President Obama risks much in not speaking out sooner or more forcefully against the Iranian government's violent crushing of democratic protests.
He could inadvertently be sending a message to the protesters that the world is not behind them -- which is simply not true.
He could be emboldening the Iranian regime to crack down harder on its people by his belated and meek scolding of it.
And he risks looking feckless to history, which may regard him as AWOL at a key moment in the human struggle for freedom.
Time will tell.
At best, he is looking naive.
"The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States," the president said on CBS' The Early Show on Monday.
Mr. President, it doesn't matter what you do or say -- the Iranian regime will use hatred of the United States as a shroud behind which to imprison the Iranian people. There's nothing you can say that will change that, for good or ill.
Moreover, Mr. President, do you really want to tread lightly now in order to preserve the "privilege" of talking to Iran's rulers later? If so, watch out for the blood on their hands when you shake them.
And it's interesting that the president should want to avoid "interfering" in Iranian affairs now -- simply by speaking out in favor of democracy and freedom -- when it's a wholly unguarded secret that Iran interfered plenty in Iraq by sending over insurgents and bombs with which to kill American soldiers.
There's no moral equivalency.
The human story is nothing if not a tale of endless and often bloody struggles for freedom. That is what's going on in Iran today.
Champions for freedom aren't champions only when the going is easy. They don't worry about hurting the feelings of dictators and tyrants because it might endanger relations with them and make it less likely they'll talk to you all civil.
Americans are rising up to join Iranians in the streets. Now is a moment to seize, a chance that Iranians could, in part at least, throw off the tyranny of the mullahs. Why be shy about standing with them?
This isn't about a fraudulent election, although that's what sparked the uprising. It's about a people trying to break free from the religious tyranny of Iran's ruling clerics.
This country, too, was built on escape from tyranny; our Declaration of Independence was a list of grievances against the monarch. Any understanding of our own past necessarily colors how today's events in Iran must be seen.
How can we not fully and loudly support our Iranian friends in the same quest for freedom that we embarked on?