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Barack Obama and the strange moment of public self-criticism of a former president

(CNN) –– As historic protests and a bloody authoritarian backlash convulse Iran, former President Barack Obama reflected on his response to the country’s previous uprisings.

During the 2009 Green Revolution protests in Iran, the then-president acted cautiously — to the fury of his critics in the GOP and abroad — apparently because he did not want to give the Iranian authorities an excuse for a crackdown. brutal.

In June of that year, Obama called for freedom of expression, dissent and the democratic process to be respected after the elections in Iran. He further noted that he was deeply concerned about the violence in the country.

But he also said this: “It is up to the Iranians to make decisions about who will be the leaders of Iran.” And he added that he wanted to “prevent the US from being the problem inside Iran” and becoming a “useful political game.”

Later, Obama hardened his position on Iran. However, they accused him of beating around the bush in order not to complicate the path to the nuclear deal with Tehran, which he finally achieved in 2015.

The former president now believes he was wrong in his initial stance on Iran, as he shared on Crooked Media’s “Pod Save America” ​​podcast, which runs a group of his former White House aides.

“When I think back to 2009, 2010, you might remember there was a big debate inside the White House about me publicly reaffirming what was going on with the Green Revolution, because a lot of the activists were being accused of being tools of West and it was thought that we would somehow affect their credibility on the streets of Iran if I supported what they were doing,” Obama said. “And in hindsight, I think it was a mistake.”

“Every time we see a glimmer, a ray of hope, of people yearning for freedom, I think we have to highlight it. We have to put a spotlight on it. We have to express some solidarity about it,” he continued.

Obama’s comments mark a rare moment of public self-criticism by a former president. But they also show the advantage of perspective, which is lacking for sitting presidents who must make difficult decisions on the fly in the midst of crises.

Now, Obama is not repudiating his nuclear deal with Iran. Even though his successor trashed it, Obama argues the deal successfully slowed the nation’s nuclear development. “If we hadn’t achieved that, I think Iran would already have a nuclear weapon,” the former president said.

Thirteen years later, President Joe Biden, perhaps because of his experience in the previous Democratic administration, has been more forceful in quickly supporting the protests in Iran. He may also be helped by the fact that his hopes of reviving the nuclear deal are slipping further by the week.

On Friday of last week, for example, Biden told reporters that he was “stunned” by the reaction in Iran to the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old who died after being detained by Tehran’s morality police. and whose case sparked the recent protests.

“It has stirred up something that I don’t think will settle down for a long, long time,” the president said.

But while supporters of Washington’s foreign policy often seem to believe that the weight of US words, backed by sanctions, will topple the Iranian regime, things are much more complicated.

The United States cannot dictate how this turns out. And that is as true now as it was 13 years ago. In the end, it still depends on the people of Iran. And the democratic world can do little more than recognize that glimmer of hope from people who yearn for freedom.

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