A few days after Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election, a prominent Iranian poet fired off a desperate email to Stanford professor Abbas Milani. Iran's ruling mullahs had declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the victor, despite overwhelming evidence that opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi won more votes. Millions of Iranians poured onto the streets of Tehran to protest, the biggest show of discontent since Ayatollah Khomeini seized power three decades ago.
In response, the regime cracked down hard. They expelled Western journalists, arrested dissidents, and in at least one case, opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. And yet President Barack Obama remained studiously neutral. "The world is watching" the regime's behavior, Obama said, before suggesting that it wouldn't make a difference to American interests which side ultimately prevailed.