What the #^$@!*?

The Boston Globe reports that the State Department has cut funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

For the past five years, researchers in a modest office overlooking the New Haven green have carefully documented cases of assassination and torture of democracy activists in Iran. With more than $3 million in grants from the US State Department, they have pored over thousands of documents and Persian-language press reports and interviewed scores of witnesses and survivors to build dossiers on those they say are Iran’s most infamous human-rights abusers.

But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that – for the first time since it was formed – its federal funding request had been denied.

“If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it,’’ said Rene Redman, the group’s executive director, who had asked for $2.7 million in funding for the next two years. “I was surprised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television.’’ …

“If the rationale is that we are going to stop funding human rights-related work in Iran because we don’t want to provoke the government, it is absolutely the wrong message to send,’’ she said. “That means that we don’t really believe in human rights, that the American government just looks into it when it is convenient.’

Who’s actually making foreign policy decisions in the White House?

Seriously, who?

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Taking sides

I am under no delusion regarding the nature of the choice offered to Iranian voters in this last election. This was not an election where freedom and increased liberalization were on the ballot. Mousavi is not a good guy and it’s doubtful in the extreme that his election would presage any great opening of Iranian society. To the extent that the protests could work to reverse the outcome, we’d likely be no better off with the new administration than the current one.

But regime change is not the point. The global struggle for freedom and human rights is not generally won at the ballot box. The struggle for freedom in the midst of tyranny is a long and arduous process, it takes years, consumes lives and is in constant need of support and comfort.

Mousavi may not be champion of liberty, but the protesters in Iran seemed not to be protesting his defeat so much as they were protesting the appalling arrogance of a tyrannical regime that demonstrated that it simply didn’t care. And frankly, the President of the United States of America should be a champion of liberty. He should stand tall and strong and make it clear that the United States stands for freedom, democracy, political liberty, free speech and the right to assemble.

What bothers me about the Obama administration’s response to the protests in Iran is not that they didn’t do more to support the protesters or clamor for a recount… it’s that they didn’t stand up and forcibly and articulately defend the values that Americans hold dear.

If the circumstances dictate that his role is largely oratorical, then embrace the oratory and defend freedom. Instead he opened his press conference by declaring–again–his recognition and support of a regime that was, at that very moment, engaged in the worst kind of political crackdown.

Will Wilkinson has argued that showing support for the dissidents in Iran only aids and abets warmongering neocons, and since we don’t want to go to war with Iran, we should be cautious in the extreme and avoid doing even as little as changing the color of our Twitter avatars.

That’s absurd. It’s the elevation of cheap abstraction over human liberty. There are legitimate reasons why America should avoid armed conflict with Iran and reasons why we should not provide material aid to either of the two sock-puppets in this Iranian election. But there is no legitimate reason not to vigorously and loudly declare our solidarity with the men and women who are resisting oppression.

To shy away from such support, and worse, to ridicule that support because it supports a “narrative” that Bill Kristol might like is the worst kind of petty, provincial, partisan spite.

The protesters in Iran need support, if we cannot offer material support then we should be giving them all of the moral support and political cover that we can. Even if that means ~shudder~ rubbing elbows with other pundits.

The debate

The debate in Iran…

It was an exercise in courageous futility, not a contest. Thousands of riot police and militiamen flooded the area. They used teargas, batons and overwhelming force. Helicopters hovered overhead. Nobody was allowed to stop or to gather, let alone exercise their constitutional right to protest. …

Twitter was flooded with lurid messages. “They pull away the dead — like factory — no human can do this,” said one. “They catch people with mobile — so many killed today — so many injured,” said another. “In Baharestan we saw militia with axe chopping ppl like meat — blood everywhere,” said a third. …

All that can be said for certain is the regime has finally recaptured the streets through strength of numbers and the unrestrained use of violence. Thirty years after the Iranian revolution it no longer rules with consent, but with military might, and it is cracking down with all means at its disposal. — The Times

After President Obama’s harsh words yesterday,

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. … This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

He’s upped the ante and has brought the full weight of American diplomacy and the power of the Presdiental bully pulpit to bear and… decided that Iranian diplomats can’t come to our parties!

