The history of US-Iranian relations is complex.
There are anti-government riots and demonstrations in Iran echoing, but in smaller numbers, similar outbreaks in 2009.
Back then the Obama administration was accused of not standing up for the people opposing the theocrats. Demonstrators were killed and jailed and the movement was broken.
In response to the new outbreaks, President Trump initially tweeted:
“Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests”
He later upped the ante:
“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded:
“Reagan was more powerful and smarter than Trump, and he was a better actor in making threats, and he also moved against us….But Reagan is gone and, according to our beliefs, he now faces God’s retribution, while Iran has made great advances in all areas since Reagan’s time…”
Mr. Khamenei 78 also later upped the ante:
“The U.S. gov. commits oppression inside the U.S., too. U.S. police murder black women, men, & children for no justifiable reason, and the murderers are acquitted in U.S. courts. This is their judicial system! And they slam other countries’ and our country’s judicial system, #BLM.”
(Mr. Khamenei has previously called Mr. Trump “foul-mouthed” and “suffering from retardation.”)
Leon Panetta head of the CIA and the Defense Department under Mr. Obama was asked this week about the Obama administration’s response to the 2009 protests. His answer:
“I do think that that was an appropriate time for the United States to have sent a clearer message that we stand by those who try to represent the rights of people. That’s what the United States is all about. And it would have been important to have sent that message at the time.”
“Although no one credibly advocates US military action on behalf of the protests, Mr. Trump is right to show moral support. Effective diplomatic support could follow.”
• Although no one credibly advocates US military action on behalf of the protests, Mr. Trump is right to show moral support. Effective diplomatic support could follow.
• We hope, however, that Mr. Trump does not renounce the agreement that Mr. Obama reached with Iran. That is not because we approved of the agreement but because we could use it now in the interest of restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The preamble to that agreement states: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons.” The president should work with a bipartisan Congress to enforce this commitment. If we succeed, who cares if Mr. Trump or Mr. Obama gets the credit?
• Mr. Pancetta is right.
• Mr. Khamenei is probably wrong about Mr. Reagan’s eternal state and temporally wrong in his commentary about US law enforcement and Black Lives Matter.
• The history of US-Iranian relations is complex, going back to the post-World War II era. A CIA-directed coup engineered in large part by Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson and approved by President Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill helped the ruling Shah of Iran retain power in the 1950s. In our college days in the early 1970s we recall Iranian students at Berkeley and Michigan State protesting the Shah. They were hooded to protect their families back home. After that, at the very end of 1977, President Carter traveled to Iran and said there: “Iran is an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world.” Also, in this speech he called the Shah a popular king. This emboldened the Shah to more human rights abuses which in turn led to his overthrow in barely a year. The replacement by the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamists was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” in a non-communist setting as more abuses and even warfare followed. This was also the beginning modern of Islamic terrorism.
This history should make us both modest and careful as we consider the plight of the protesters.
But “modest and careful,” are not characteristics for which Mr. Trump is known.
We will hope for the best.