If you’ve got a minute to pause from our collective obsession with a gossipy book of dubious veracity, here’s an issue of compelling importance that reveals another side of this president and his administration: Iran and how Donald Trump addresses the deadly anti-regime demonstrations now convulsing that historic land that clearly is the linchpin of any future regional stability, or the opposite.
The last time such nationwide protests erupted there — the Green Revolution of 2009 — Barack Obama was painfully reluctant to involve the U.S., even rhetorically. His tardy and limp comments about peaceful demonstrations came only after congressional resolutions and John McCain’s Senate tongue-lashing for their absence.
Hillary Clinton later admitted, “We were too restrained in our support of the protests in June 2009, and in our condemnation of the government crackdown that followed.”
Though there’s little media attention these days, there’s no confusion this time. “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever,” Trump has said. “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.”
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Vice President Mike Pence gave a lengthy interview to Greta Van Susteren for Voice of America to broadcast in Farsi: “We're going to continue to send, from the very outset of this effort on the streets of Iran, an unambiguous message that the American people stand with freedom-loving people in Iran and around the world.”
In a Washington Post op-ed Pence wrote, “We stand with the proud people of Iran because it is right. And because the regime in Tehran threatens the peace and security of the world.”
Obama’s abiding reluctance to confront Iran on anything was tied to his consuming desire for the coveted nuclear pact he sought with Tehran, a leaky pact Trump has now declined to certify Iran is obeying.
Any president, especially one like Trump not known for nuance, walks a tightrope in these situations. He must make clear America’s support for a people’s democratic strivings without creating false hopes of direct U.S. intervention, as arose during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, ultimately squashed by Soviet tanks.
Iran’s second national uprising against the mullahs in nine years is fueled this time by rural Iranians, once the regime’s strongest pillar. Demonstrators now chant for regime change because the anticipated gains from more than $100 billion in unfrozen funds were squandered on weapons, foreign forays, terror funding and, likely, corruption.
Reporters seeking news offered Trump’s spokeswoman an opportunity to reveal that her boss supports regime change in Tehran. Instead of taking the bait, she said carefully, “I think the ultimate endgame would be that the citizens and the people of Iran are actually given basic human rights, and he'd certainly like to see them stop being a state sponsor of terror.”
Trump’s tweets at North Korea’s “little Rocket Man” draw instant media attention, even igniting speculations on the president’s mental health. They reinforce a popular perception that this president is a loose cannon, a perception he sometimes seeks and feeds with unorthodox presidential behavior and statements.
What doesn’t get reported so eagerly nor attributed to Trump’s presidency are puzzling positive developments: Economic growth exceeding three percent by Trump’s seventh month, unemployment falling to longtime lows, 1.84 million new jobs since Trump’s inauguration, confident stock markets soaring to all-time highs, new homebuilding up, dozens of large companies granting bonuses and wage hikes. Even Trump’s job approval was climbing at year’s end.
How can so many things be going so well with an unbalanced usurper in the Oval Office?
Trump’s firm stance on Iran’s global export of terrorism and his sober conduct toward Iran’s mullahs with the unnoticed absence, for instance, of offensive name-calling tweets go willfully unnoticed because such respect does not fit the favored anti-Trump narrative.
So, too does his mutual decision with South Korea’s president to suspend possibly provocative joint military exercises ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics there. Or Trump’s instantly-implemented vow to crush ISIS quickly, no longer an organized fighting force.
Or his carefully-targeted response to Syrian use of chemical weapons on its own people. His imposition of new sanctions on Russia, sale of badly-needed defensive weapons to Ukraine, U.S. troop deployments to Eastern Europe as a NATO commitment.
And now the suspension of $2 billion in aid to Pakistan for harboring terrorists, a firm consequence dodged by all recent administrations.
These and other actions demonstrating freshened resolve abroad suggest when it comes to foreign policy, friends and foes alike would do well to note that Trump follows words with action.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.