Trust Your Eyes

George Packer answers his critics:

Commenters on my last post maintained that the only position America, with its inglorious track record of recent years, should take is none at all (presumably they deplore what Obama later said). Spencer Ackerman chides me on different and less reflexive grounds, for not seeing that the Administration’s tip-toeing was motivated by a desire not to imperil the Iranian dissidents with the fatal American embrace. Even if this were true (and the statements that came out of the White House and State Department over the weekend were mainly focussed on American interests, not Iranian demonstrators), it’s not a smart approach to the brutal suppression of a largely peaceful electorate asking that its votes be counted.

Anyway, it’s impossible for the U.S. to “stay out of it.” A non-response is itself a responseone of tacit acceptance of the regime’s actions. On Saturday, Ahmadinejad taunted the world by saying that Iran would decide its foreign policy based on how other countries treated the election results. Even from the point of view of cold-blooded self-interest, for the U.S. to have acceded to that kind of blackmail would have been a disastrous impression to give Iran’s rulers. By Monday, American silence had become intolerable, which is why Obama chose to speak.

But I think Ackerman’s view, motivated as it is by a concern for human rights, is wrong in a more fundamental way. It’s true that the Bush Administration’s noisy support for Iranian dissidents put many of them in peril, which is why they told America to keep its seventy-five-million dollars in democracy-promotion money. What we’re seeing right now is a far greater sort of peril. The demonstrators are risking their lives just by being in the streets, and being called agents of America is among the least of their worries, which may be why, in the days since Saturday, more and more of them (and of their Iranian supporters abroad) have been asking the world at least to speak up. Not for one faction of Iranian politics, but for the “universal values” that Obama defended yesterdaythe right to a fair election, to peaceful protest, to be spared the baton blows of the state’s thugs.