It would be tragic if the United States bolstered the staying power of Iran's dictatorship just when so many Iranians appear prepared to risk everything to be rid of it.
Despite Iran's disappointing response this week to the international call for negotiations on its nuclear program, the Barack Obama administration continues to hold out hope that some combination of inducements and further pressures will persuade the Islamic Republic to abandon its quest for the bomb.
But the fact is that a central, but unspoken element of President Obama's strategy for securing a deal -- his readiness to acknowledge the legitimacy and permanency of the Iranian regime -- has been severely undercut by Iran's post-election turmoil.
Obama entered office determined to re-energize diplomacy by reversing the George W. Bush administration's "axis of evil" approach. From the moment of his inauguration, the president offered Iran's rulers an "open hand," pledging to engage them on the basis of "mutual interest and mutual respect."
He dropped the long-standing U.S. demand that linked negotiations to Iran's compliance with U.N. resolutions requiring suspension of its uranium enrichment program. Instead, he proposed an unconditional dialogue to address outstanding problems -- even as Iran's production of enriched uranium continued apace.
Perhaps most significantly, as a key pillar in his effort to win over Iran's leadership, Obama also seemed prepared to assuage the regime's greatest fear: its lack of legitimacy in the eyes of its own people.
For years, Iran's rulers have viewed a U.S.-backed rebellion, or "velvet revolution," as the most serious threat to their survival. Iranian officials regularly charged the Bush administration, with its harsh rhetoric but modest democracy promotion efforts, with fomenting regime change.
Obama moved quickly to take regime change off the table. Focused on the priority of stopping Iran's nuclear progress, and assuming (quite mistakenly) that Iran's theocracy was solidly entrenched, Obama signaled early on that the Islamic Republic's legitimacy was not at issue in his eyes and Iran's internal affairs not a matter of U.S. concern.
Source: Foreign Policy