I share President Obama's desire not to say or do anything that would turn America into a "political football" inside Iran, and I've tried to offer what I hope are some constructive ideas in keeping with that end (though that may come as a surprise to some of my own loyal opponents in the comments section). Still, Obama's remarks yesterday were embarrassing. Not only that, they were harmful -- not for their toughness but for their timidity. Peaceful Iranian protestors are having their heads smashed by government goons, and Obama is explaining to CNBC, with his characteristic professorial emotional detachment, how the guy those Iranians voted for and are bleeding to support is actually no different than Ahmadinejad. I know what Obama meant. The office of Iran's presidency doesn't call the main shots, and Mousavi is no liberal peacenik. I get it. But save it for another time, please.
One other thing: Can our president just stop talking about the nuclear issue altogether while Iran is convulsed by the most consequential popular uprising since the 1979 revolution? That doesn't mean we aren't serious about Iran's nuclear aspirations; just that we have the decency not to dwell selfishly on our own policies while thousands of Iranians are risking life and limb for justice.
Again, I share Obama's goal not to play into the hands of Iran's hard-liners with meddlesome statements and actions, but he still has a healthy amount of room to move forward until he runs up on that line. Iran's people deserve to hear from the most inspiring and internationally beloved American president in a generation that the violence they are enduring at the hands of their government is not just of "deep concern" to him, but "unacceptable." They deserve to hear him "condemn" it (memo to the State Department). And they deserve to hear Obama say that if he does finally talk with Iran's rulers about changing the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that goal will also include pushing them to grant all Iranians the same basic human rights that people everywhere should be free to enjoy and exercise without fear of violence and repression.
Is that really too much to ask?