The Obama administration's failure to stand firmly with the forces of opposition to the mullahs' regime in Tehran is drawing criticism at home and around the world. Even as many thousands of young Iranians take to the streets, furious at brazen election-rigging and fed up with corrupt clerics and their thuggish enforcers, the United States, erstwhile leader of the free world, has maintained a strict official policy of neutrality.
The question is, how did America fall from the soaring rhetoric of President George W. Bush's 2005 State of the Union address - when he said: "And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you" - to a position on the sidelines, passively watching Iranian security forces club and shoot unarmed demonstrators on the streets of Tehran?
The apparent answer is that advocates of a policy of accommodation that is more in sync with the priorities of the Tehran regime than with U.S. national security interests now wield influence from inside the Obama administration.
To be sure, President Barack Obama issued a belated and weakly-worded statement on Saturday, 20 June 2009: "The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights."  Still, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set the United States' official, hands-off policy the day after Iran's elections, when during a trip to Canada, she said: "We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran. We, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide. The U.S. has refrained from commenting on the election in Iran. We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people." 
Given that Iran's democratic processes are but a façade for a constitutional system that endows an unelected Shi'a clergy with essentially all power in the country, and where both polling places and ballot boxes are under the physical control of the Interior Ministry, Clinton's statement must be characterized as disingenuous, at best. As late as 18 June 2009, Clinton still hewed to the Obama administration's policy of non-involvement, saying, "It is for the Iranians to determine how they resolve this internal protest concerning the outcome of the recent election." 
What motivated this policy might be found in Secretary Clinton's comment of the previous day to reportersthat "The Obama administration will pursue talks with Iran on nuclear and other issues regardless of who emerges as president in the aftermath of Iran's disputed election. We are obviously waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes, but our intent is to pursue whatever opportunities might exist in the future with Iran [to discuss those issues]." 
And indeed, on 21 June 2009, even as the details on the dead and injured from the previous day's street clashes were still filtering in, the home page of the Department of State's website showed nothing about Iran at all. There were stories about India, Iraq, Turkey, World Refugee Day, Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, and Secretary Clinton's elbow surgery - but not so much as a link to anything about the momentous events taking place in Iran. 
On election day, Iran's English TV news outlet, Press TV, quoted the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Amb. Susan Rice, speaking to the same point about this administration's unshakeable determination to conduct negotiations with Iran, no matter the regime in power: "American policy with respect to Iran and its nuclear program is not dependent on which administration is governing Iran," Rice told reporters. 
The People Behind Obama's Iran Policy
Unfortunately, the present U.S. policy towards Iran was set long before the rigged presidential election there began spinning out of control. That policy is the product of an Obama administration populated with figures, like Rice, who have a record of advocacy in support of a policy of rapprochement with Tehran's clerical regime. Prior to her ambassadorial appointment to the UN, for instance, Rice served on the board of directors of an organization called the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)  and also as a Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy and Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. CNAS produced two reports in September 2008 called "Iran: Assessing U.S. Strategic Options," and "The Case for Game-Changing Diplomacy with Iran." Both papers advocated engagement, diplomacy and negotiations with Tehran and advised strongly against the use of forceful pressure - exactly the sort of policy the mullahs themselves would encourage.  Among the co-authors of "Iran: Assessing U.S. Strategic Options," was Dr. Vali Nasr, now senior advisor to President Obama's Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Nasr, who served as a professor at Tufts University's Fletcher Schooland formerly taught at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, was born in Iran and raised in Scotland and the U.S. He is the author of The Shia Revival, a 2006 book about the Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry.
A frequent commentator and briefer to Congress and the White House, Nasr consistently has advocated a policy of accommodation with the mullahs' regime, even as a nuclear weapons state. Tehran signaled its apparent approval of Dr. Nasr's positions when one of its online news outlets, Baztab, carried a glowing profile of him in October 2006 written by Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). 
More recently, Nasr's appointment in the Obama administration garnered warm congratulations from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which carried an announcement on its website on 29 January 2009.  NIAC and its Iranian-born founder-president, Trita Parsi, have been active over the last several years organizing and supporting a network of individuals and groups that recommend a policy of accommodation with the Iranian regime. The Iranian media outlet Aftab News called NIAC the Tehran regime's "Iranian Lobby in the United States." 
