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Obama shrewdly deprives Iran of usual scapegoat: 'Great Satan'

By Christopher Feld

The revolutionary underpinnings of the Islamic Republic are unraveling.

President Barack Obama has inconveniently deprived Tehran of its scapegoat: the ever meddling "Great Satan." Considering his success in disarming Islamic fundamentalists, the worst thing he could do for his Iran strategy and for the long-term interests of the Iranian people would be to intervene in Iran's internal crisis of legitimacy. It looks as if the president understands this:

"I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering in Iran's affairs ... And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place."

Given the turbulent history of the United States and Iran, Obama's Iran posturing has carefully balanced Iranian sensitivities and U.S. interests. Rather than riding the wave of Iranian dissent and optimism by supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi, Obama recognizes that Tehran could interpret such a move as a continuation of U.S. interventionist policies.

Instead, Obama sent a clear signal by ending the long-standing U.S. policy of regime change. By canceling spending for the Iran Democracy Fund, $75 million appropriated annually by Congress for spreading democracy in Iran, he has effectively muzzled the Islamic Republic's claims that the U.S. supports opposition groups in Iran. In doing so, Obama has kicked out the table from fundamentalists and placed the U.S. in a position of strength for upcoming negotiations.

Obama's strategy of non-intervention in Iran's elections is paying dividends. The president's policies have empowered and protected Iran's human and civil rights advocates. He has prevented the Islamic Republic from branding Iranians as collaborators seeking to destabilize the government. In doing so, Obama recognizes that the greatest danger to Iran is not Israel or the United States, but the legitimacy of the government as it is questioned from within Iran. Were he to interject U.S. liberal idealism into the fray, the Iranian people's internal struggle and U.S. interest would be sloppily intertwined and his prospects for viable negotiations undercut.

Domestically, public support for his approach remains divided. Some Democrats and Republicans have supported Obama's real politik nonintervention Iran strategy. Pat Buchanan praised Obama's message of friendship, nod to the 1953 coup, and recognition of Iran's right to nuclear power. Buchanan felt this strategy effectively undermined Iran's nuclear defense justification of the U.S. "Great Satan" caricature hell-bent on destroying Iran. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John Kerry, the chairman of the committee, agreed that it would be unwise for the U.S. to get further involved with the Iranian elections.

Some Republicans have called for a tougher stance on Iran. Taking a page from President George Bush's idealistic Freedom Agenda, some Republicans have favored a firm projection of American power. Responding to this pressure, Obama has voiced harsher condemnation of recent violence in Iran. He understands that forcefully projecting America's soft power will not improve Iran's electoral nightmare.

In order for engagement with Iran to succeed, the president must not present himself as partial to Iranian factional politics. Regardless of who assumes the presidency in Iran, the Islamic Republic faces an incredible crisis of legitimacy. To secure a better future for the United States and Iran, Obama must continue to respect Iran's internal politics. And he should continue to call on the Islamic Republic for accountability on civil and human rights. As Obama said on June 20:

"If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion."

It is up to the Iranian people to decide Iran's future and chart a new course in U.S.-Iran relations.

About the author: Christopher Feld, a Salt Lake City executive assistant, is also a historian and human rights activist.

Note: The above article was originally published by Desert News.

... Payvand News - 07/07/09 ... --

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