Condemn violence, without picking sides.
Tehran is being rocked. Convinced that the landslide victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad June 12 was a fraud, hundreds of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets. Clashes with security forces have left at least 19 dead, according to the official count.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers have turned Iran's seemingly stolen election into a political football with little regard for the repercussions their rhetoric may have for protesters in Iran.
"The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday, echoing the sentiments of many senators and pundits. "He's been timid and passive more than I would like."
Accusing President Obama of weakness may generate some headlines, but it misses the point. A closer look reveals that the president's approach has paved the way for the current stand-off in Iran and that he is supported by those seeking their rights in Iran.
Many have argued that the president shouldn't side with any particular faction in Iran since doing so could backfire. Having the US on your side is not necessarily a good thing in Iran. Washington neither wants to make itself the issue in Iran, nor is it eager to help Mr. Ahmadinejad stage a comeback.
But two more salient points have been lost in the American debate. First, who makes the decision to help – the US, or the people America wishes to help?