Contrary to the calls for President Obama to explictly support the Iranian opposition that Weigel reported on today, here are two Republican voices calling for a more muted American response to the upheaval. First is Nicholas Burns, the Bush administration’s undersecretary of state for political affairs, who last week chastised conservatives for downplaying the potential significance of the Iranian election. Via Andrew Sullivan and Greg Sargent, Burns told NPR that Ahmadinejad “would like nothing better than to see a very aggressive series of statements by the United States that would try to put the U.S. in the center of this.” According to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) recent tweet to David Gregory, though, denying Ahmadinejad what he wants is merely to “
Now here’s Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, to CBS, via ThinkProgress:
I think for the moment our position is to allow the Iranians to work out their situation. When popular revolutions occur, they come really from the people. They’re generated by people power within the country. For us to become heavily involved in the election at this point is to give the clergy an opportunity to have an enemy…and to use us, really, to retain their power.
To some degree, this is a reflection of the office of the president’s power to set the agenda. Much as people debated the merits of aggressive U.S. strategies for democracy promotion when George W. Bush was president — is that a sufficiently value-neutral way of putting it? — now people debate the merits of an approach that places the United States in a peripheral role relative to a nation’s internal dissenters. But I wonder if this might herald a broader reexamination of some of the democracy-promotion rhetoric that’s marked the past several years.
F’rinstance: I didn’t mean to suggest yesterday that George Packer was primarily interested in moral preening when he writes about Iran. But I do wonder why debates about how American foreign policy can and should promote openness and democracy don’t fundamentally proceed from the proposition that America play a supporting role — meaning we first consider what a given reform movement wants from the United States and then debate what we ought to do, whether support is in our interests, and so forth. So much of what’s been discussed, by George and by others, presumes a desire for American support before proceeding. If we’re to take to heart the proposition that the United States ought to actually play a supporting role in the spread of liberalism, then we have to take to heart the idea that sometimes the right strategy is one of quiet and caution and subtlety. We’re not locked in a choice between intervention and neglect.