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How To Support Iran's Liberals

Peter Wehner questions whether President Obama has "the strength and moral convictions to give support to the voices of reform and protest within Iran." Is it really just a matter of strength and moral conviction? Wehner does not bother to consider an alternate possibility: that Obama speaking out on behalf of Iran's liberals would help the regime to discredit them as foreign agents. This is a favorite tactic of nationalist demamgogues, and liberals (including in Iran) frequently discourage open support from overseas precisely so that they won't be subjected to it.

If Wehner is unfamiliar with this dynamic, perhaps he should recall his boss's successful 2004 reelection campaign, a major theme of which was John Kerry's suspiciously high level of foreign support. When Kerry mentioned that numerous foreign leaders hoped he would win, the Republican Party produced a mocking video entitled "John Kerry, International Man of Mystery." Conservative pundits pounced with rhetoric like this, from Wes Pruden of the Washington Times:

Monsieur Kerry, the rage of Paris, the toast of Berlin, sprouting in Brussels and boffo in Brittany, continues to insist that a lot of world leaders have endorsed him, but only privately. ...

it's not clear how French frenzy, German gaga, Belgian delirium or partisan hysteria in Luxembourg will help Monsieur Kerry and the Democrats at home. Taking solace in foreign approval when things go sour at home has become a Democratic disease.

John Fund of the Wall Street Journal gloated that the Kerry campaign was: doing what it can to bury the candidate's connections with France, where he spent many summers as a youth with a flock of French cousins in St.-Briac-sur-Mer, a resort town where his maternal grandfather had built an estate.  ...

Mr. Kerry's larger problem is that his public career has been far more attuned to the sensibilities of foreign leaders and countries than Americans are used to seeing in a president.

And, indeed, Kerry's campaign was forced to announce:

"It is simply not appropriate for any foreign leader to endorse a candidate in America's presidential election. John Kerry does not seek, and will not accept, any such endorsements."

Perhaps Wehner thinks that the Iranian people are less suspetible to this sort of nationalist demagouery than the American people? Or maybe he thinks the Iranian mullahs have more intellectual integrity than, say, Karl Rove? Or else the question of how to support Iran's liberals is more than a simple matter of moral courage.

--Jonathan Chait