Brush With Greatness: Fouad Ajami, 1945-2014

Fouad AjamiMy favorite professor passed away this week.

Fouad Ajami — Iranian by heritage, Lebanese by birth, American by choice — was an assistant professor of politics at Princeton in the late 1970s, and I took his International Relations course freshman year. He didn’t get tenure there — bad call, Princeton — and left in 1980 to become director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins, where he thrived for 30 years.

He was a bit of an imp at Princeton, and I mean that in a nice way.  You can see it in his picture — I remember the same grin, framed in a darker beard.  When I was casting about for a major after realizing that I wasn’t cut out for [shudder] physics, my enjoyment of his course was part of why I chose Politics.  I wish I could say I remembered some profound insight he shared that shaped my political development, but I can’t. I probably got a B in the course, because that’s how I rolled.  In classes I liked.

Here’s what I remember: he quoted Lyndon Johnson’s characterization of Vietnam as “a raggedy-assed, third-rate country,” and said some American leaders dismissed a wide variety of countries in that way.  As he made his pedagogical point, he just seemed delighted by the fact that he was saying a bad word in front of a classroom at a prestigious school and he could get away with it because we were nominal adults.  He grinned that grin.

He became my favorite professor retroactively three decades later, when I discovered that my emerging world view was finding eloquent expression in his commentary in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. I blogged about him here and here and here. Since no one ever follows links on my blog (prove me wrong, I double-dare you), I’ll quote a passage from September 11, 2009, in which he championed the decision to go to war in Iraq:

Those were not Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11. They were Arabs. Their terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life. Their financiers were Arabs, and so were those crowds in Cairo and Nablus and Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America getting its comeuppance on that terrible day. Kabul had not sufficed as a return address in that twilight war; it was important to take the war into the Arab world itself, and the despot in Baghdad had drawn the short straw. He had been brazen and defiant at a time of genuine American concern, and a lesson was made of him.

Professor Ajami never wavered in his belief that America made the right choice by overthrowing Saddam Hussein.  I wholeheartedly share that viewpoint. Despite the years of mismanagement of the war, the world is a better place today because of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I expect that will continue to be true despite the feckless blunderings of our current commander in chief.

In 2011, Ajami retired from Johns Hopkins and decamped to Stanford, where he was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His colleagues there have performed the invaluable service of compiling a page of links to his “best and recent articles,” the last of which was published in the Wall Street Journal on June 16, less than two weeks before he succumbed to cancer at the age of 68.  It was vintage Ajami, headlined “The Men Who Sealed Iraq’s Disaster With a Handshake.” In case you have any doubt, the men in question are Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

 (This post is the fourth installment in my Brush with Greatness series.)

On Reflection, I’m Surprisingly OK With Where Obama Is on Syria

When President Obama changed course abruptly on Saturday and announced that instead of attacking Assad’s regime in Syria, he would “seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes.  Here we go again, trying to have it both ways.  It’s reminiscent of announcing a surge in Afghanistan, then simultaneously announcing a date certain for beginning to draw down the extra troops.

Conservative pundits whose national security opinions I generally respect jumped on Obama with both feet.  Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz breached the magazine’s normal practice of not publishing new material on the Jewish Sabbath, with a blog post headlined “Obama’s Bizarre Syria Policy.”  The next day, Peter Wehner weighed in with a blander headline, but stated high in his post that “President Obama has handled the Syrian situation with staggering incompetence.” They both make a strong case, which you can read for yourselves.

Other pundits opined that the delay would give Assad time to hide his chemical weapons; that it made Obama look ridiculous to decide we should strike Syria, but delay it until Congress returns from vacation; and asked why does the commander-in-chief think he needs Congressional approval for limited military action in Syria, but did not feel the same way in Libya?

