The elections in Iran look like a fraud.
Before the election, some commentators on the left like Matthew Yglesias mused that the vigorous debate in Iran proved that Obama’s attempts at detente were yielding fruit:
This is one of the virtues of expressing a clear desire for an improved relationship with Iran. Doing so lowers the temperature over there and opens up political space for disagreement about foreign policy objectives. It also clarifies that there’s a real upside to responsible behavior, and a real downside to pushing the envelope on nuclear issues.
One could certainly question his logic. After all, if Ahmadinejad’s opponents are arguing that Iran’s foreign policy has isolated the country, won’t Obama’s conciliatory rhetoric just undermine their position?
But now we have to deal with a more fundamental problem. We cannot work with the democratic opposition, because the recent election demonstrates that there is still no real democracy in Iran. Perhaps the fundamentalist regime will crumble in the face of a democratic uprising. If not, we are ratcheting down external pressure at the exact moment that the regime is poised to bulldoze internal dissent. And if the regime crushes the street protests – as I think likely – do we really want to legitimize Ahmadinejad with presidential conferences and a grand diplomatic bargain? Is there a way forward with Iran, or are we just giving up?