In the same month that the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the bloody showdown in China's Tieneman Square, we are again witnessing (this time, through the samizdat of Twitter and YouTube) what may become another defeat for democratic freedoms in a different Asian country, Iran.
For a sixth straight day, Iranian citizens of every demographic, including a growing cohort of Islamic clerics, have marched in the streets and braved the bludgeon of the militia and the police to protest the outcome of last week's disputed Presidential election. No one can predict the outcome, although Time Magazine suggests four plausible endgames. As the world watches, Iranians desperately plead for America's help. A letter to President Obama, circulating in the Iranian-American community (reproduced here in full) from an anonymous writer in Iran, poignantly places in stark relief the urgency and fear of the small "d" democrats of Iran:
Dear Mr. President,
It is not convincing now to stand by and watch on the pretext that you don’t want to interfere in the internal politics of Iran. Concern is not enough. Watching to see if demonstrations gain momentum is not enough. Interviewing a few conservative analysts is not enough. We are watching but may not be there to judge you when this is over. Will you abide by the dictates of your conscience and take a stance in [favor] of a nation that is at the mercy of a soul-less system? Or will you all stand by and watch only to say, in a decade or two, that you made a grave mistake? I’m pleading to your heart, Barack Obama, because I believe you are sincere. Please say what you mean and mean what you say.
Sadly, the world hears a tone-deaf President Obama respond with so little empathy that it would surely embarrass his prospective Supreme Court nominee. Answering a question from the New York Times and CNBC, the president sounded an out-of-character, discordant note by observing on Tuesday that from an American national security perspective, there was little daylight between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his prime opponent, Mir Hussein Moussavi:
“Either way,” Mr. Obama said, the United States is “going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons.”
What do the democratic stirrings in Iran and a reticent president have to do with a blog on the dysfunctions of America's immigration system?
Harken back to the fallout from the Chinese Communists' quelling of democracy with tanks and bloodshed in Tieneman Square. The Congress and the first President Bush took two-and-a-half years to protect the Chinese citizens who feared return to the Peoples Republic by passing the Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992. That law allowed a generation of primarily young Chinese to obtain permanent residence in the U.S., and probably contributed significantly to the decade of innovation and prosperity that followed. However President Obama decides to respond to events on the ground in Iran, the Congress should immediately hold hearings and speedily enact legislation, much like CSPA '92, that would allow the thousands of Iranian citizens now in the U.S. to apply for permanent residence.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could also take a page from history by easing the standard for granting U.S. nonimmigrant visas to Iranians as State did when many pro-Western Iranians were fleeing Iran with the fall of the Shah. As memory serves, State instructed consular officers to apply the requirement that a visa applicant must intend to return to the person's country of residence by considering, in the case of Iranians, whether the person would be likely to return to Iran if and when the political instability there were to ease.
In short, President Obama had it right when he offered his Persian New Year message to the people and leaders of Iran:
The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.
So on the occasion of your New Year, I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek. It's a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce. It's a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace.
The time for actions to back up these words, by the President and Congress, is now. Or, as Bill Maher laid down in his New Rules segment last week:
I'm glad Obama is president, but the "audacity of hope" part is over. Right now, I'm hoping for a little more audacity.