Western commentary on the "green movement" anti-regime protests in Iran divides into two camps: those who advocate supporting the green revolution and those who call for engaging Iran's current leadership. The debate is deeply complicated, touching on Iran's search for nuclear weapons, the country's role in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and even U.S. relations with Russia and China, which both hold tremendous influence in dealing with Iran.
Juan Cole, an expert on the Muslim world and especially on Iran, rejects the division. The West, he argues, can and must engage current Iranian leadership without undermining the green movement. Cole argues "the Obama administration should engage the government in Tehran, whatever it is. [...] But I think the ground is shifting against Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, which helps explain why they are becoming more and more repressive." How can they be reconciled?
The logical problem is, how can you both acknowledge the depth and legitimacy of the Green Reform movement and at the same time urge President Obama to pursue engagement with Ahmadinejad's government? Me, I don't see the problem here. We didn't close the Polish embassy during the Solidarity movement. You deal with the government in power on bilateral issues as long as it is there. If it falls, then you deal with the new government. It is not as if we are offering the regime weapons or materiel that could be used against the protesters. We're just jawboning them.
Cole goes on to explain how this is possible in a long post incorporating everything from Iranian Islamic law to U.S. popular perceptions of Iran to global nuclear proliferation to Iran's role in regional insurgencies. His effort to bridge the divide that has plagued commentary on Iran for seven months is impressive. The comprehensiveness of his argument, both acknowledging and accounting for so many inter-related factors, is even more impressive.