As President Obama ever-so-slightly ups his rhetoric on the Iranian election, we checked in for our ABC News Shuffle Podcast with Columbia University Professor Gary Sick, former National Security Council member under Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan and principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis.
You can listen to the podcast HERE or on iTunes.
“My advice to President Obama would be, say as little as humanly possible,” Sick said. “This is a spontaneous Iranian event. It is going to be resolved in Iran, not in Washington. There is nothing that we can say or do that is going to change things, except for the worse.”
Sick says any negative reaction from the White House about Iran’s election would only fuel anti-Western rhetoric from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government.
“If we intervene and start making pronouncements about what the Iranian people should do, the regime will greet that with great enthusiasm and say look, 'Here is the West. They're showing their real colors and all of you who are protesting are in fact tools of the West, and so you can't pay attention to these people,’” Sick predicts. “It would undercut them tremendously and there's really nothing we can say at this point. We should recognize that this is Iranian politics and it's going to be resolved in Iran, not here.”
Today, President Obama said in a joint press conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak that he was concerned about the election results, which declared Ahmadinejad the winner.
“I have said before I have deep concerns about the election,” the president said when asked if he had confidence in the election results, “and I think that the world has deep concerns about the election. You've seen in Iran some initial reaction from the supreme leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election.”
Ahmadinejad’s main rival, reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi and other candidates are alleging voting fraud and demanding a new election. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said the government would conduct an investigation into the election and do a partial recount.
According to Sick, the massive protests and irregularities in voting, such as the notion that Ahmadinejad won in Mousavi’s hometown province of Tabriz by a landslide, suggest the votes were tampered with.
“We'll probably never have a full accounting of this election and we'll probably never have the kind of smoking gun, if you like, clear indication that this was a manipulated election,” Sick said. “As a friend of mine said, ‘If it walks like a coup, and it smells like a coup, and it talks like a coup, maybe it’s a coup.’ And the idea that you have the leadership of the country carrying out in effect a political coup to put them to assure themselves of another four years of rule is something that was really distasteful to the Iranian people.”
Pro-Mousavi rallies have turned violent, with as many as eight people reported dead after Monday’s protests and skirmishes between state militia and protestors. Sick says the situation is unique, and in some ways resembles the demonstrations in 1978-79 that led to the overthrow of the Shah and the Islamic Revolution.
“This is unique. We really have not seen this kind of an outbreak,” Sick said. “What's really happened is that they [Iranians] resent the fact that the institution — the leadership, the elite — basically dissed them. They had ignored them, treated them with contempt. And they feel that the outcome was so incredible that nobody could believe it and that their voice is simply being ignored by the people who lead them, and they are very upset about that.”
On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad’s supporters came out to show their support for the president, who is in Russia to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit as an observer. But Mousavi’s supporters are not backing down. They are planning to hold more rallies around the country to continue protesting the elections. Sick says it is unlikely that Ahmadinejad’s government will be removed from power, but the protests will have lasting impact on the country.
“What it seems to be really has happened is the regime has blundered very badly, has undercut not only its legitimacy in the eyes of people but its authority, it's ability to say 'We know best.' People look at it and say, 'You don't. We know that you don't because look what you did,'” he said.
“That sense of injustice that was performed by the ruling elite is something that will in fact survive this however the details play out, that's something that the Islamic regime is going to have to live with for a very long time and I think it marks a historic change of basically from a regime that was able to count on the honest support of its people to a regime that really has reduced to governing by repression and manipulation.”
We also spoke to Professor Sick about how Iranians have used technology to get out their message, and much more.
You can download the podcast on iTunes or listen HERE.
– Jake Tapper and Huma Khan