I have heard complaints about how the Obama Administration is handling the Iranian election and its aftermath. The problem with this line of complaint is that the complainers are not clear about what they want or what we as a country should want. The complainers may want one of three things. They may want Ahmedinejad out as president or they may want a one-person, one-vote type of democracy or they may want to fix a supposedly stolen election.
Those who merely want Ahmedinejad out can hardly expect the Obama Administration to appear push for that result. Having Ahmedinejad removed is a high-risk strategy and may ultimately be a losing proposition. If the Obama Adminstration seeks to have Ahmedinejad ousted and he survives, necessary engagement with Iran in the short run is out. If Ahmedinejad were somehow ousted, we would be stuck with a different president who may not be much better on the key issues on which we differ with Ahmedinejad. Of course, even if the substitute president were better than Ahmedinejad, it is unclear that he would have sufficient power to make a difference with respect to Iran-United States relations.
Those who would claim that a one-person, one-vote style of democracy in Iran is absolutely necessary would be hard pressed to explain why that style of democracy is so important given that we do not have one here. Our system does not guarantee that the presidential candidate with the most votes – the candidate with the most votes for his electors – gets elected president. There may be historical reasons for the Electoral College and there may be reasons to keep it. However, it is not democracy in the vein of one-person, one-vote.
Those who want the Obama Administration to express outrage at a stolen election must present more evidence that an election was stolen. In addition, they must explain why we care that an election was stolen in Iran. Part of the claim that the election was stolen appears to be based on spotty election returns, the vast numbers of people complaining and the significant number of folks who have taken to the streets. The Iranian Government’s response to the unrest has been problematic to say the least. However, widespread complaints and extreme government overreaction does not amount to fraud or a stolen election. Unfortunately, the people in control of the ballots are those who might seem disposed to favor Ahmadinejad. However, that describes election adminstration in large parts of the world and even parts of the United States.
This is not to argue that the Obama Administration’s response on the Iranian election has been perfect. However, it is unclear that an American president really wants to get involved in the elections of a foreign, sovereign nation, other than to condemn violent government action that appears to be a crackdown on the exercise of the human right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances. At least, it should not appear that an American president wants to get any more involved than that.