NIAC issued a statement on 16 June 2009 about events in Iran, asserting that the U.S. government "shouldn't interfere" as its "involvement would be counterproductive." While the organization allowed that the U.S. should "voice its support for the demonstrators,"  Parsi took issue with a strong statement of support for the young Iranian freedom fighters issued by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn). Sen. Lieberman urged the Obama administration to "speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support."  Claiming that in the past such support has "been detrimental" to Iranian opposition figures, Parsi asserted that, "The administration is doing exactly the right thing. They're not rushing in and they're not playing favorites." 
Another co-author of the CNAS report, "Iran: Assessing U.S. Policy Options" is Dennis Ross, the Middle East expert who was appointed Special Advisor to Secretary of State Clinton for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia in early 2009. He was reportedly abruptly reassigned in June 2009 as the senior Iran official on the National Security Council at the White House, a post that would afford him close proximity to, and presumably considerable influence with, President Obama. 
Amb. Ross' contribution to the CNAS paper comes down on the side of an Iran policy he calls "The Hybrid Approach - Engagement Without Preconditions, but with Pressures.  The essential premise of his approach is that Iran's leadership is rational and would be responsive to traditional diplomatic solutions that include a multilateral approach, Western concessions and what he calls trying "to resolve our differences with Iran in a serious and credible fashion." 
Nowhere in the Ross chapter is there any recognition that this is an ideologically-motivated regime that has: been at war with the United States for 30 years;kidnapped, killed, held hostage and tortured American citizens; staged assassinations and suicide bombings around the world; supported terrorist organizations from Hamas and Hezbollah to al-Qa'eda; and pursues nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles with which to exercise the genocide it regularly threatens to inflict on Israel, a key U.S. ally and fellow member of the UN. Regrettably, Dennis Ross' conclusion that "It is time to try a serious approach to diplomacy" with Iran fits well with an Obama administration policy that refuses to take seriously Tehran's visceral enmity towards the United States.
Finally, there is Ray Takeyh, the newly-appointed Assistant to the U.S. Special Advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia (the post formerly held by Dennis Ross). Takeyh is a former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an Iran expert, and author of Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic and Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs.
Takeyh has long advocated a U.S. policy based on engagement and rapprochement with Iran. A December 2008 report produced by the Brooking Institution's Saban Center was entitled, "Restoring the Balance - a Middle East Strategy for the Next President.  Its Iran chapter was written by Ray Takeyh and his wife, Susan Maloney (also at the CFR), and urges a soft diplomatic approach to the Tehran regime. A Washington Post opinion piece by Takeyh that same month looked hopefully to the prospect of "direct dialogue" with the mullahs and implausibly suggested that "As Tehran gains power and influence in the Gulf, it may prove moderate on more distant terrain. 
The End of the Line for the 'Engagers'?
While there are certainly analysts who sincerely believe that a forthright U.S. position in support of Iran's democracy movement might create a nationalistic backlash against outside interference or somehow taint the movement's legitimacy in the eyes of other Iranians, those who advance such arguments ill-advisedly serve - whether wittingly or not - to shield the Iranian regime from U.S. and Western condemnation.
The one thing the mullahs' regime fears is the outrage of a world community unified in resolve to hold them to account. Even though Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN's "State of the Union" program on 21 June 2009 that "I don't think candidly that our intelligence [on Iran] is that good," modern technology leaves no excuse for not knowing what is going on in Iran these days.  Now, smart phones with cameras, tech-savvy bloggers who know how to get around the regime's censors and Twitter are allowing the outside world to witness in real time the brutality of the Iranian security services, as they club, stab, and shoot unarmed young demonstrators on the streets.
The students are not the ones asking the U.S. to remain on the sidelines. To the contrary, students who were imprisoned for their parts in a1999 uprising say that they found the courage to remain strong in jail when word reached them that not only did the outside world know of their plight, but was speaking out forcefully on their behalf .
Today, it is becoming increasingly clear that the controversial engagement policy towards Tehran promoted by President Obama and his key subordinates is insupportable. With luck, when all is said and done, the mullahocracy may no longer be around.
At the very least, even if the regime manages to maintain a blood-soaked grip on power for the time being, a government headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be unable to claim legitimacy in the international arena. The sort of appeasement strategy towards such a regime fancied by Team Obama should be effectively foreclosed by the dozens of YouTube postings showing the vicious, unprovoked savagery of Iranian security forces (and proxy paramilitary units supplied by Hezbollah and Hamas) attacking, beating and killing young protestors.
