The president’s news conference this afternoon provides much food for thought (transcript here). The president has been very careful until now about asserting that democracy and human rights are universal values. Yet today, he said once, and then repeated twice that:
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech.
If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion.
Obama’s language today was much more forceful than it was in Cairo. The biggest change, however, is Obama’s insistence that the international community’s respect for Iran depends directly on its acceptance of the Iranian people’s universal rights.
There was absolutely no suggestion in Cairo that a democratic deficit is grounds for exclusion from the international community. Yet now Obama has taken a position increasingly reminiscent of his predecessor, whose name escapes me at the moment.
It is also worth observing which right the President did not attribute to the people of Iran. Although he spoke extensively in Cairo about freedom of religion, he made no reference to it today. Perhaps that was unintentional, or perhaps it reflected the belief that demanding freedom of religion from a theocratic dictatorship would be too provocative.
In conclusion, let me just say “bravo” to President Obama.