The United States said Wednesday that it would no longer issue invitations for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 parties at US embassies, following the violent suppression of protests in Iran.

That’ll show them!

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly earlier said that he also believed that not one Iranian diplomat had signed up to attend the events.

Oh.

Well, then… they can’t come to the labor day block party either! You know Biden makes a mean potato salad and Khomeni will just have to go without. That’s what you get for brutally oppressing political dissidents.

Iran

Foreign Policy is hard stuff; it generally resists ideological formulation. Grand visions rarely work and the best laid intentions are often undone as quickly as they can be formulated. The world is a messy place and it defies simple solutions.

Set yourself up as a free-thinking, cosmopolitan isolationist and a fascist across the ocean decides to gas entire populations of dissidents, exterminate the Jews, invade your allies, and repeatedly violate long-standing cease-fire agreements. Set yourself up as a fierce defender of human rights across the world and suddenly you find yourself massively in debt to impassive communist bureaucracies. Oppose all forms of “pre-emptive” war and find yourself watching from the sidelines as a pro-democracy uprising swells in one of the world’s most tyrannical and oppressive regimes.

What to do?

Obama can’t send troops to Iran, he can’t risk–or afford–another military commitment in the Middle East. Besides, if he committed troops to Iran he’d wind up vindicating the foreign policy theories of the staff at the Ayn Rand Institute… a psychic cost of almost incalculable horror.

Maybe he should meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions?

Yeah, maybe not.

What about helping the insurgency? Clandestine operations conducted under cloak of night? That would be cool. Very Jack Ryan…. But to what end? It’s not like Ahmadinejad’s opposition is Eleanor Roosevelt. And it’s not very likely that Obama will be willing to provide the kind of public assistance to Mousavi that would elicit long-term cooperation with Washington.

As  Jim Hoagland put in the Wasington Post,

the president and his advisers still have not adjusted policies and tactics being overtaken by events. This is clear both from the initial “caught in the headlights” reaction by Obama as he temporized — albeit with steely skill — and from accounts of diplomatic and other official sources here.

Temporizing with steely skill.

Well, I guess it’s a foreign policy of sorts. I’m not really sure there’s anything else he can do at this point. Still it would have been nice had the most stirring defense of a people’s right to free elections and democratic justice come from the United States rather than France.

I don’t have a problem with using different approaches for different international crises, in fact I applaud a foreign policy that takes special circumstances into account. What troubles me is that this administration seems committed to a set of priorities that place democracy, liberty, and human dignity last.

It’s hard to see the temporizing as careful calculation rather than simple confusion and ambiguity over political resistance. This is the administration that nominated Charles “shoot the protesters” Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. This is the administration that would rather pressure China on T-bills and greenhouse gases than basic human rights. This is the administration that wants to open negotiations with Hamas and pressure Israel to come to terms with a group of thugs who maintain their steadfast desire to “drive the Jews into the sea.”

So it’s not that I disagree with the administration’s reticence to leap into the middle of this particular conflict at this time, I simply don’t trust that they’re biding their time for the right reasons. I hope I’m wrong.

Update: There’s a press conference scheduled for today, so hopefully this will become a moot criticism.

Update: Well, there was a press conference.

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs.”

What about individual sovereignty? Human rights?

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in the Iranian government are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others outside of Iran of instigating protests over the elections.

A debate? They’re trying to have a debate? Wow. Rough debate. I thought maybe they were trying to exercise basic human rights and being shot at.

This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

“No help from us, bub. You’re on your own. Good luck with that liberty stuff.”

My favorite line about the conference is from the New York Times,

Mr. Obama leaves the room. “No questions about Iraq or Afghanistan?” a reporter cries out. The question hangs in the air. It does seem amazing, not a single question for the American president about the nation’s two wars.

Now, why on earth would anyone have any doubts about this adminsitration’s foreign policy?