Foreign policy and tension in Iran have gone together effortlessly in the last 30 years. But Iran, its internal conflicts, and its relationship with the United States is more in doubt than ever. The battle over the Iran president election, the subsequent protests, and calls for a new Iran revolution put the United States in a precarious position via foreign policy. Already, the debate has gone from whether Iran is on the verge of rebellion, to whether the United States foreign policy can play any role in it or not.
The GOP has already started slamming President Obama for not doing enough to encourage the Iran protests, and denounce the election. Democrats are calling Obama pragmatic for not injecting himself and the United States into it, so as not to make Mir Hossein Mousavi and his protestors look like puppets of the West.
Yet without even trying, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian rulers are already accusing the United States of interfering in the results. No matter what Obama does with U.S. foreign policy, he certainly can’t win with either the GOP or Iran. So all Obama can do is limit the potential damage that United States involvement can do.
No matter what the Iran election turns out to be, the hopes for actual, legitimate change in Iran should not be too high. Mousavi is a reformer only by Iranian standards, as he still calls for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. If Mousavi gets into office, it still may not change anything, as long as the ruling Ayatollahs are around – and a revolution may just cause more uncertainty.
The best hope for Obama is that Mousavi gets into office as peacefully as possible. With Ahmadinejad in office, Iran made more high profile threats than ever toward the U.S and Israel. With Mousavi, the threats may still come, but will likely not make as much headlines, or be as vocal.
Therefore, the relationship can stay at a stalemate, and not on the brink of war, while Obama works toward developing a plan to ease tension. With Ahmadinejad, that best case scenario is less likely.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions would still be a major problem under anyone. But it would be harder to accuse Mousavi of wanting to launch them and destroy the world than it would be with Ahmadinejad, at least at first. In that case, the Republicans would have a harder time calling for war, and Obama can have more time to work on his own solutions.
If Ahmadinejad holds on to victory, and the protests are defeated, the long term effects for American foreign policy are more uncertain. Calls for war with Iran would grow, conflict in the Middle East would overshadow all the economic problems again, and the 2012 election would certainly have Iran as a key talking point.
For now, Obama cannot win by doing anything. All Obama can realistically do is wait for an outcome with these protests, and then tailor his foreign policy toward Iran accordingly.
But if the President can’t make any public statements about what he will do about Iran, he needs to continue planning for all contingencies behind the scenes, so that he can be best prepared for whatever happens. The current conflict caught everyone off guard, but the next stages of that conflict, whatever they are, will require Obama to have greater foresight. The amount of time he has to gain it, however, is uncertain.
CBS News- “Politics Today: GOP Attacks Obama Over Iran” www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/06/22/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5102706.shtml
Boston Globe- “Obama right to be circumspect” www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles/2009/06/22/obama_right_to_be_circumspect/