I've been mostly out of the news loop for a week, aware of what was going on in Iran and the main news, but out of the talking heads part of our media that give way too much time and attention to rightwing carping about Obama and his administration (or the Democratic majority in Congress) than they ever did to opponents of the last administration.
But at any rate, the argument goes that Obama should be doing more to support the opposition in Iran. There's the underlying assumption that the election there was rigged and that the opposition would have won. There's a pretty good analysis of the Iranian vote count and a good argument for fraud (not that most of us needed it, since it seemed pretty obvious from in front) from the Washington Post (a newspaper I used to write for, mainly book reviews).
What should be done about, and especially what Obama should have done and be doing about it is another issue and causing carping from both ends of the political spectrum (left and right, because as usual, despite the rightwing propaganda machine, Obama continues to prove himself to be mostly a pragmatist which most of the time means a centrist or moderate).
Let's look at some highlights in the history of USA involvement in the area (that Obama is aware of and trying to make sure he doesn't recreate the failures in it):
1. Iran had a democratically elected leader in the 1950s, Mossadegh, who was overthrown by forces backed by the CIA and allied with ex-Nazis! because he wanted to nationalize the oil reserves in Iran, that is, use this natural resource found on their land for the benefit of their country. The US unfortunately backed a different horse. Gulf Oil. The CIA chief for that part of the world was Kermit Rossevelt. He helped plan the coup that toppled Mossadegh and installed a "Shah" and when that was accomplished saw to it that Gulf Oil got an extended lease (twenty-five years) on a large percentage of the oil. Then he finished his term in the CIA and became a Vice President of Gulf Oil. That all happened under Eisenhower, a Republican president.
2. More shenanigans went on under Kennedy and Johnson, but JFK wasn't president long enough for too much to happen and was distracted by Cuba and Russia followed by Johnson who was distracted by Viet Nam. Then Nixon got in, distracted by Nam and Watergate, replaced by Ford who was brief and mostly oblivious and then Carter came in and directed some attention to the area, but unfortunately, by then things had deteriorated. Carter blamed rogue elements in the CIA for many of the problems in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and fired a bunch of them, who then went on to create a shadow CIA working with colleagues on the inside who had a rightwing perspective to create chaos in various spots around the world that would enrich military suppliers (weapons corporations, security forces, etc.) and keep them in business (the rogue elements). When the rebellion occurred against the Shah and his secret police, Islamists under the influence of the the Ayatollah took control and he returned from exile in Paris to lead the new Islamic regime when the Shah, dying of cancer, left town and his regime collapsed. The student rebels took a gang of US embassy employees hostage, demanding the US recognize and admit the involvement of the CIA in Iran's internal affairs for decades (and that some of the hostages had been spies), most obviously in the overthrow of Mossadegh, but the US pretended it didn't happen and instead Carter tried to rescue the hostages, which was botched because of faulty intelligence (hmmmm) and equipment (double hmmmm).
3. Interestingly, the minute Reagan was sworn in to replace Carter (one of the few presidents in this brief history who actually accomplished a lot for good in the Middle East, including brokering the peace deal between the then strongest Arab nation, Egypt, with Israel, unprecedented and unexpected (and not to the liking of the rightwing element inside and outside the CIA and other US government agencies) and whose policies contributed to the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, though under Reagan the jihadists who defeated the Soviets with weapons and expertise supplied by the US including CIA training, were left to do what they wanted leading to the rise of the Taliban etc.) the hostages were freed. Reagan went on to make secret bargains with the Iranians for weapons for his secret war in Nicaragua, trying to overthrow the leftwing government there (as so many other leftwing governments had been overthrown with US backing over the years, too many to go into now but Guatemala and Chile are two perfect examples where democratically elected governments were overthrown with the help of the CIA and other USA agencies), and to take the side of Iraq in the war between Iraq and Iran, supplying Saddam Hussein with weapons and equipment that made it possible for him to kill not only many Iranians but also many Iraqis who were not of his tribe or might be a threat to him (the gassing of civilian Kurds, etc.) (many photos of a smiling Rumsfield when he worked for Reagan shaking Saddam's hand after making deals, etc.).
