‘Top Line’ -- Are Iranian Elections Statement on Obama?

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: As Iranians went to the polls on Friday, in an election many observers thought might oust President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office, President Obama told reporters he was “excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran.”

But since then -- amid skirmishing on the streets of Iran, with Ahmadinejad appearing to have won reelection -- the White House has engaged in a studied public silence on the elections.

On ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” today, we spoke with Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, about how the Obama administration should be handling the still-unsettled situation in Iran.

“I’m not sure there’s any better approach” than staying out for now, O’Hanlon told us. “I agree with you that it seems a wee little bit confused. On the one hand we wanted to encourage the reformist crowds before the election and we sensed there was a possibility [Mir Hossein] Mousavi would win. On the other hand, we obviously now have to deal with the fact that he did not. But we still have to sustain some kind of attempted dialogue with Iran. It just underscores the complexity of dealing with Iran; it makes it clear that George W. Bush was not the only problem there.”

O’Hanlon added that having Ahmadinejad win may make it easier for the US to isolate Iran from the rest of the world community. But that doesn’t mean this is good for US efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranians.

“Funnily, in a way, tactically it makes our job easier because in a sense the Iranian regime has no defenders in the world any longer,” he said. “And the idea that we’re somehow holding out, waiting for the Iranian people to deliver a verdict on Ahmadinejad and then replace him with someone better is no longer plausible.”

“And therefore, I think in the short term it’ll be easier to put pressure on Iran if they do anything egregious, as they often have in the past. But over the longer term, I think it’s all bad news.”

He added: “Either way, I don’t know which is a worse outcome for us: complete voter fraud or an Iranian decision to actually reelect this bum.”

“It’s at least sobering to remind ourselves that we don’t have omnipotence on a lot of these things, even with a brilliant new president who represents so much change at home and abroad. It’s just going to be a long slog,” O’Hanlon said.

Watch our interview with Michael O’Hanlon HERE.

Also today, we chatted with Ezra Klein (no relation to this writer), who writes a domestic policy blog for The Washington Post, about the president’s health care reform efforts. Find out which constituencies in Congress he’s tracking most closely as the legislative process grinds forward.

Click HERE to see our interview with Ezra Klein.

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