By Nile Gardiner
I wrote back in June about the shameful silence of the Obama administration during the mass street protests that greeted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election victory as President of Iran. As White House spokesman Robert Gibbs ludicrously put it, the administration was “impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm this election generated.” Or in Vice President Joe Biden’s words on NBC’s "Meet the Press," describing Ahmadinejad’s victory – “we’re going to withhold comment… I mean we’re just waiting to see.”
Embarrassingly for Washington, even many European leaders showed more backbone in condemning the Iranian regime’s brutal suppression of protesters, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton humiliatingly outflanked by her French and German counterparts, who had no qualms about speaking out swiftly and firmly against the election result and the actions of the Iranian government.
In the six months that have followed, Barack Obama’s high-risk engagement strategy has simply encouraged more repression from the Mullahs, as well as ever greater levels of defiance over Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. As Con Coughlin noted in an excellent piece for The Wall Street Journal last month, Obama’s Iran diplomacy isn’t working:
Iranian human-rights groups say that since the government crackdown began in late June, at least 400 demonstrators have been killed while another 56 are unaccounted, which is several times higher than the official figures. The regime has established a chain of unofficial, makeshift prisons to deal with the protesters, where torture and rape are said to be commonplace. In Tehran alone, 37 young Iranian men and women are reported to have been raped by their captors.
Now once again huge street protests have flared up on the streets of Tehran and a number of other major cities, with several protesters shot dead this weekend by the security forces and Revolutionary Guards, reportedly including the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, and dozens seriously injured. And again there is deafening silence from the Commander-in-Chief as well as his Secretary of State. And where is the president? On vacation in Hawaii, no doubt recuperating from his exertions driving forward the monstrous health care reform bill against the overwhelming will of the American public and without a shred of bipartisan support.
This is not however a time for fence-sitting by the leader of the free world. The president should be leading international condemnation of the suppression of pro-democracy protesters, and calling on the Iranian dictatorship to free the thousands of political dissidents held in its torture chambers. Just as Ronald Reagan confronted the evils of Soviet Communism, Barack Obama should support the aspirations of the Iranian people to be free. The United States has a major role to play in inspiring and advancing freedom in Iran, and the president should make it clear that the American people are on the side of those brave Iranians who are laying down their lives for liberty in the face of tyranny.