4. Then there was trouble in Lebanon, one of the more democratic and modern Arab nations and Reagan committed troops to protect the opposition there, promising never to withdraw US troops from Lebanon until the end of the violent repression of the democratic opposition there, but when the barracks housing American marines was bombed (a truck loaded with explosives) and two hundred marines were killed, Reagan immediately withdrew all US forces, which was trumpeted by jihadists as proof that the US was cowardly and would run if attacked inspiring Islamist "terrorists" including Osama Bin Laden to believe the US was weak and a paper tiger.
5. When Bush Sr. got in and attacked Iraq in the first Gulf War driving them back from Kuwait after they invaded it, he stopped at the Iraqi border and did not pursue Saddam for various reasons, but encouraged the Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the South to rebel. Which they did, and were slaughtered by Saddam's troops while the US stood passively by.
6. When Clinton got in, he used diplomacy and sanctions to isolate Iran and came close to brokering the second big peace agreement in the Middle East, and certainly during his two terms the world, including that area, were much more peaceful (and prosperous).
7. Then Bush Jr. got in and ignored warnings about Bin Laden and 9/11 occurred and we invaded Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and other jihadists—who we had set up and trained and supplied in the first place. Then he decided to invade Iraq for bogus reasons but made it clear in many statements that he was out to finish his father's business there by taking Saddam, leading to the rise of Iran's influence in the area, as well as being a great recruiting tool for islamist "terrorists" and creating a widespread hatred of the US across the Middle East.
8. Since Obama's election only a few months ago, and his more diplomatic and evenhanded treatment of the area and its people, things have been looking up for democracy and progress, as shown in the recent Lebanese election, where Hezbollah was not the winner, but in fact more democratic and liberal parties were. And then the election in Iran which seemed to be a forgone conclusion until the example of Obama's victory gave the democratic opposition hope and they began to build a political movement and enough momentum that made it seem they could possibly win.
As we said, the election was obviously rigged in many ways, though who knows what the actual outcome may have been had it been legit, though it seems likely it would have at least been close enough to warrant a run off. As it is, the opposition has been energized, but the regime has also been frightened and is cracking down in ways that probably will intimidate the opposition (as it did in the US in the early '70s under Nixon's administration and its more violent response to anti-war and Civil Rights protestors and activists). So what should Obama do now?
It's obvious he's moved so cautiously because any sign of the USA officially supporting the opposition just fuels the charges from the powers-that-be in Iran that all calls for reform or recount or a new election are generated by the USA rather than internal resistance to the current regime.
This is already a widespread belief across the Arab and Iranian world, which Obama's election and diplomatic tactics have begun to change, so he has to be careful he doesn't throw the progress that's already been made in his short time in office into reverse.
Even if the reformers are defeated this time, which it appears they will be, the genie is out of the box and cannot be put back in. Concessions will have to be made, or there will most likely be a permanent rebellion and/or possible civil war in Iran. Obama has no choice but to do what he's doing, reaffirm our government's support of the democratic process and of freedom of speech and movements, etc. But not make threats he cannot keep (we couldn't do much to Iran militarily except maybe drop some bombs which would inevitably include civilian deaths and we'd be set back in any effort to be seen as not the world's bully etc.) nor declare US support for one or the other candidate when only a recount or a new election could clear that up.
He's acting like a democratic leader (not necessarily a Democratic Party leader) who believes in the right of the people to elect their own governments and to speak out and march and even rebel against oppression when it occurs. His quoting of Martin Luther King Jr.and the implicit connection to the US Civil Rights movement is very shrewd, casting the opposition as morally and democratically on the right side and the regime as backward and repressive without calling names and giving them any ammunition to pretend its really the USA's fault (not that they haven't tried).
Of course I'd like to have seen the opposition be supported by a UN mandate and troops and the world community rejecting the election etc. etc. But that doesn't happen out of virtue or angelic political leaders or spontaneous progressiveness occuring worldwide, it happens out of the situation being cast as a moral question, which Obama has done (and as was done by other Democratic presidents visa vis apartheid in South Africa, anti-Catholic repression and inequality in Northern Ireland (thanks Bill!), etc. Obama's making all the right moves so far I believe.