All reasonable arguments.  But then military leaders declared that the delay is not a significant tactical setback.  Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said:

Many of Assad’s assets we’d like to target are “fixed installations” he can’t move; the amount of intelligence and surveillance assets being devoted to the region should make it difficult for him to move matériel out of sight; and Assad’s current position, engulfed in a civil war, means he can’t exactly be moving military units, such as rockets or artillery, as he wishes.

Obama can be criticized for being indecisive, which is not what you want in a commander-in-chief.  But stubborn persistence also can be taken too far.  President George W. Bush — whose decision to overthrow Saddam I supported then and support to this day — has to answer for staying with a failed strategy in Iraq for years after it was clear a change was needed.

I think faster action on Syria might well have been preferable for the immediate tactical situation.  But if Obama succeeds in getting Congressional approval — a big if, but not impossible — it may be worth it in the long run to have an intervention supported by Democrats as well as Republicans.

Despite Obama’s wishful declaration that “this war, like all wars, must end,” the war against Islamic extremism will certainly outlast his presidency — and it may outlive all of us.  Future presidents will also have to wrestle with how to make war against Middle Eastern terrorists and despots, and I’m thankful that Obama is helping to build a bipartisan history of asserting America’s strength.

(Syrian flag from Wikipedia)

Obama’s “I Blame George Bush” Act Is Growing Old

To enlarge the graphic, click on it, then click on it again

More than 30 months into the era of Obamanomics, the administration is still desperately seeking to blame all of the nation’s woes on George W. Bush. They’re getting less and less traction with that argument — Obama’s approval rating just hit a new low of 40%, according to Gallup’s tracking poll.

But Bush has been the go-to guy in Obama’s blame game since the beginning, and the administration keeps trying.  Megan McArdle, a consistently insightful economics columnist for the Atlantic, dissects a chart published by the White House this week that purports to show that of the $12.7 trillion added to the national debt over the past decade, $7 trillion is attributable to the Bush administration, with only $1.4 trillion attributable to Obamanomics.

[T]his graph attributes decisions made by Obama and an all-Democratic Congress–like doubling down in Afghanistan–to Bush, while taking responsibility for basically nothing except the stimulus.  When Obama extends the Bush tax cuts for the rich under pressure from Congressional Republicans, that disappears from his side of the ledger, because after all, he didn’t want to do it.  When Bush enacts Medicare Part D under pressure from Congressional Democrats, the full cost is charged against his presidency.  The list of such silliness goes on.  Our president seems set to coin another presidential motto: “The duck starts here.”

McArdle answers with charts of her own, showing that the deficit, which never reached more than about 3% of GDP during the eight years of the Bush administration, has ballooned to 10% of GDP after less than three years of the Obama administration.

Nor is it exactly obvious to look at the $2.4 trillion in additional debt incurred during Bush’s eight-year presidency, and say that he is nonetheless actually responsible for $7 trillion of our current debt load–and then turn to the $3.1 trillion of debt incurred during Barack Obama’s three-year presidency, and declare that his policies are actually responsible for only $1.4 trillion.

Obama needs a new scapegoat, and the administration has been fitting the House Republicans for that suit.  I worried three weeks ago that the Republicans — having forced Obama to concede that entitlement cuts are on the table — would hold out for no debt increase and get blamed for a government shutdown.

The GOP still could get blamed, of course — Newt Gingrich & Co. were blamed in 1994 even though Bill Clinton’s veto actually triggered the shutdown.  But now the House Republicans have voted not once but twice to raise the debt ceiling, overruling the Tea Partiers among them.

K-Lo describes the path forward from here:

So what does the new path look like? This tweaked Budget Control Act will pass the House. The Senate will strip out the BBA language. It will pass the Senate. When it goes back to the House, Boehner loses some of his caucus again, but Pelosi will have to get some of her members on board. If this is such a crisis moment, Democrats are the party in power. Boehner negotiated with his caucus and got an imperfect bill that the Democratic Senate could work with — with a statement of principles in it including the BBA. Then the Democrats, who do run Washington, after all, will have to step up to the plate.

Ball’s in your court, Harry Reid and Barack Obama, in other words.

