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Is Obama Secretly Rooting Against Iran's Liberals?

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Robert Kagan has a fairly embarassing column today excoriating President Obama for failing to support the Iranian protestors. Kagan begins with the premise that the Bush administration pursued an idealistic policy of supporting the Iranian opposition, which Obama has abandoned in the name of realism:

The United States had to provide some guarantee to the regime that it would no longer support opposition forces or in any way seek its removal. The idea was that the United States could hardly expect the Iranian regime to negotiate on core issues of national security, such as its nuclear program, so long as Washington gave any encouragement to the government's opponents. Obama had to make a choice, and he made it. This was widely applauded as a "realist" departure from the Bush administration's quixotic and counterproductive idealism. 

Exactly what support did the Bush administration give to Iran's opposition? Kagan does not say at all. Moreover, if the Bush administration was frenetically aiding the Iranian opposition, and Obama has turned its back on them, Kagan might want to explain why the opposition languished for eight years and has sprung to life only after Bush departed the scene.That's not dispositive, but it is the sort of complicating wrinkle Kagan might want to address. Alas, he does not.

Instead, Kagan simply assumes that Obama is restraining his rhetorical support for the opposition because he wants it to fail. I can't prove that this is false because I don't have access to Obama's inner thoughts. But I strongly suspect it's false. Moreover, I tend to agree with Obama's argument that vocally supporting the demonstrators would undermine them. I could be persuaded to change my mind about this if presented with strong enough evidence--say, the stated desire by leading opposition figures for Obama to openly embrace them

But Kagan provides no evidence here, either. He simply falls into the neocon habit of using the word "objectively" to avoid the need for reason:

His strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of the government's efforts to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, not in league with the opposition's efforts to prolong the crisis.

In fact, it's anything but "objective" that Obama's restraint is helping the Iranian government. It's a highly subjective proposition, one that Kagan does absolutely nothing to defend.

--Jonathan Chait

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