Has Obama Shifted on Iran?

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In yesterday's press conference, President Obama said he was "appalled" by the violence occurring in Iran. Daniel Larison sees signs that the president is moving toward the hawks:

Whether or not he was affected by the drumbeat on the Post op-ed pages, he has started moving in the direction that those writers wanted. One could even try to defend changing rhetoric as circumstances change, but to deny that there has been any change is silly and, I’m sorry to say, something we have seen several times from Obama over the last two years.

I think it's important to distinguish between rhetoric that deplores regime violence in stronger terms, and rhetoric that wades into the mechanics of how Iran is supposed to resolve the situation and which factions should prevail. There is indeed a difference between expressing concern and being "appalled." But this rhetorical shift strikes me as warranted by events, which have taken a turn toward increased violence, and doesn't strike me as a major concession to those who want the president to call for the overthrow of Iran's revolutionary government.

I think Trita Parsi makes a good point in this regard:

But here is one legitimate criticism , the Iranians are missing two words from Obama: "I condemn." Protesters and political leaders I've spoken to in Iran want the US to speak out forcefully against the government's human rights abuses and condemn the violence. Philosophical formulations about respecting the wishes of the Iranian people aren't enough: The president should clearly condemn the Iranian government's violations and use of brutal force against its own people.

After all, condemning violence is different from taking sides in Iran's election dispute. Not only would it be compatible with American values, it would also reduce pressure on the president to entangle the US in Iranian politics. Clarity on the human rights front strengthens the president's ability to avoid siding with any political faction in Iran.

The president faces two essentially implacable sets of critics on this issue. No matter what he says, the Supreme Leader and his cohort are going to decry it as meddling. And no matter how strongly he condemns the violence, his neoconservative critics won't be satisfied until it is paired with concrete steps to unseat the regime (which I suspect is a bridge too far for this administration).


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