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Iran Crisis Spawns Odd Bedfellows

Republicans remain livid about deficit spending. Democrats haven't kissed and made up with Dick Cheney over Guantanamo and the treatment of detainees. But the Iranian street demonstrations protesting the results of that nation's presidential election have generated a rare moment of consensus from both ends of the American political spectrum.

In the conservative-leaning New Ledger, Pejman Yousefzadeh says that Iranians still "view the United States as powerful" and makes the case why this is not the time to mumble diplomatic platitudes.

"Those who have opposed the Islamic regime and its various depredations–both inside and outside of Iran–have waited over thirty years for a moment like this one. A moment in which the fundamental nature of the Iranian government could be changed for the better. A moment when, at long last, Iran's leaders may come close to becoming worthy of its people. How devastatingly tragic would it be if this moment were allowed to pass, merely because the Obama administration might overshoot its efforts to refrain from imperialism. Not all silence is golden."

Richard Just of The New Republic couldn't recall the last time another country's internal political dispute generated this level of domestic support.

"Last year, John McCain was widely mocked for his declaration that 'we are all Georgians.' True, the analogy between that crisis and this one isn't perfect: The Russia-Georgia war was a dispute between two countries, while this is a dispute between two sides in the same country. But the principle is the same. McCain was identifying what he believed to be the more liberal, more democratic side in a faraway conflict and expressing his unabashed support for it. To hear the ridicule that greeted McCain's statement, you might have concluded that Americans had lost their appetite for foreign policy idealism of any kind. But today, there seems to be near-unanimity that Americans ought to be rooting for one side in Iran. Which suggests that our instinct toward foreign policy idealism, however battered by the past eight years, is still very much alive."

True enough. After the sharp divide over the wisdom of the war in Iraq, U.S. politicians and bloggers of all political stripes are united in singing the praises of the Iranian opposition and the need to express solidarity. In fact, some, like House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., want the White House to voice stronger support for the demonstrators, especially now that the political crackdown has turned violent.

"The Administration's silence in the face of Iran's brutal suppression of democratic rights represents a step backwards for homegrown democracy in the Middle East," Cantor said. "President Obama must take a strong public position in the face of violence and human rights abuses. We have a moral responsibility to lead the world in opposition to Iran's extreme response to peaceful protests."

Cantor overstated the case. Taking time from his photo op at the White House with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, President Barack Obama did weigh in on the Iranian situation.

"There appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed," he said. "We in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians but believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected."

Not exactly a call to storm the barricades but still, a signal to the street that Washington is not indifferent to what's unfolding on the ground. What to do next, however, is less clear. Considering the fraught history of U.S.-Iran relations, it's not wise to decide foreign policy on the basis of Twitter feeds and television video footage. Especially at a time when the Obama administration is trying to build on the president's Cairo speech and forge better ties in a region still suspicious of U.S. designs.

Mark Thompson sums it up nicely here:

"Obama needs to exercise extreme caution before taking any kind of an act to support the protesters – we absolutely cannot ignore that the US is still not very popular amongst Iranians, with only about 30 percent taking a positive view of the US and 38 percent declaring the US to be the biggest threat to Iran (combined with another 44 percent who name Israel the biggest threat). If that position begins to change significantly as a result of the current events, then we can re-evaluate our involvement. Given those numbers, we also need to recognize that, even if there was massive fraud and (Mir Hossein) Mousavi was the real victor, the cause of that sentiment likely has little to do with a rejection of Ahmadinejad's positions."

Of course, all of these calculations may change on a dime, the situation is that fluid. Who knew? Turns out that Joe Biden was indeed prescient with his prediction during the presidential campaign that Barack Obama would be tested within the first six months of his presidency.

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