McCain’s Mistake

As Barack Obama goes through one of his most difficult periods as president, you might wonder what it would have been like if the other guy had won. We will never know, of course, but in one area, John McCain provides us with some clues. He would have tried to overthrow the government of Iran. In a speech on June 10, later published as a cover essay in The New Republic, McCain urged that we “unleash America’s full moral power” to topple the Tehran regime. The speech highlights one of the crucial failings of McCain’s world view, one in which rhetoric replaces analysis, and fantasy substitutes for foreign policy.

By now, it’s become something of a mantra among neoconservatives that we missed a chance to transform Iran a year ago. Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in The New York Times, comparesIran’s Green Movement to “what transpired behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s” and accuses Obama of being passive in the face of this historical moment. Bret Stephens, a columnist forThe Wall Street Journal, imagines that a more forceful Western response could have set off a revolution.

I have been deeply supportive of Iran’s Green Movement. I wrote glowingly about it, highlighted it on television, and showcased its advocates. But I do not think there is much evidence that it was likely to overthrow the Iranian regime. To believe that, one has to believe the government in Tehran is deeply unpopular with a majority of Iranians, holds onto power through military force alone, and is thus vulnerable to a movement that could mobilize the vast majority in Iran who despise it. None of this is entirely true.

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