Friday, March 20, 2009

President Obama to Iran: Happy New Year

(Hat tip: Ben Smith at Politico)

Yesterday, President Obama delivered this video address to the Iranian people with subtitles in Farsi. Color me skeptical about whether this cuts any ice with the ayatollahs and their ruthless henchmen who run Iran. There is something to be said by using the Internet and rebroadcast by Gulf region TV stations to reach over the heads of the ayatollahs to the people of Iran. There is an intermittent reform impulse that we see occasionally in student demonstrations and the like.

Some observers parse Obama's words and find a de facto recognition of the current Iranian regime, a departure from past policy:

"This is huge," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a group that supports U.S. engagement with Tehran. "First of all, he is addressing the people and the government, which has not been done before. At one point he talks about the Islamic Republic. He's signaling he’s not looking for regime change; he’s recognizing Iran’s system.

"You always heard Rice and Bush say 'Iranian regime,'" Parsi noted. “It's a big difference.” That doesn't mean Obama doesn’t support Iranian democratization, Parsi said. "But he recognizes the government that exists in Iran right now."

I wouldn't put too much stock in this "big difference." In many areas, Obama's approach has been to show a willingess to change the words without necessarily changing anything else.

I suspect Obama's principal motive to is be able to say to the European and Arab states, "Look, I've tried then olive branch with these folks, so don't blame me if the whole thing goes south." We will see.

UPDATE -- Not surprisingly, the Iranian regime has already responded with a rhetorical back of the hand.

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