WASHINGTON - President Obama's political opponents at home accused him of inaction yesterday as he struggled for the right response to Iran's postelection upheaval.
"The president of the United States is supposed to lead the Free World, not follow it," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). "He's been timid and passive more than I would like."
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and others noted that other Western leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have demanded a recount or more forcefully condemned the government crackdown.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) said a slow or muted U.S. response risks undermining the aspirations of Iranian voters to change or question their government.
"If America stands for democracy and all of these demonstrations are going on in Tehran and other cities over there, and people don't think that we really care, then obviously they're going to question, 'Do we really believe in our principles?' " Grassley said.
Obama kept a public silence yesterday and later went golfing in Virginia.
In an interview Friday, released yesterday, the president said: "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. We shouldn't be playing into that."
The president spoke Friday in an interview with CBS News' Harry Smith. It is to be broadcast today on The Early Show.
Saturday, Obama invoked the American civil rights struggle to condemn violence against demonstrators, some of whom have carried signs in English asking, "Where Is My Vote?"
It was his strongest statement on what has become the most significant challenge to Iran's ruling structure since the Islamic revolution 30 years ago, but it stopped short of demanding a recount or new election, as many demonstrators seek.
His advisers say any thunderous denunciation of Iran's rulers would invite them to blame Western interference and might worsen the violence instead of end it.
Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar, a moderate Republican who holds the party's top position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, seemed to echo Obama's caution.
"The challenge continues, which is going to come to a conclusion one way or another," Lugar said. "Either the protesters bring about change or they're suppressed, and it's a potentially very brutal outcome at the end of the day."
Senate Democrats said Obama had struck the right balance. "He's got a very delicate path to walk here," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D., Conn.).