The Senate already has tabled the Boehner bill, but pressure to accept one of the two House plans may rise over the weekend, leading to the scenario K-Lo describes.  Let’s hope so.  Then the election can go back to being about the phony stimulus and the wildly unpopular Obamacare.  Everybody knows who to blame for that.


So what does the new path look like? This tweaked Budget Control Act will pass the House. The Senate will strip out the BBA language. It will pass the Senate. When it goes back to the House, Boehner loses some of his caucus again, but Pelosi will have to get some of her members on board. If this is such a crisis moment, Democrats are the party in power. Boehner negotiated with his caucus and got an imperfect bill that the Democratic Senate could work with — with a statement of principles in it including the BBA. Then the Democrats, who do run Washington, after all, will have to step up to the plate.

Ball’s in your court, Harry Reid and Barack Obama, in other words.

A Brief History of Presidential Betrayal, Through the Prism of Andrew Sulllivan

Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan

If Obama has lost Andrew Sullivan, has he lost the Left, the Right or the Center?

For reasons that will become clear, I’ve been watching off and on to see what might happen when Obama does something that Sullivan perceives as a betrayal. The time may have come with Obama’s shocking decision to intervene in Libya.

Sullivan, who once wrote a book called The Conservative Soul from an insider’s perspective, felt the sting of betrayal from George W. Bush in 2004 and began a well-chronicled move to the Left, slashing and burning his way through conservative friends and supporters as he went.  By the time of Barack “Hope and Change” Obama’s election and presidency, Sullivan’s incessantly repeated exhortations toknow hopecarried echoes of Dan Rather’s “courage” from an earlier era.

I described Obama’s rush to war in Libya as “astonishing” and “bizarre,” and Sullivan apparently has similar feelings.  (One difference is that I’m actually hopeful that it might work out OK, whereas Sullivan appears more pessimistic.)  Sullivan has taken to referring to his onetime idol as King Barack I, and he’s raised the specter of impeachment.  Here’s a sample post from last week, with emphasis added:

I’m still absorbing this news and don’t want to vent immediately, because there is still part of me that simply cannot believe that president Obama has already ordered covert action in Libya on one side in a civil war, and is now actively discussing whether to arm that side in another chaotic Muslim country, committing the United States to yet another war against yet another tyranny simply because we can.

It’s so surreal, so discordant with what the president has told the American people, so fantastically contrary to everything he campaigned on, that I will simply wait for more confirmation than this before commenting further. I simply cannot believe it. I know the president is not against all wars – just dumb ones. But could any war be dumber than this – in a place with no potential for civil society, wrecked by totalitarianism, riven by tribalism, in defense of rebels we do not know and who are clearly insufficient to the task?

By all means keep the no-fly zone to protect unarmed civilians from brute military force. But that must be the total sum of the commitment.

Love him or hate him (and I’ve leaned in both directions), Andrew Sullivan is a towering figure in the development of blogging as a vital form of communication.  His pioneering “Daily Dish,” with its barely readable white and beige text on a dark-blue background, provided thoughtful commentary on a daily basis for years before the potty-mouthed Wonkette came along to become, briefly, the best-known name in blogging.

I started following Sullivan so long ago, his blog is in the “Conservatives” folder of my bookmarks.  This was back when James Taranto — one of many bloggers who now cannot stand the man — used to refer to Sullivan as his “favorite gay, Catholic Tory.”  I got the Web Goddess interested in Sullivan’s writing, and then we sprang for $20 (I think that’s what it was) to get his short-lived weekly email with the inside story behind the Daily Dish.

Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic , backed Bush in the 2000 election and was a strong supporter of the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.  He started to sour on Bush because of the mismanagement of the war, and in 2004 was openly flirting with the idea of endorsing the  Democratic nominee — even if it were John Kerry, whom he despised — over Bush.  That deal was sealed on February 24, 2004, when Bush, after calculating that he had more to gain among evangelicals than he had to lose among the few gay people inclined to support him, endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment.

