A short weekend read: Obama on Iran after Khamenei’s warning


CBS asked Pres. Obama to respond Friday to the warning from Ayatollah Khamenei that further protests would risk severe consequences. I like what Obama said but beyond that I’ll just give you the full exchange, provided by the White House:

Q    Let’s move on to the news of the day.  The Ayatollah Khamenei gave his speech today, gave his sermon.  He said that the election in Iran was, in fact, legitimate.  He said, “The street demonstrations are unacceptable.”  Do you have a message for those people in the street?

Obama:  I absolutely do.  First of all, let’s understand that this notion that somehow these hundreds of thousands of people who are pouring into the streets in Iran are somehow responding to the West or the United States, that’s an old distraction that I think has been trotted out periodically.  And that’s just not going to fly.

What you’re seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and seeking justice.  And the world is watching.  And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way.  Already we’ve seen violence out there.  I’ve said this throughout the week, I want to repeat it, that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that’s a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for.  And I’m very concerned, based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made, that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching.  And how they approach and deal with people who are — through peaceful means — trying to be heard will I think send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and is not.

 But the last point I want to make on this — this is not an issue of the United States or the West versus Iran; this is an issue of the Iranian people.  The fact that they are on the streets, under pretty severe duress, at great risk to themselves, is a sign that there’s something in that society that wants to open up.  And, you know, we respect Iran’s sovereignty and we respect the fact that ultimately the Iranian people have to make these decisions.

But I hope that the world understands that this is not something that has to do with the outside world; this has to do with what’s happening in Iran.  And I think ultimately the Iranian people will obtain justice.

Q    People in this country say you haven’t said enough, that you haven’t been forceful enough in your support for those people on the street — to which you say?

Obama:  To which I say, the last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States.  That’s what they do.  That’s what we’re already seeing.  We shouldn’t be playing into that.  There should be no distractions from the fact that the Iranian people are seeking to let their voices be heard.

What we can do is bear witness and say to the world that the incredible demonstrations that we’ve seen is a testimony to I think what Dr. King called the “arc of the moral universal.”  It’s long but it bends towards justice.

What think?


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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 06/19/2009 - 07:18 pm.

    He makes perfect sense to me. But, then, I’ve been mystified by those who have called for Obama to do more. What, precisely would they have him do?

    We still haven’t recovered from the blow American prestige (read power) took when the Bush Administration and a too-compliant Congress took us to war against Iraq. (Yes, against Iraq, not against Saddam Hussein.) Were we not engaged in a shadow war with Iran in Iraq at this point, perhaps we’d be in a position to speak more forcefully. But so long as we’re busy “fighting for democracy” right next door to Iran, every word spoken and every action taken will be taken as suspect.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/20/2009 - 09:07 am.

    What a thoughtful measured response by our President. It is such a pleasure to have as our President, someone who is able to articulate his message and speak in complete sentences.

    I think President Obama is correct in showing extreme restraint in dealing with the situation in Iran. My concern is that opposition protester’s will interpret any voicing of Western support as a sign that we will come to their aid. Every time I see one of those “Where is my vote?” signs in English, I worry even more.

    There will be those that would like for us to go into these issues with “guns a blazing and knives a slashing” and with heavy rhetorical flourishes. But with the troop numbers being what they are, it would be very difficult to put action to any heavy handed “political rhetoric”.

    So I think people should think twice before shooting off their mouths about “unqualified support,” as a few on the hard right have done of late.

    This problem goes to the essence of strategy: A “tough” stance that some are are pushing might feel good, but it likely would be unproductive. A sober stance of the sort that Obama has taken is more difficult but likely more effective in the long run.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/20/2009 - 01:43 pm.

    One thing that this highlights is the weakness of our human intelligence (as opposed to electronic surveillance) capabilities.
    We need many more fluent Farsi, Arabic (in its many dialects) etc speakers to have any idea of what’s really happening.
    Instead, the Iraq war showed that we are over dependent upon individuals with their own agenda, rather than having our own independent sources of information.
    So, we really have no idea how deep the opposition to the Mullah’s is in Iran. As long as most of the population supports the Mullahs; they’ll ultimately support the Mullah’s governing choices.
    While there is clearly a strong democratic movement in Iran, we simply don’t know how strong it is.

  4. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 06/21/2009 - 11:42 am.

    I’m happier with where Obama ended up than where he started the week. It seems that his supporters see the wisdom in all of his speeches. In the end I think it will only be a footnote.
    I’m not sure how important it is that we make clear that we’re not behind the demonstrations. Clearly the elements in Iran that want to cast us the Great Satan had no problem doing it even without that support. And we’ll see if it makes any long term difference towards the goal of a non-nuclear Iran. My guess is that it won’t since Iran clearly wants their own nukes more than they want international good will.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 06/22/2009 - 10:38 am.

    On the one hand, yes, we should be vociferously supportive of the peaceful protestors there. On the other hand, what risks are we willing to take to support them? If Iran uses our support for the demonstraters as an excuse to crack down more severely – possibly resulting in more deaths, is that an acceptable risk? Or if Iran shuts down the Straits of Hormuz & triggers an oil shock, is that an acceptable risk? Or if Iran increases their involvement in the affairs of their unstable neighbors Iraq & Afghanistan, is that an acceptable risk?

    It seems that right now, they are reluctant to take any of these more extreme steps, but may be looking for excuses to do so. So perhaps the President and our foreign policy experts (i.e. Dept o’ State, CIA, etc) are right to limit the extent to which we get involved there. Given some of the past errors we’ve made in Iran, caution is likely the better path now.

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