President Obama had been walking a fine line vis-Ã -vis the demonstrations in Iran. That line has now been crossed. (See Obama slams Iran, leaves opening to engage.) On the one hand, we are proud to see our nation take a stand against oppression (as it should have done on so many fronts over the years, notably against China, and did not). On the other hand, we understand that strategic needs sometimes override philosophic imperatives.
The United States is widely viewed in the Islamic world as “the Great Satan,” a diabolic and secret meddler, often on Israel’s behalf. As Fareed Zakaria wrote in this week’s Newsweek, before the president spoke out on Tuesday, “The fact that Obama has been cautious in his reaction makes it all the harder for [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and [Iran’s President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to wrap themselves in a nationalist flag.” (See also the opinion piece on the facing page by the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman.)
But the huddled masses in Iran yearning to breathe free took a stand, and bled for it. The United States, clearly innocent of this bloodshed, is therefore free to speak out against what Obama called “the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days.” As we went to press on Wednesday, the Guardian reported that “bloody clashes broke out in Tehranâ€¦. The renewed confrontation took place in Baharestan Square, near parliament, where hundreds of protestors faced off against several thousand riot police and other security personnel.
“Witnesses likened the scene to a war zone, with helicopters hovering overhead, many arrests and police beating demonstrators.
“One woman told CNN that hundreds of unidentified men armed with clubs had emerged from a mosque to confront the protestors. ‘They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood and her husband, he fainted. They were beating people like hell. It was a massacre,’ she said.”
There is no way to predict how this will end – or if it will end. But we urge our administration to be emboldened by the bravery of so many Iranians and, while keeping strategic needs in mind, speak out for people fighting for their freedom.