Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to Responsibly Advocate for Human Rights in Iran--Listen to what Iranian human rights groups, and the protestors themselves, ask of us

Iranian Human Rights Group Hopes the U.S. Stays Out of Election
By Spencer Ackerman 6/13/09 6:15 PM
...The White House is trying to strike a balance between three pressures: speaking in a Samizdat fashion to the Moussavi supporters who have just seen the election stolen by Ahmadinejad and the regime; not interfering in post-election events out of a very justified concern that the appearance of U.S. involvement will act as a delegitimizing force; and preserving the administration’s freedom of action should it have to accept a second Ahmadinejad term.

And with the exception of respecting the third consideration, the strongly anti-Ahmadinejad Hadi Ghaemi, New York-based spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, doesn’t think the White House ought to say much else.

The White House statement may not fully capture the depth of the crime committed against the Iranian people. “But I think it’s wise for the U.S. government to keep its distance,” Ghaemi said in a phone interview. The White House can and should “show concern for human life and protesters’ safety and promote tolerance and dialogue.” But to get any further involved, even rhetorically, would “instigate the cry that the reformers are somehow driven and directed by the United States, whether under former President George W. Bush or under President Obama, and there’s no reason to give that unfounded allegation” any chance to spread.

Ghaemi continues to say that the international community should present a united front that gives “no legitimacy” to the election. In particular, he wants United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express “serious grievances” about how the election was conducted. “Sanctions and military threats, all these things are counterproductive,” Ghaemi said. The initiative has to be expressed and promoted by the Iranians themselves, particularly from Moussavi and other exponents of popular Iranian outrage. “It very much depends on what leading reformers, including Moussavi, ask them to do, and how much responsibility do they take for exposing them to danger. If they put their tails between their legs and walk away, it will be very sad.”

And: “…government forces are already accusing protesters of collaborating with the U.S., and that protesters are actually worried that Obama will make an explicit show of support, as that would restore some credibility to what the government has said about the election and, more importantly, could undermine a reform coalition in which some factions are none-too-fond of America. http://washingtonindependent.com/47134/the-virtues-of-silence

This Is Not About Making the U.S. Feel Good About Itself

By Spencer Ackerman 6/15/09 3:30 PM
There’s a lot to agree with in my friend George Packer’s post about what’s happening in Iran. But I think George, who excels at intellectual history, might be missing a certain crucial component of the equation when viewing Obama’s actions here through the prism of realism vs. progressivism:

"With riot police and armed militiamen beating and, in a few reported cases, killing unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Iran’s cities, for the Obama Administration to continue parsing equivocal phrases serves no purpose other than to make it look feckless. Part of realism is showing that you have a clear grasp of reality—that you know the difference between decency and barbarism when both are on display for the whole world to see. A stronger American stand—taken, as much as possible, in concert with European countries and through multilateral organizations—would do more to improve America’s negotiating position than weaken it. Acknowledging the compelling voices of the desperate young Iranians who, after all, only want their votes counted, would not deep-six the possibility of American-Iranian talks. Ahmadinejad and his partners in the clerical-military establishment will talk to us exactly when and if they think it’s in their interest. Right now, they don’t appear to. And the tens of millions of Iranians who voted for change and are the long-term future of that country will always remember what America said and did when they put their lives on the line for their values."

What’s missing here is an effort at determining what the Iranian dissenters want from the Obama administration. The fact that it’s not clear what the answer to that question is itself serves as a powerful indicator that the protest movement is first and foremost concerned about handling this on its own. As best I can tell from NIAC and from Twitter and from talking with Iranian human rights advocates in the United States, the dissenters want the Obama administration to refuse to recognize Ahmadinejad’s claims of victory; to express concern for the safety of the protesters; and then to get out of the way. The Obama administration can be fairly criticized for not saying enough on the second point, though if, as Michael Scherer believes, Obama’s going to say something at 5 p.m., maybe that will change. But it doesn’t follow from Obama’s muted discussion of the dissenters that he’s indifferent to their plight. From talking to administration officials, I am convinced that they are very concerned that American rhetorical support will immediately become a cudgel in the hands of Ahmadinejad. Would that outcome advance human rights?

It’s emotionally unsatisfying not to proclaim unequivocal support for the protesters. But the truer measure of support, as Trita Parsi told me, is to follow their lead. Moussavi, for instance, has not issued any statement about what he wants the international community to do. If the protesters begin calling for a more direct American response, then that really will have to compel the administration to reconsider its position. But until then, with so many lives at stake, the administration can’t afford to take a stance just because it makes Americans feel just and righteous.

Trita Parsi on Obama’s Iran Comments
By Spencer Ackerman 6/16/09 9:35 AM
After two days of criticism that he should explicitly side with the Iranian opposition, President Obama yesterday said he was “deeply troubled” by the Iranian regime’s willingness to resort to violence, and while it’s “up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be,” he believes “the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.”

No comments:

Post a Comment