Comments on Obama's reaction to the Iran protests were at times dominated by a false dichotomy. People on the right have said that the president might just as well take sides in the recent Iranian election as the current regime has shown that it cannot be sweet-talked or negotiated with. Voices on the left say that the United States is in no position to give moral lectures to any Iranian government about democracy, given our disgraceful treatment of that country since 1953. Obama should keep quiet.
Of these two positions, I feel the most sympathy for the leftist one, but the two of them actually represent a false dichotomy. In fact, it is a good example of why false dichotomy is a fallacy. The obvious flaws in one position lends plausibility to the other one. But it is an unearned plausibility, because there is a third possibility. It is to do what Obama eventually did: make a principled statement that the U. S. has always stood for the rights of free speech, freedom of assembly, and petition for redress of grievances -- and against all violations of those rights.
The effect of BHO's statement was undermined by his earlier maintaining silence on the grounds that he didn't want to be seen as "meddling" and, worse yet, but his statement that the two candidates are "two of a kind." This last was particularly absurd.* If saying you prefer one side is meddling, then isn't saying neither one is preferable also meddling? And, in the event that there is a difference between the candidates, wouldn't it amount to meddling in favor of the wrong side?
I think there are some important issues involved here. For well over its first half-century, America was an inspiration to the rest of the world. It is hard to imagine today, but at one time one country that was heavily influenced by American ideas was France. France! It was just one of many countries so influenced. Interestingly, this period of greatest influence coincided with that in which our foreign policy was at its most "isolationist." We had this influence, not by meddling, but by representing principles of individual rights and by saying clearly what these principles are. Maybe it is possible to move step by step to an updated version of that policy.
* Someone's making a statement can be absurd even though the statement itself is true.