Would the EU please stand up?

Teheran burning

Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey is itching for Obama to get stuck in to the Iranian regime:

We have an opportunity to get the Iranians to use this thick-skulled blunder by the mullahs to press for real regime change.  It wouldn’t take an expression of support for Mousavi from Obama to help increase the momentum in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere for the removal of the theocracy.  An expression of support for self-determination in a free and fair election system in Iran would be plenty.  Obama could use his bully pulpit to point out that the mullahs handpickedall of the candidates, which has obviously left the Iranians feeling manipulated and unrepresented by their government.  Obama could call on the Guardian Council and Ali Khamenei to stage actual elections, without the GC’s interference, and an election with international observers to certify that the Iranian people are allowed to choose their own government.

Morrissey, to his credit, details the other side of the argument – that overt expressions of support from the US could be counter-productive, helping the Iranian regime paint its opponents as stooges of the Great Satan.

I find this argument much more compelling that Morrissey does. It’s not a perfect comparison – but in Pakistan, vocal US support for President Musharraf cut the ground from under the feet of a leader the US was desperate to shore up. Pakistanis love conspiracy theories and I used to joke with them that the Bush adminstration was, in fact, trying to bring down the Musharraf regime – and had chosen vocal praise as a novel, but deadly, weapon.

So I think Obama and his proxies should remain studied, neutral. They shouldn’t recognise the election result, but neither should they get dragged too far in the fray. (Some of Morrissey’s messaging around the importance of democracy would actually work quite well, if the tone and rhetoric were kept low key.)

Instead, I’d like to see the Europeans (with behind-the-scenes encouragement from Obama) start to play bad cop, steadily ramping up the pressure as the regime tries to crack down on demonstrators. In particular, we should look to Germany – a major trading partner for Iran – to take a lead. (The UK probably needs to take a back seat – for similar reasons to the US.)

Will this happen? Probably not. The statement from the Czechs, who hold the EU Presidency, was not just weak – it was barely literate.

The Presidency is concerned about alledged irregularities during the election process and post-electional violence that broke out immediately after the release of the official election results on 13 June 2009.

The Presidency hopes that outcome of the Presidential elections will bring the opportunity to resume the dialogue on nuclear issue and clear up Iranian possition in this regard. The Presidency expects the new Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran will take its responsibility towards international community and respect its international obligations.

But Angela Merkel has gone on the record to says that the election was irregular and to say that she is ‘very worried’ about events that have followed. France, too, has shown some signs of disquiet. Reuters detects signs of an emerging EU campaign to question the election results. So maybe there is hope.

The Americans and Europeans badly need to find a way to work in unison on major foreign policy risks. My fingers are crossed that this crisis in Iran will see the emergence of a deeper, more media savvy, and – above all – more effective mode of transatlantic cooperation. But for that to happen, we need to see the Europeans pull their fingers out and show they too can talk tough.