Anniversary of Iran 2009 uprising and Obama’s appeasement of the regimeJun 3rd, 2015
Iranian American Forum, June 3, 2015
While millions of Iranians were in the streets opposing the regime, Obama ignored this historic moment and continued his outreach to the Iranian rulers. His appeasing attitude was a signal that the US is so eager to reach a nuclear deal and befriend the regime that it would tolerate Mullahs’ brutal repression in Iran and hegemonic policies across the region
As the Middle East sinks deeper into chaos, many in the US blame the Obama administration for sharing part of responsibility in creating this situation. Obama is criticized for lack of strategy, retrenchment, inaction, and most importantly, nurturing illusionary, conciliatory and appeasing attitude toward the Iranian regime. Such attitude the critics argue, has helped Iran to extend its influence and military presence across the region, from Lebanon to Yemen.
A defining moment in Obama’s Presidency that illustrates his deep miscalculation about Iran and the Iranian regime occurred during his first year in the White House. In June 2009, as he was extending a friendly hand to the Iranian regime, the rigged presidential election in Iran provoked a historic popular movement that gradually morphed to an anti-regime uprising that lasted almost a year and brought the regime to the edge of collapse.
While millions of demonstrators were braving the regime’s brutal repressive forces and thousands of Iranians were arrested, beaten, raped and tortured and hundreds were killed, Obama ignored this defining moment and continued his overture toward the regime. This attitude outraged the Iranians who shouted their anger in the streets and asked the US President: “Obama, Obama, are you with them (regime), or with us?”
Obama’s attitude was so shocking that a few years later, Hillary Clinton who was his Secretary of State, came out to criticize him. In her book, “Hard Choices”, she wrote: “In retrospect I’m not sure out restraint was the right choices. It did not stop the regime from ruthlessly crushing the Green Movement, which was exceedingly painful to watch. I came to regret that we did not speak out more forcefully and rally others to do the same.”
As an official told New Yorker, Obama was trying to engage the Iranian government and did not want to do anything that made the administration side with the protesters:
A disputed Presidential election in Iran triggered large demonstrations there, which were soon labelled the Green Revolution. For the first five months after his Inauguration, Obama had tried to engage with the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an effort to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Now he faced the choice between keeping his distance and coming to the aid of the nascent pro-democracy movement, which was rallying behind Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who had finished second behind Ahmadinejad. Obama chose to keep his distance, providing only mild rhetorical support. In an interview with CNBC after the protests began, he said that “the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised.”
During the peak of the protests in Iran, Jared Cohen, a young staffer at the State Department who worked for Slaughter, contacted officials at Twitter and asked the company not to perform a planned upgrade that would have shut down the service temporarily in Iran, where protesters were using it to get information to the international media. The move violated Obama’s rule of non-interference.
White House officials “were so mad that somebody had actually ‘interfered’ in Iranian politics, because they were doing their damnedest to not interfere,” the former Administration official said. “Now, to be fair to them, it was also the understanding that if we interfered it could look like the Green movement was Western-backed, but that really wasn’t the core of it. The core of it was we were still trying to engage the Iranian government and we did not want to do anything that made us side with the protesters. To the Secretary’s credit, she realized, I think, before other people, that this is ridiculous, that we had to change our line.” The official said that Cohen “almost lost his job over it. If it had been up to the White House, they would have fired him.”
Iranian regime lobby NIAC supported Obama’s attitude
The Iranian uprising that started as a protest to the rigged election, rapidly morphed to an anti-regime movement as the demonstrators set fire on government buildings, clashed with the security forces and shouted slogans such as “death to the dictator” and “death to Velayte Faghih” (Iran Supreme Leader). Meanwhile, the Washington based pro-Tehran lobby organization NIAC was secretly lobbying the administration and publicly campaigning to prevent any US support to the Iranian people’s historic uprising. NIAC was casting the popular movement as a fight between regime’s factions and therefore, asking the US administration to not take side in this fight.
In June 2009 Parsi wrote an article titled: “What Obama must do now on Iran” in which he defended Obama’s position: “Many have argued that the president shouldn’t side with any particular faction in Iran since doing so could backfire. Having the US on your side is not necessarily a good thing in Iran. Rather than listening to neoconservative critics or Republican lawmakers, White House staff say that they’ve been listening to signals from the Iranians themselves. Those signals have been clear, and on most counts, the White House’s position has been on mark. The Iranians want to make sure that the world knows and sees what is happening on the streets of Tehran and other cities. And they want the US to stay out of the fight – at least for now.”
Similarly, NIAC’s policy director Patrick Disney wrote another article titled: “On Iran, the Power of Obama’s Silence” and defended White House position: “For now, the Obama administration is just taking a step back and assessing the situation, and rightly so–at the moment, the only certainty in this entire ordeal is that the more accurate information everyone has, the better. But the Obama administration is also making it perfectly clear that, regardless of the outcome of the next few days, they are committed to engage in direct diplomacy with the Iranian government. At this point, that’s the best we, as Americans, can do.”
Eventually, the regime succeeded in crushing the uprising and Obama was able to have his much desired nuclear talks with Iran. But the negotiations failed and a year later in 2010, the Congress passed the crippling sanctions bill against Iran, a bill that Obama opposed from the beginning but was forced to sign into the law. These sanctions and not Obama’s appeasement, forced the regime to start a new round of negotiations in 2012 that continue today.
The unsuccessful outcome of Iranian uprising has many reasons, on top of them, lack of adequate leadership to respond to the Iranian people’s aspiration. But, the Obama administration’s attitude facilitated the regime’s task to crush the uprising. Consequently, a historic opportunity was missed for the Iranian people and international community to end the rule of theocratic regime in Iran.
The Obama administration’s indifference to the Iranian popular uprising sent a strong signal to the Iranian regime and its lobby partners in the US that the President is deeply committed to engage and befriend Iran and to attain this goal, he would tolerate and overlook Tehran’s aggressive policies in Iran or across the region.
This emboldened Iran to impose its protégé Nouri Al-Maliki for premiership in Iraq, escalate sectarian policies in Iraq that resulted in general rebellion in Sunni regions and dispatching its Quds force unites and dozens of Shiite proxy militias including Lebanese Hezbollah to participate in the massacre of Syrian people to defend the Bashar Assad regime.
A result of these policies has been the rise of extremist Sunnis organizations such as ISIS.