In the absence of fundamental changes in policy and behavior towards the people of Iran, even a regime with the current chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, as Supreme Leader or with challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi as president \would be no better for the Iranians, or for us.
Whether they mean to or not, those who advocate a U.S. policy of passivity in the face of a repressive Iranian government (either today's or tomorrow's) play into the hands of such a regime by supporting a course of action that supports its agenda - not ours. Both national security priorities and the moral high ground demand such a regime be confronted, not accommodated.
There should be no dialogue with a theocratic dictatorship that stays in power through sheer brute force, defies the international community by developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (and the means to deliver them) and exports terrorist operatives to undermine Iran's neighbors and kill our countrymen and women in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. That such a regime has succeeded in persuading an American administration to adopt as U.S. foreign policy so much of the mullahs' preferred agenda is testament to the sophistication of its operational expertise and its success in placing its sympathizers inside our government.
Now, it is time for President Obama to reject the counsel of such agents of influence and demonstrate a U.S. resolve to match the courage of Iran's freedom fighters.
 The White House website posted the president's statement on July 20, 2009. Accessed online on 21 June 2009 at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/The-Presidents-Statement-on-Iran/
 NECN/CTV film clip of Secretary Clinton's statement on Canadian TV, 13 June 2009. Accessed online on 21 June 2009 at: http://multimedia.boston.com/m/22499652/clinton-canada-s-cannon-react-to-iranian-election-reports.htm?pageid=20
 TV Washington, "Clinton defends U.S. efforts over Iran election," 18 June 2009. Accessed online on 21 June 2009 at http://televisionwashington.com/floater_article1.aspx?lang=en&t=3&id=11365
 "Clinton: U.S. Intent on Direct Talks with Iran," Associated Press, 17 June 2009. Accessed online 21 June 2009 at http://content.usatoday.net/dist/custom/gci/InsidePage.aspx?cId=statesmanjournal&sParam=35381852.story.
 The Department of State home page was accessed on 21 June 20098 at http://www.state.gov/
 "Rice: Iran policy not bound by elections," Press TV, 12 June 2009. Accessed online 21 June 2009 at http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=97957§ionid=3510203
 See "The Iran Lobby," a Center for Security Policy Occasional Paper by Clare Lopez. Accessed on 21 June at http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/p17907.xml
 Center for a New American Security, Publications page. Accessed on 21 June 2009 at http://www.cnas.org/publications?page=3
 Baztab, October 27, 2006. The English language homepage is at http://en/baztab.com, accessed on 30 December 2006.
 "NIAC welcomes appointment of Iranian American Vali Nasr to Obama Administration," 29 January 2009. Accessed at http://www.niacouncil.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1323&Itemid=2 on 21 June 2009.
 "Iran Lobby in the U.S. Becoming Active?" Aftab News, 7 December 2007.
 "Iran Election Violence: What Should the US Do?", NIAC statement, 16 June 2009. Accessed on 21 June 2009 at http://www.niacouncil.org/
 Ackerman, Spencer, "Obama's Iran Policy to Focus on Human Rights, Not Election," The Washington Independent, 15 June 2009. Accessed 21 June 2009 at http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=97957§ionid=3510203
 Harnden, Toby, "US envoy to Iran removed amid divisions over policy, "Telegraph," 16 June 2009. Accessed on 21 June 2009 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/5552485/US-envoy-to-Iran-removed-amid-divisions-over-policy.html
 Iran: Assessing U.S. Strategic Options," CNAS, September 2008. Accessed 21 June 2009 at http://www.cnas.org/files/documents/publications/MillerParthemoreCampbell_Iran%20Assessing%20US%20Strategy_Sept08.pdf. Ross is author of Chapter II, "Diplomatic Strategies for Dealing with Iran," pgs. 33-54.
 Ibid, pg. 51.
 Brookings Institute, Saban Center, "Restoring the Balance in the Middle East," December 2, 2008. Accessed on 21 June 2009 at http://www.brookings.edu/interviews/2008/1202_middle_east_indyk.aspx
 Takeyh, Ray, "What Iran Wants," Washington Post, 29 December 2008. Accessed on 21 June 2009 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content /article/2008/12/28/AR2008122801273.html
 Top Intelligence Democrat: No Interference in Iran," Associated Press, 21 June 2009. Viewed by the author on CNN TV and available online at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jrMPfLa7wHBXn8XwHZfyDJjgtxCgD98V3HG81