Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales on Democracy Now talked to independent filmmaker and journalist Kouross Esmaeli about the attacks coming from Republicans and John McCain against the President for not speaking out more forcefully on Iran.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about the statement—President Obama is now under fire from the right for not speaking out more forcefully on behalf of the Iranian protesters. He responded to this charge in an interview on CBS News Friday.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That’s what they do. That’s what we’re already seeing. We shouldn’t be playing into that. There should be no distractions from the fact that the Iranian people are seeking to let their voices be heard. What we can do is bear witness and say to the world that the incredible demonstrations that we’ve seen is a testimony to, I think, what Dr. King called the “arc of the moral universe.” It’s long, but it bends towards justice.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That was President Obama on Sunday. Kouross Esmaeli, Iranian American journalist and filmmaker, your response to the criticism of President Obama from the right, in terms of his inaction on the issue of the election in Iran?
KOUROSS ESMAELI: What is interesting about the criticisms that are coming from the right is that it’s been coming primarily from Senator John McCain. The Iranians know Senator John McCain as the man who sang “Bomb, bomb Iran” during the elections of last year. The man holds no credibility as far as supporting Iranians or seeming like he’s got the best interests of the Iranians at heart. And that, for Iranians and for this issue, that discredits him altogether and discredits this whole attack on President Obama.
President Obama’s stand, I think, has been the most sensible, and it’s amazing that the President of the United States is taking such a sensible stand. And that—everyone I’ve talked to in Iran has said the same thing, that we do not need any symbol of Western, especially American, interference in Iran’s internal politics. And the fact that America does not have diplomatic relations with Iran really ties its hand, as far as how far he can go in really supporting Iran. So the only thing they can do is to just scream as loud as they can, which will be immediately used by the Iranian authorities.
AMY GOODMAN: Kouross Esmaeli, give us a brief history lesson. Talk about why especially the sensitivity to the United States interfering with Iran.
KOUROSS ESMAELI: The Western presence in Iran has been there for about 200 years, from the British and the Russian, who took parts of Iran under control up to World War II. And after World War II, it was the US that stepped in and started supporting the Shah of Iran as their favorite dictator in the Middle East. There was a coup d’état against a popularly elected prime minister that had come in to nationalize Iranian oil. And that has really remained within the Iranian consciousness ever since, ever since 1953, and Iranians harbor deep mistrust for the US, that was seen as orchestrating a coup against their popularly elected leadership. And in 1979, when the Islamic Revolution took place, the biggest sort of fear of the Iranian people was a repeat of the coup d’état. And that’s why the—that’s a large reason why the hostage crisis took place. They took hostages to make sure that the US does not come in, invade, orchestrate another coup again. And that has remained the dynamic within the Iran-US relations: mistrust on both sides.
And at this point that the US does not have diplomatic relations, it really makes no sense for any administration to get political points for seeming like they’re standing up with some demonstrators somewhere in order to score points with their constituents here. Over the weekend—and what’s amazing is the way the media in the US has been really helping spin this for the Republican right wing. I mean, there were images on CNN and Fox over the weekend of President Obama, I think, buying ice cream for his daughters while the demonstrators in Iran were fighting for their democracy. And they were likening that to President Bush when he was playing golf right after he invaded Iraq and equating the two. It was like, how heartless could Obama be, when he could be—I don’t know what he could be doing in order to support Iranians. I think he did the best thing he could do in order to support the Iranians.