Meddling as foreign policy

BY JUSTIN SUGG | JUNE 26, 2009 7:21 AM

Exactly what constitutes “meddling in the internal affairs of a country”? It seems today people have different meanings and interpretations for this term. Obviously, the term has a negative connotation, but there is a dispute among parties as to the degree and exactly what actions make up “meddling.”

For President Obama, the definition has changed somewhat. At first, he refused to comment strongly on Iran’s presidential elections, saying he did not want to meddle in that country’s domestic politics. This changed a little when he made two statements condemning the crackdown on Iranian protesters. He’s not backed such statements with diplomatic action — or any other type of action for that matter.

Too short, it seems for Republicans. Sen. John McCain and others criticized what they see as a timid response and issued their own harsh rhetoric. McCain has even accused the Iranian government of murder. It seems Republicans have a loose definition of meddling, if they even have a definition at all.

There could be many good reasons for Obama to be “timid” about Iranian elections. Iran’s ruling elites have made a lightening rod out of our past meddling. There’s real fear among Iranian protesters — especially ones living abroad — that the ruling elites will use any action by America as justification for a crackdown by painting the protesters as American puppets.

Given America’s history, it would seem like a logical fear to have. But America’s inaction hasn’t stopped Iranian officials from blaming our government; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly accused America of inciting the protests. Religious officials denounced Obama personally during Friday prayers last week, mocking Obama for sending a letter and accusing him of meddling. The Iranian government seems to have a wide definition of the word.

Based on both Obama’s and the Iranian government’s definition of meddling, it would be a good idea for the United States to stay out, or else the reform movement may die.

There could be another reason Obama is choosing not to get too deeply involved in Iranian affairs. It may not be in America’s best interest to see a democratic Iran. Presidential contender Mir Hossein Mousavi preached much about reforming many domestic aspects of Iranian government including women’s rights and granting more free and fair elections.

He hasn’t said much about changing Iran’s foreign policy — a subject dearer to American policymakers’ hearts. There’s no real talk of normalizing relations with Israel or halting work on nuclear weapons. A democratic Iran may pose just as much a security threat as a theocratic
The letter Obama wrote to the religious councils is a clear sign he knows who’s in charge in Iran. In fact, it’s quite possible the administration thinks it would be easier to deal with a cabal of religious elites than a democratic government.

Meddling may produce ill-advised effects or it may not. In fact, not meddling may produce the effects we don’t want, as well. The biggest argument against America meddling is that it will give legitimacy to the elites’ claims. Recent events show the elites don’t need that excuse. Clerics accused Obama of meddling, even after he sent a letter wishing to engage them in dialogue. It stands to reason that whatever Obama does, the elites will still accuse America of meddling.

Not meddling may also produce a democratic but non-friendly Iran. The country may emerge in the end democratic but resentful that no-one came to protesters’ aid while Basij shot and beat them.

The democratic movement may fail completely if the United States doesn’t participate in the situation. The elites and Basij are more violent and looking at new ways to crack down on protesters. If Iranian protesters look only to see none outside their country supports them, they may lose heart. It happened before — 1989 in China.

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