Tehran into accelerating its nuclear program as a means of guaranteeing its own survival (which is, by the way, the one constant of Iranian foreign policy)." 

 

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