by SETAREH SABETY in Nice, France
14 Oct 2009 18:17
Obama's Lost Opportunity
[ comment ] Events in Iran have unraveled like a nightmare for many of us Iranians. First, the presidential election, which seemed to hold some promise of change and bloodless reform to the Islamic Republic, was stolen.
Then the protesters who poured into the streets of Tehran and other cities in the millions were brutally beaten, arrested and killed. Once arrested, many of these peaceful reform-seeking protesters were tortured and raped. More died, and even more were forced to confess in Stalin-esque show trials that made us all cringe as we watched and thought: How much humiliation and pain can make a grown man forsake his dignity and beliefs?
Then Ali Akbar Agha Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had been an outspoken supporter and defender of our popular reformist candidate and Green movement, crawled back into his pragmatic shell.
Then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to New York and addressed an empty UN General Assembly -- not even the Lebanese delegation sat through his speech. The Palestinians, in what seemed like a poetic act, left only their beautiful hejab-less women to sit and watch. Yet, ever the impudent politician, Ahmadinejad stood his ground and went back to Iran with a triumphant air, thanks to the sudden 'revelation' that another nuclear plant was in progress in Qom. Intelligence that the US had possessed as long as two years ago, but the Iranians had chosen to reveal at this point, saved Ahmadinejad by switching media and world attention from the plight of Iranian democrats to the question of Iran's nuclear ambitions and the capability and the merits of Obama's doctrine of diplomacy.
Then there was the Geneva 5 + 1 talks, which all sides claimed as a victory. America and its allies claimed that Iran had conceded on two contentious points by allowing a third party to enrich its uranium and the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities. The Americans succeeded in sitting face to face with Iranians in an official meeting for the first time since the Islamic Republic's founding more than thirty years ago. Obama, under attack for his health care plan and losing his popularity in the polls at home, scored his first foreign policy triumph. His election mantra, that 'we can negotiate with the enemy,' seemed to have been vindicated when he appeared that evening to brief the world on what he claimed was a 'constructive start' to negotiations.
Obama's overture to Iran and his abandonment of an obsolete plan for a missile shield in Europe to lure the Russians to his side bore him immediate fruit in the form of a Noble Prize. The Norwegians seemed to be so excited about Obama's contrast with Bush that they gave him the prize for having good intentions and for not being a warmonger with a low IQ.
In a year, when we had the biggest uprising against this feared and archaic theocracy, this regime that stones women and hangs children, we had to watch the man who did the most to legitimize Ahmadinejad win the Noble Prize for Peace!
Why do I blame Obama, whom I voted for, whom I fell in love with the day he gave his speech at the Democratic convention five years ago? Because he lost a very big opportunity in Iran.
For thirty years those of us who abhorred this theocracy thought that we shared an enemy with America. For thirty years we were told by both Democratic and Republican administrations that if we rose for change in Iran they would watch our back. For thirty years we thought that the democracies of the world were on our side. We never thought that three million people would pour into the streets of Tehran to demand justice and freedom and that the American president would not back us passionately and vehemently. We never thought that once we rose the president of America would extend a hand to the men responsible for the arrests, tortures, rapes and deaths of our people who asked for nothing more than to have their votes counted.
Yes, many of us are still shocked. Many of us feel betrayed.
Obama's election inspired hope in us like it did for Americans and people all over the world. He made us believe that we too could change things by simply voting. Little did we know that even when we did vote, even when we braved bullets and prisons, we still would not get his backing.
Now the so-called 'experts' say that he did the right thing, and in fact what else could he do? Obama cannot wait for things to change in Iran forever. Others claim that states act in their own interests and cannot be expected to act altruistically. But pray tell me what in backing a movement for democracy and opening to the West is not in the interest of the US and its allies? Unless you are a conspiracy theorist like my aunt who thinks Americans and Israelis are in cahoots with Ahmadinejad, you should answer my question with a resounding "NOTHING!"
There is also another line of argument which claims that if America and Europe are seen as supporting the protesters they will be accused of meddling. They cannot understand that Iranians have moved on from their anti-Americanism. Iranians do not buy and are fed up with Ahmadinejad's scapegoating of the West and America. We have moved far beyond what the analysts call our 'complicated history' with the U.S. We are being killed, tortured and raped by our own people and are no longer suspicious of imperialistic aspirations of Obama's America. We are a sophisticated people capable of understanding historic context and political nuance! Don't confuse Iran with Afghanistan or Iraq.
We have a very educated population. Sixty percent of our university students are women. We have twenty-four million internet users and sixty thousand bloggers in Iran. A majority of our people voted for change like Americans did with Obama.
The hatred for the Neo-Cons and the after-taste of eight years of Bush have made the Democrats and the left in the West very timid about opposing anyone who the Republicans opposed. In fact, the 'politically correct' West tends to think that the aspirations for freedom and liberal democracy are purely Western ideals lacking genuine popular support in other parts of the world. They see us as naïve natives who can't tell the difference between a leader who wants to help us and one who wants to bomb us. So they don't offer to help us! They think that Islamic extremism is more genuine and indigenous and that democratic liberalism is an imperialist import. Their anti-imperialism blinds them to atrocities committed by local bullies. They cannot fathom that we are sophisticated enough to want Western style democracy -- you know, the kind where you vote and they actually count the votes!
The incredibly quick-to-polarize ambiance of American politics will try to bury me with its ceaseless labeling. I will be called a Neo-con and a warmonger just for opposing Obama's naïve belief in the efficacy of negotiation with the Ahmadinejad regime. In the black and white halls of American public debate there is no room for someone who passionately supports Obama's health care bill but who vehemently opposes his doctrine of diplomacy with the usurping Iranian government. I will be treated like a right-wing Cuban exile crazy enough to want to change regimes at any cost. I respond to all this by saying that there is a long distance between not wanting a war with Iran and not wanting the US to negotiate with this illegitimate regime.
You do not have to be a wacky reactionary to want the world to show the regime in Iran outrage. Obama had a great opportunity to be both a hero and a pragmatist by backing the protesters. Only an Iran safe for her people will be safe for the world. He could have extended the Reformists his full support; he could have put at least symbolic pressure on Iran. Most of all he could have refused that hand that may have been extended to him openly but that was turned into a fist that came down on the heads of innocent youths who had the 'audacity to hope' but who were unlucky enough to do it in the wrong place!
I do not want my President, who made me cry with his words of justice and freedom, who made me think that the impossible was possible, to shake the hands of the murderer of my children. If the Noble Prize for Peace makes Obama carry one burden, it should be the burden of not abandoning a noble people who have already paid too high a price for the shortsightedness of American foreign policy.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau