The recent events in the Arab world and Iran have led many in the West to urge President Barack Obama to take a stronger stance against human right abuses in Iran. The Obama administration should resist this temptation, as doing so would only serve to weaken Iran's domestic opposition. As the popular uprisings in the Middle East have demonstrated, revolutions are most successful when they are organic.
The voices calling on the Obama administration to give greater attention to human rights abuses in Iran have been forceful and diverse. A Washington Post editorial from last month, for instance, told the administration to "bet on a renewed popular uprising in Iran" and advocated increasing U.S. aid to Iranian dissent groups. Then, after the European Union placed sanctions on 32 Iranian officials for human rights abuses, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to "designate President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad as an Iranian human rights abuser" and to enact sanctions against other Iranian officials. More proactively, two prominent think tanks have formed a joint task force to generate recommendations for how the United States can place democracy and human rights at the forefront of its Iran policy.
These arguments, however well-intentioned, are misguided. The Iranian government's violent repression of dissidents certainly stands in direct contrast to democratic values as well as to the professed values of the Islamic Republic itself. But putting overt pressure on the Iranian government for its human rights abuses risks alienating the domestic opposition from the Iranian population and would almost certainly unify an increasingly fractured Iranian leadership.