UPDATE  This piece below (“Short, pithy, packed with more wisdom than you find in bloviations ten times the length”) has been picked up by the Browser


Here is my latest piece over at Commentator, looking at the startlingly poor performance by a clueless State Department spokeswoman when asked to give a view on what ought to be a simple question: if Iran bars women for campaigning for President, are Iran’s elections ‘free and fair’?

As a former pro in this sort of thing, I am really surprised at how lame the prepared lines were for this question. It’s almost as if some dopey desk-officer had strung together some word-processed platitudes without giving a scrap of thought to how anyone might use them in front of journalists and not sound absurd. Is this what the Amazing Shrinking US Leadership of Obama is now giving us?

Let’s give them a shred of probably undeserved credit, and imagine that the State Department has pondered over how best to respond to the latest round of farcical ‘elections’ in Iran. They have concluded that one or other aggressively anti-Western tendency is going to win again, and decided that there is nothing to be gained as things now stand for ratcheting up public pressure on Iran. The economic sanctions regime on Iran is already severe and painful.

So, what to say instead?

How about something measured like this:

  • in almost every respect that matters we Americans disagree with the undemocratic way Iran chooses candidates for its elections
  • the fact that now women candidates are barred from running for the country’s top office shows that the ruling Iran elite is showing no respect to half the country’s population, and no respect to the many international undertakings and obligations that require equality of opportunity for women and men that Iran itself has accepted
  • it is therefore hard to imagine any country accepting that these forthcoming elections in Iran have been free and fair – by proceeding in this manner the Iranian regime is further isolating itself
  • the USA wants a normal relationship with Iran. Restoring that after everything that has happened will be a long hard job
  • but if whoever comes to power after these elections, gravely flawed and undemocratic as they obviously will be, opens the way to a sincere and sensible programme of normalising relations, Washington will be ready to respond

That sort of language manages to combine a firm sense of disagreeing with Iran’s so-called elections with a signal of engagement if Iran’s next leader manages to achieve a change of course.

Simple, clear, principled and flexible. Always the best combination. It’s called diplomacy.