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Roundtable on Iran's Election

Roundtable on Iran's Election

By Special Report With Bret Baier - June 17, 2009

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president has been clear that this is a vigorous debate in Iran between Iranians about their leadership.

While at the same time, the president has strongly maintained that there are universal principles, such as demonstrating in peace and not feeling threatened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, officials in Iran told the media there, or the word got out that they were accusing the U.S. of meddling in internal affairs, calling it "intolerable." That's the response you heard from the White House press secretary.

And you also saw a glimpse of some of the cell phone video that we're getting from some of those protests, many of them violent. We just don't know the extent of them because the reporting on the ground is still sketchy.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the "Weekly Standard", Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief for "Fortune" magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer - Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": We have moved, I think, from the Bush administration's policy of soft regime change to a policy now of de facto regime preservation, which I think is deeply disturbing and shameful.

The president has failed to really offer his support for the protesters at any time, and he has failed to directly question the results of the election.

Then last night in an interview, he said "Well, it doesn't really matter whether Mousavi is declared the victor or Ahmadinejad. There aren't major policy differences between the two."

I think that may have been true before the election. We don't know whether that would be true going forward.

But in any case, it was an awful thing to say, because the protestors who are on the street right now are there largely for one of two reasons - either they are supporters of Mousavi, or they think the election was fraudulent. So by him saying that, he is, in effect, saying what you are doing doesn't matter very much. And I think that is shameful.

BAIER: Nina, as we continue to look at some of these images that are coming out really via twitter and links through twitter to other uplinks, and it is pretty amazing to see this in Tehran.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: It is amazing, although it was snuffed out in '09 - in '99 and '03. We saw protests that were snuffed out. So you have to be careful about where you think this is really going to go.

I'm going to disagree somewhat with Steve, and I know Charles is going to pounce on me, but I do think the president needs to give more - lend more a sense of support to the protestors. I completely agree with that.

But I also believe that there needs to be a certain amount of finesse in all of this, because there is a history with this country of making America the topic of conversation rather than this regime, this very evil regime. And I think it is - you do have to be careful not to insert yourself.

It is - just going back in history a bit, Pope John Paul, who went to speak to Solidarity workers in the late '70's before Ronald Reagan was on the scene and was there with a megaphone, he spoke almost in code to the protestors, so that they knew what he was saying, but he wasn't provoking a crackdown.

And then by the time Ronald Reagan came along, there were some semblance of democratic institutions, civil society in place, and he could do that. You don't have that right now in Iran. You have to be careful.

BAIER: The only issue is the administration at least privately said that that was one of the reasons the president didn't speak up because he didn't want it to be used as a charge that could somehow fortify Ahmadinejad's forces, because he didn't want to meddle.

Now the Iranians are saying they're meddling anyway, so -

EASTON: But I do think what he really needs to do, in addition to lending, I agree, some more support, but also to backchannel, to talk to Mousavi, to let protestors know via backchannels that we are there to support them in any way we can.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The president is also speaking in code. The Pope spoke in a code which was implicit and understood support for the forces of freedom.

The code the administration is using is implicit to support for this repressive, tyrannical regime.

We watched Gibbs say that what's going on is vigorous debate. The shooting of eight demonstrators is not debate. The knocking of heads, bloodying of demonstrators by the Revolutionary Guards is not debate. The arbitrary arrest of journalists, political opposition, and students is not debate.

And to call it a debate and to use this neutral and denatured language is disgraceful.

Beyond that, the point here is no longer elections. The reason that at least eight have died is not because they wanted a recount of hanging chads in the outer precincts of Esfahan. What they wanted is to no longer live under a tyrannical dictator, misogynistic, repressive, incompetent, and corrupt theocracy. And that's what the demonstration and the moment is all about. It's about the regime. There is an opportunity - revolution is going to happen one way or the other eventually, and this theocracy will fall. It may not happen now, but it ought to be supported, because it might happen now, and it would change the world if it did.

BAIER: If this continues, Steve, this semi-hands-off approach, or some would say, full hands-off approach, what happens on the ground? I mean, we can't look into the crystal ball yet because we really don't know the extent of it. But in your view of what you are seeing, what happens?

HAYES: I think it has been said that this is about the Iranians, not about us. And that is, I think, true, to a certain extent. So I hope this continues, and I hope it continues to grow and to grow in strength as well.

The concern, I think, is when you have the Americans - you know, I would argue not only just as by-standers but, in effect, saying things like the supreme leader is now investigating the results, I mean, that gives credibility to the regime, this terrorist regime. And it can't help inspire the protestors.

BAIER: Nina?

EASTON: I just have to ask both of you, though, what happens if Obama tomorrow came out and said, you know, this election was fraudulent, you know, I'm with the protestors, you know, and they crack down on these protestors?

BAIER: John McCain has said almost as much.

EASTON: Yes, but what goes from there? What happens from there if these protestors are, are you know - I mean, there is already somewhat of a crackdown going, but what if there is a mass crackdown on dissidents?

KRAUTHAMMER: Everybody understands that America is not going to war over this. However, if you are a demonstrator on the street, you want to hear that America is behind you.

EASTON: They know we are behind them.

KRAUTHAMMER: They don't. And they need materiel support with communications and other means as we helped with Solidarity in the '80's, with printing presses and other stuff.

We ought to declare ourselves - no, it looks as if America wants stability, engagement, and negotiations with the existing regime. And when you get that message in the street, it is highly discouraging.

 

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