Go Further, Young Man

George Packer would like to see Obama, and his team, saying something more about Iran:

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.

One of the things I like about Packer is that, unlike a lot of opinionaters, he's still in the business of gathering first-hand information about the world he deigns to judge. I should add that he has, at his side, a better half who's done the math on this crisis.

So it's with some trepidation, that I disagree. I think we'd be wise to consider our own image problems abroad. What you want is the Iranian opposition with their feet rooted in native soil. What you don't want is any credible intimations of American puppet-mastery. Again, I know Obama's popular--but I'm not sure he's popularity immunizes us against demagoguery.

Moreover, I remain suspicious of bluster. It seems to me that part of realism, perhaps the most important part, is understanding your own limits. In the overt sense, if we can't help, let's do our best not to hurt.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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