Obama's Response to Iran Compared With His Response to Egypt Raises Troubling Questions
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s power grab and the resultant upheaval in Egypt, along with the ever-progressing nuclear program and ever-deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, lead us back to the Arab Spring and to President Obama’s troubling response.
Compare his response to the Green Revolution in Iran with his response to Egypt’s revolt against Hosni Mubarak. Why did President Obama ignore the plight of Iranian protestors and their pleas for support while being quick to support protests against Mubarak? Egypt was an essential American ally in desperate need of domestic reform; Iran was a declared “enemy” of America, so fanatical that reform would never be enough. Why support for Egyptian youths, but not Iranian youths? Why was Mubarak told by Obama to “go now,” if the much worse Ahmadinejad, in the face of a more widespread collapse of support, was not?
2009 was the wrong time to send supportive signals to the leaders of Iran. The time was right, instead, to combine strong geopolitical pressure with a strong moral stand, for the “unity” Khomeini had touted and depended upon had evaporated.
In a December 2008 article in the New York Post, Amir Taheri noted the strength and popularity of the resistance movement and asked, “Could this develop into a nationwide movement that could upset the regime’s calculations before the June election? Is Iran entering a pre-revolutionary phase that could threaten the Khomeinist regime?” Indeed, in June, 2009, millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest rigged elections, marking the largest anti-regime demonstration Iran had seen since the final days of the Shah. Sixteen Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps officers publicly pledged to join the movement, signaling that their once solid support for Ahmadinejad was cracking. Given the horrible fate awaiting those who disagree with the regime, the movement was remarkable.
Washington will only neutralize Iran by exploiting the regime’s main vulnerability: its false claim to legitimacy. The ayatollahs’ hold on power is inherently unstable because they have no popular mandate. Since staging a rigged election in 2009 … they have relied on repression and brutality to silence opposition, jailing journalists, torturing detainees, and executing critics, real and imagined. … Focusing on human rights violations will allow the United States to expose the hypocrisy of the regime and remind Iran of its domestic troubles as it tries to expand power and influence.
Obama and Clinton have done the opposite. In contrast to their stance toward Mubarak and Egypt, they hold that respect for Iran as a whole requires respect for Iran’s repressive leaders.
2011 was the wrong time to send supportive signals to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, whose doctrinal goals include Sharia Law and the destruction of Israel.
The April 6 movement that led to Mubarak’s ouster had overt democratic and human rights goals. One of the reasons the Muslim Brotherhood was able to co-opt the movement was their collusion with the Egyptian military: The military wanted Mubarak out, since Mubarak’s son, Gamal, was promising reform that would weaken the military’s political role. Realizing they needed each other, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood worked together to marginalize and intimidate other groups. Given this - and given Iran’s schemes for an Islamist Egypt and the fact that a constructive relationship with Egypt is essential to Israel’s existential concerns - it behooves us to ask: Why didn’t the U.S. put more effort into encouraging moderate political forces?
Instead, outreach to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has been a constant of Obama/Clinton foreign policy. As the revolution heated up (but before Mubarak’s exit) the Administration encouraged the Brotherhood’s participation in Egypt’s “political dialogue.” This stance was new for the United States. Brotherhood participation in presidential elections was so controversial, both within and without Egypt, that, even after Mubarak’s ouster, Brotherhood leaders themselves promised not to run for election. On the day before Mubarak resigned, the White House sent Intelligence Czar James Clapper to Congress to testify that the Brotherhood is a “moderate” and “largely secular organization” that has “eschewed violence” and has “no overarching goal, at least internationally.”
As Egyptian Islamists ran for and won elections, reneged on promises of representative government, and took hostile action toward secular-reformist groups, Christian Copts, women, and Israel, U.S. supportiveness remained, to the point that Obama and Clinton rejected placing conditions on a massive aid package. Freedom House President David Kramer lamented, “The decision to waive the conditions, partially or in full, on military aid sends the wrong message to the Egyptian government – that U.S. taxpayers will subsidize the Egyptian military while it continues to oversee the crackdown on civil society and to commit human rights abuses.”
Obama’s passivity in the face of Morsi’s recent assumption of dictatorial powers continues the trend. It is significant that Obama and Clinton have not sided with protestors against Morsi, as they did with protestors against Mubarak. It is significant that they sided against Mubarak, but not against Ahmadinejad. The United States is a country that has lost its way.