Is Bob Kagan Wrong?

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Here's Bob Kagan:

Obama's policy now requires getting past the election controversies quickly so that he can soon begin negotiations with the reelected Ahmadinejad government. This will be difficult as long as opposition protests continue and the government appears to be either unsettled or too brutal to do business with. What Obama needs is a rapid return to peace and quiet in Iran, not continued ferment. His goal must be to deflate the opposition, not to encourage it. And that, by and large, is what he has been doing.

Now here's President Obama from today:

“It's important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, that the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised,” the president told CNBC. “Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons. And so we've got long-term interests in having them not weaponize nuclear power and stop funding organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. And that would be true whoever came out on top in this election.”

I believe Kagan is at least half right. There is no evidence that President Obama is attempting to "deflate" the opposition group being led by Mir Hossein Mousavi. Someone hoping to deflate a movement doesn't help to secure said movement's primary means of communication. And there's no guarantee President Obama could do or say anything that would assist the demonstrators anyway. The risk of undermining those demonstrators, on the other hand, is rather high.

However, it's pretty clear from his remarks today that President Obama's Iran strategy doesn't pay much credence to elected Iranian officials. There are bigger things going on in the region than whether or not these protesters have full enfranchisement, and Obama is clearly acknowledging that. A recount or re-vote in Iran doesn't really address the threat of a nuclear arms race in the region, nor does it end the regime's support for asymmetric terrorist organizations in Palestine.

Mousavi is not Nelson Mandela. He's not even Barack Obama. I think the President's position has thus far been sensible, and that's why Bob Kagan is at best half right. He seems to understand what Obama is doing, but he understands it for all the wrong reasons.

UPDATE: Michael Crowley is sort of on the same page, although Mousavi has not expressed much recent interest in nuclear weapons. It's the program itself that generates unanimous national support.

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