What Can the U.S. Do?

One comment from a reader claiming to be in Tehran struck us all today. A translation follows:

“I am in Tehran. Its 3:40 in the morning. I’ve connected with you [by hacking past the government filter]. It’s a big mess here. People are yelling from their houses – ‘death to the dictator.’ They are setting up a military government. No one dares to go out. No one has seen Mousavi today. Rumor has it that they have arrested him. I don’t have an email but I will contact you again.

Help us.”

The comment begs a critical question: How do we help the Iranian people during this tumultuous time? Many Iranian Americans are mobilizing and plan to demonstrate outside the Iranian Interest Section in Washington (inside the Pakistani embassy) tomorrow at 11am.

American policy makers will feel the need to react. But they need to remember this isn’t about us. This is about Iran and Iranians seeking the right to determine their own future. The United States can help little and harm much by interjecting itself into the process. The Obama administration’s approach to the election — keeping its comments low-key and not signaling support for any candidate — was exactly the right approach. While tempting, empty and self-serving rhetorical support for Iranians struggling for more freedoms serves only to aid their opponents. History has made Iran wary of foreign meddling, and American policy-makers in particular must be sensitive to giving hardliners any pretense to call reform-minded Iranians foreign agents. That’s why Iran’s most prominent reformers, including Nobel-laureate Shirin Ebadi, have said the best thing the U.S. can do is step back and let Iran’s indigenous human rights movement progress on its own, without overt involvement from the U.S–however well intentioned.

The policy tool Washington is most comfortable with, broad-based economic sanctions, do little to hurt the elites and government in power and do much to hurt the Iranian people. They give the government a convenient scapegoat for its own economic mismanagement, while strengthening the control of the IRGC and Iranian elites over the economy at the expense of Iran’s middle class.

The unfortunate reality is that while we seek to help, our options are limited for the time being.


19 Responses to What Can the U.S. Do?

  1. Roxy says:

    I think you need to stop interfering with Iran’s affairs. You guys are a bunch of selfish losers that are only interested in your own agenda for the country. The people of Iran know what they are doing and know what to do, so just back off. You don’t need to reach out to them from your comfortable homes in US. You think US cares about Iranian people’s well-being? Look around you!!!

  2. David Elliott says:

    Reporting and providing information to the public are not interfering. Indeed, the very argument I was making was that U.S. policy-makers need to be careful so as to not harm the efforts of the Iranian people.

    And yes, there are many Americans who care about the well-being of the Iranian people. I meet them every day.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Can’t we just demand their internet and cell be restored so the protesters can tell the world they’re okay? Or just turn it back on ourselves with a secret hack?

  4. Gene says:

    Quite right, David! Besides many Iranian bloggers are themselves asking that information about the election be spread as widely as possible.

  5. Hello Everyone,

    We are trying to inform people about the protests going on in their cities. Please help us by sharing this link:

    Also, please leave comments and let us know about the new gatherings.

    Mihan-e-Khaste Admin

  6. David Elliott says:

    So much information is available specifically because Iranians have figured out sophisticated ways to bypass Iran’s internet filtering.

    However, almost nothing is confirmed because official channels of communications have been shut down.

  7. Gene says:

    Any news about this?

  8. Anonymous says:

    I just asked an iranian friend about riots in Teheran. Citation (edited for grammar):

    “Yeah, it’s true. I was there yesterday, they are big liars, there is a coup out there, Ahmadinejad should not be president. We can’t use cellphones right now, and they reduced internet bandwidth and filtered lots of news sites. For sure it’s a coup.”

  9. livemartyr says:

    all the people love ahmadinejad and know ahmadinejad has won
    left right kargozar against Server of people

  10. The Jesuit says:

    These students are asking for Moral support from Obama why can’t he say he supports them???? Won’t they feel betrayed if he turns his back on them now???

  11. a reader says:

    it’s a harsh reality, but there is no other choice for the so called intelligentsia to accept the out come of an election with that degree of fairness. The results are clear, city by city, province by province and box by box.the high educated ones just can believe Ahmadinejad is going to be the president for 4 more years because they made disliking him an ideology. Mr.Mousavi has never entered any election before this. It’s quite understanding to see an old man like him, who is surrounded by bunch of stupid people that were telling him you will be elected, to get shocked in game he has never experienced before.

    surprisingly, the oppositions don’t say which city, or which box specifically was rigged. they just say generally we won! how come? where is the problem? what is your claims for those number. Mousavi’s representatives have a copy of the results of each box, why don’t they publish it? or why don’t they challenge the authority with those papers? it’s really unfortunate to see zero-tolerated and relatively high educated people don’t accept one side of a democratic process: DEFEAT!

  12. The Reader says:

    China and Russia should really back off supporting Ahmadenejad
    Iranian are killed on the streets of Iran
    Dmitry Medvedev, should step in for humanity instead of binding ties with a selected president

  13. robert says:

    Is there anything ordinary Americans can do to help?

  14. Freddy says:

    Wow Roxy, you’re a complete ignoramus. We in the U.S. just can’t do anything right in your eyes… People like you are always the first to criticize with the same tired, hateful arguments. If the U.S. goes somewhere to help you say we should leave. If we don’t go somewhere we are selfish and should offer more help. Keep this in mind, you moron, this site is the PUBLIC asking question about what we as the PUBLIC can do. WE are not the decision makers for OUR country, our government is. As much as I wish I could control armies and politicians, I can’t, and neither can anyone else on this site. You’re just a pathetically sad, anit-American critic. You bring nothing to the table yet you criticize and name call like a child. Your act was old years ago. Here, a small percent of the American public is taking the time to ask a question like how can we help Iran, and you say we are “selfish losers”? Good logic you bone head…

  15. Michel says:

    I agree, Freddy.

    Yeah, I don’t know what to do. Yeah, I may not know everything that is going on. But, I do know that if a government is closing down all communications, something is up.

    Online…on youtube…everywhere I go, Iranians are ASKING for help. I just wanted to know what to do.

    Okay, if nothing is what everyone thinks I should do, then okay. I just didn’t know. I just feel sick that they want help and that there is nothing I can do. Nothing? Really? That is best? It is hard to accept. I know that there are places all over the world in bad situations. I just see the Iranians asking for help. I just want everyone to have the freedoms I get to have. Is that so bad?


  16. justin says:

    It’s not wrong to wish for liberty for other’s. That’s what the US does. That’s what we attempted to do in Iraq. That’s also why we aren’t doing anything in Iran.

    The people of this country were so angry over Iraq, we elected a CIC who does not believe in American Exceptionalism. So now we have a man who will not intervene.

    We have gone to the other extreme. An extreme where we sit by and try and rationalize away watching innocents striving for liberty get slaughtered by a dictator.

    What right do we have to intervene? Hah, we have a responsibility to intervene.

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