Unfortunately, I don’t have much to personally add to the current conversation about Iran, other than basically endorsing this view espoused by Hadi Ghaemi (via Spencer Ackerman) of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
But some Iranian human rights activists backed Obama’s cautious approach. “I think it’s wise for the U.S. government to keep its distance,” said Hadi Ghaemi, a New York-based spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which wants the international community not to legitimize the Iranian regime’s claim that Ahmadinejad won the election. While the Obama administration ought to express support for the Iranian opposition’s safety and for human rights in Iran as the regime clamps down on dissent, any expression of political support for the protesters would only “instigate the cry that the reformers are somehow driven and directed by the United States, whether under [former President George W. Bush] or under Obama, and there’s no reason to give that unfounded allegation” any chance to spread.
Indeed. On a related note, I’d also like to commend the Obama Administration’s rather measured response (for a characteristally less measured response, see John McCain here). The fact is that whether or not the election was a fraud, Iran will still remain of key strategic importance and the same benefits still stand to be gained from a policy of engagement. It’s also important to remember that foreign policy is still set by Supreme Leader Ali Khameini and what’s more, despite Moussavi’s reformist credentials, Moussavi was still publicly on board with pursing the status quo of Iranian foreign policy towards both Israel and nuclear enrichment. It’s simply not the case that a Moussavi win would have heralded an marked shift in policy towards US’ interests (though there seems little sense in denying that cooled rhetoric would better facilitate diplomatic solutions).
UPDATE: Here’s Stephen Walt arguing basically the same thing. You might want to listen to him though because he teaches at Harvard, and I don’t.
In the end, what really matters is the content of any subsequent U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, not the precise nature of the Iranian regime. If diplomatic engagement led to a good deal, then it wouldn’t matter much who was running Iran. By the same logic, we shouldn’t accept a bad deal even if we were happier with the outcome of this election. And there’s no reason to think that Mousavi would have been substantially more forthcoming on the nuclear issue than Ahmadinejad has been. So while I’m as disappointed as anyone in the outcome thus far, I want to wait and see how the two sides respond once the dust has settled.