Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity.
- President George W. Bush
The people of Iran, at least a good portion of them, have decided to claim their human right to freedom this week. There are few countries left on earth that don't have elections - even Saddam Hussein sponsored an "election" that he won down to the very last vote - but, while not being quite as blatantly bogus as Hussein's insult to world intelligence, the Iranian election was nevertheless a farce.
The handling of blank ballots and the counting of marked ballots were loaded with irregularities, including 50 cities in which the number of votes cast exceeded the number of voters.
The real fraud took place weeks before, when the regime's Council of Guardians bounced 467 of 471 would-be candidates for president, leaving only the four considered most reactionary, antediluvian, and loyal to the mullahcracy. The choice between Himmler, Goering, or Hitler himself on a ballot is not a very compelling one.
That, plus the President...
Yet, as ludicrous as the candidates were, there's something about an election that brings out the competitive spirit. A month ago, nobody would ever have confused Mir Hossein Mousavi with George Washington or even Mikhail Gorbachev. His career includes such theocratic highlights as political secretary of the ruling Islamic Republican party, foreign secretary, and prime minister - that last during the Iran-Iraq war, a time not noted for humanitarian governance or tolerance of dissent.
Despite his establishment background, today finds Mousavi calling for continued protests against government "lies and fraud," even though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei demanded in no uncertain terms that all protests cease immediately if not sooner, or else.
What should America do? Well, what has America done in the past?
For good or ill, America has generally tried to side with the people against oppressive governments. Sometimes this has led to historic victories for freedom as in 1989 at the Berlin Wall. Other times, American support has been tepid with our nation standing by as protesters were massacred in Hungary (1956), Iraqi Kurdistan (1991), and Tiananmen Square (1989). With no help from the world's great beacon of liberty, movements that could have led to change for millions instead ended in murderous crackdowns.
For nearly a week, President Obama not only did nothing, he said nothing. He offered no support for the protesters, even if only in his rhetoric.
In fact, his first statement endorsed the theocratic, totalitarian nature of Iran's regime by referring to it using the mullah's preferred title of "Islamic Republic," and granted the Ayatollah Khamenei the unelected, self-bestowed title of "Supreme Leader."
More recently, he has come out with what has become his standard formulation calling for an end to violence - no different from the hundreds if not thousands of calls issued to end violence all over the world, from Palestine to Sudan to Georgia to North Korea, and with good effects most noticeable by their absence. Whatever happened to "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"?
America cannot be seen to be too involved, we are told, because we don't want to give the oppressors any excuse to tar the protesters as being tools of the Great Satan. Does anyone believe that the truth is a defense against Iran's Basiji thug militia, or that innocence will prevent propagandistic imams from throwing mud at the White House whenever they want to distract their people?
Iran has suffered under the heel of a brutal religious dictatorship for thirty years. For all that time, the regime has claimed an American invasion is just around the corner; Cuba's Castro has spouted the same tired codswallop for twice as long. It never gets old no matter how hands-off the United States might actually be.
Claiming to not care about freedom movements simply makes us look laughable.
A word from the President of the United States can make all the difference in the world. Listen to Lech Walesa, the Polish leader of Solidarity shipworkers union who eventually overthrew communism there and became president:
When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty. This can't be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989.
Poles fought for their freedom for so many years that they hold in special esteem those who backed them in their struggle. Support was the test of friendship. President Reagan was such a friend. His policy of aiding democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the dark days of the Cold War meant a lot to us. We knew he believed in a few simple principles such as human rights, democracy and civil society. He was someone who was convinced that the citizen is not for the state, but vice-versa, and that freedom is an innate right.
Reagan never sent American tanks into Poland; the CIA didn't assassinate Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski. The only support America ever gave were Reagan's words - but oh, what words! At the very moment when the struggle seemed lost, the words of the Leader of the Free World inspired a shipbuilding electrician to carry on through to victory.
Does Mr. Obama truly not care about the Iranian election? Yes, Mir Hossein Mousavi is no prizewinner; that's not the point. The mere act of the people expressing their will is an expression of freedom, and an addictive one.
If Mousavi prevails, he will never be the Supreme Leader in the sense of Khamenei and Khomeini before him; he will have been raised to office by the will of the people, and what can be raised up by the will of the people can also be brought down in the same way.
You learn the most about a man by observing his reaction when caught by surprise; Mr. Obama's record of the past week tells us something we need to know but don't want to see.
Nobody expected Russia's invasion of Georgia last summer; Mr. Obama's first reaction was a limp-wristed call for both the tiny free country and the autocracy 100 times its size to stop beating on each other, whereas McCain instinctively knew what was what and demanded Russia's immediate withdrawal.
Nobody expected Iran's youth to take to the streets over a disagreement between two aged, deeply illiberal clerical puppets; but they did, and Mr. Obama's reaction reveals how disposable he views elections to be. He didn't know which cleric he wanted to win; he didn't really care; so, the election didn't really matter.
Maybe he sees a kindred spirit under the turban: after all, if Iran's leaders had studied the electoral techniques of ACORN and its ability to magically unearth just enough votes to turn an unwanted tide, Ahmadinejad wouldn't be under such threat, and Mr. Obama could carry merrily on "negotiating" with him right up until the day Tel Aviv disappears in a mushroom cloud.
In both cases, Mr. Obama eventually came out with a slightly more stomachable response - no doubt after a panicked intervention by his advisers. It's the first, instinctive reaction that's most revealing, forcing us to ask: Whose side is he on?
We shouldn't have to ask; our useless media don't even dare ask.