Has the Obama Administration finally reached agreement on its policy toward the Middle East uprisings? The State Department and the White House have been articulating a variety of different foreign policies on events in Egypt and Iran, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken the lead on supporting the protests in the streets and President Obama and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon pleading for stability and civility—at least until President Mubarak’s removal seemed inevitable.
At George Washington University Tuesday, Clinton again articulated a far more assertive message than the one coming from the National Security Council. She even made reference to the bloody crackdown on Iranian protestors in June 2009, an act of brutality that President Obama has avoided mentioning.
Speaking on the topic of Internet freedom, she referred to the “video taken by cell phone of a young woman named Neda killed by a member of the paramilitary forces; within hours that video was sent around the world. The authorities used technology as well; the Revolutionary Guard stalked members of the green movement by tracking their cell phones. For a time, the government shut down the Internet and mobile networks altogether. After the authorities raided homes, attacked university dorms, made arrests, tortured and fired into crowds, the protests ended.”
While Clinton reiterated the U.S. commitment to Internet freedom and even pledged an additional $25 million in funding to support Internet circumvention technology for this year, the unfortunate fact is that Iranian dissidents and others looking to the U.S. government for moral and material support have found little encouragement from an administration that came into office determined to deal with the rulers in power.
According to David Keyes, director of CyberDissidents.org, cyber dissidents in the Middle East are “almost uniformly disappointed with the current Administration, feel sold out, relegated, denigrated and marginalized.” Furthermore, according to the State Department’s Request for Statements of Interest issued last month, the $25 million Clinton is talking about will be divided into series of small grants for projects in nine different categories. That is not the purpose for which Congress year after year has appropriated funding to support the active development of Internet circumvention technology to thwart the Iranian censors (and those of China, Cuba, North Korea, etc.).
After the past months’ events in Tunisia and Egypt, the importance of public diplomacy and support for the new media as a foreign policy game-changer is evident. In Iran, social media has great potential, as demonstrated in 2009, though the road ahead will be much tougher than in Egypt, given the sheer brutality of the Iranian regime and its armed and security forces.
The Iranian regime is fully aware of the challenge to its power and is loosing no time taking precautions against any mass uprising. On Monday, the police moved to block access to the home of presidential contender Hossein Mousavi, placing him under house arrest. Phone lines of opposition figures have been cut, and several hundred protesters have clashed with authorities in Ferdowsi Square in Tehran; a number of them have been detained. On Tuesday, government forces battled mourners attending a funeral for a demonstrator. The metro has been closed down and access roads to the capital cut off. Just for good measure, military aircraft patrol the airspace
The odds are long, but it is certainly in the interests of the United States to support political liberty in Iran in any way we can. Brave Iranians are again risking their lives to challenge the 30-year rule of Iran’s encrusted religious autocracy that blights their future.