I've gotten criticism from two directions on my Wednesday column in which I said that - even though the Iranian election s was stolen -the United States should not publicly endorse the Iranian opposition.
Some question whether the election was really stolen. Several emailers referred to a Washington Post op-ed which cited a poll claiming President Ahmadinejad had a 2-1 lead over challenger Mir Hossein Musavi.
Here's my reply: The Ballen-Doherty poll was taken three weeks-one month before the election, when Musavi had just announced as a candidate (Iran election periods are short). His entire momentum built after the poll was completed.
Moreover, many questions have been raised about that poll since the WashPost piece appeared; more than half the respondents failed to identify their favorite candidate for the pollsters.
Other emailers insisted the US had a "moral responsibility" to strongly back the Iranian protesters. My reply:
In my visits to Iran, opposition leaders, including student leaders, have told me the last thing they want is open endorsement by the U.S. government, which leaves them open to charges that they are American agents.This would certainly hold true for opposition leader Mousavi, who was a leader of the Islamic revolution, and also for the bulk of those in the streets. Iran is a proud country, which has had a troubled history with America, and any credible change in its system can only be made by its own people, not by us
President Obama’s words will not help the opposition, but could hurt it. He should support the principle that the Iranian people have the right to be heard, and their votes counted fairly. He should stress that the world is watching. But it would be counterproductive for him to openly back one side.
One reader argued that the Iranians would claim U.S. interference no matter what we do. My response:
The fact that the regime waited so long to claim US intervention indicates they know they can't make that case effectively, as they did under President Bush. Obama's position has undercut their ability to claim that this is all a U.S. plot. Iranians, and the world, can see that this is a grass-roots, Iranian-driven protest movement.