The FMA went well beyond declaring that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” (That’s still Obama’s official position, btw.)  The FMA also would have eviscerated civil unions and domestic partnerships, which are a squeamish society’s well-meaning effort to provide legal protection to gay couples.  Here’s the text of the amendment:

Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

(The amendment failed to advance in either the House or the Senate, falling far short of the two-thirds majorities required.)

I remember being struck that day by how anguished Sullivan was over Bush’s announcement.  I remember Jonah Goldberg, who at the time was largely sympathetic to Sullivan, describing Sullivan’s reaction as a “cri de coeur” (which I had to look up).  But I couldn’t remember what Sullivan himself had said that day, so I went back looking for it.  His actual post doesn’t seem as raw and livid as I remembered, but you can see the sense of betrayal.  Excerpts:

WAR IS DECLARED: The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land.  … Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.

NO MORE PROFOUND AN ATTACK: This president wants our families denied civil protection and civil acknowledgment. He wants us stigmatized not just by a law, not just by his inability even to call us by name, not by his minions on the religious right. He wants us stigmatized in the very founding document of America. There can be no more profound attack on a minority in the United States – or on the promise of freedom that America represents. That very tactic is so shocking in its prejudice, so clear in its intent, so extreme in its implications that it leaves people of good will little lee-way. This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance.

Sullivan’s blogging home has bounced from his own domain to Time to The Atlantic, and as of today he is settling in to new quarters at Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast.  He’s a gifted writer who gets carried away with his passions. Somehow I don’t think his animus toward Obama will ever quite reach the level it did with Bush.

Mideast Uprisings Bode Well for Bush’s Freedom Agenda

The Washington Post has a helpful interactive map providing an overview of the ongoing unrest in a dozen countries throughout the Middle East, with tabs for Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Any of these uprisings could end badly of course, but the possibilities are exciting.  Can there be any doubt that these Mideast insurrections are feeding on each other’s energy?  And, would any of them be happening if it were not for the successful toppling of the baddest Mideast despot of them all?

Plenty of commentators have written about vindication for Bush’s “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.  I don’t know that I have much to add to the current situation, but I do want to boast about discussing this more than two years ago.

From “Bush, Reagan, Moral Clarity and the Politics of Evil“:

For better or worse, Bush’s legacy will always be inextricably tied to the war in Iraq. This means, as I’ve written before, there is a chance Bush will be remembered years from now as the man who planted the first stable democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. If some day Islamic fascism joins Soviet communism in the category of defeated ideologies, a President’s clarity about the United States as a bulwark against evil may again be a large part of the reason.

I’m just sayin’…

Hitler Comparisons are Odious, Whether About Obama or Bush

bushitler2You may have seen and applauded the YouTube video of Barney Frank’s verbal smackdown of a twit who accused him at a town hall of backing Obama’s “Nazi” healthcare plan.  I agree that Frank’s righteous put-down was well-executed, but I have to protest the notion that anti-Obama rhetoric represents a recent coarsening of the public discourse.

Bush=Hitler comparisons were common throughout Bush’s tenure.  They got little exposure in the mainstream media — journalists recognized that the Bushitler loonies undermined more serious criticisms of Bush.  But Zombietime spent years collecting photos — the two here are chosen from hundreds on his site.

Interestingly, the young moron in Barney Frank’s audience turns out to be a member of the LaRouche cult.

bushitler4Lyndon LaRouche doesn’t operate on the same political spectrum as most Americans, but he is a seven-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and LaRouchians say ObamaCare is a “Nazi” policy because it does not include complete socialization of healthcare through a single-payer structure.

In other words, the video shows Barney Frank taking fire from his left.

My point here is not to say “the Left brought this on themselves” with eight years of Bush Derangement Syndrome.  My point is that the flamethrowers on both sides of the aisle do a disservice to their own cause by distracting from more worthy arguments. Also: comparisons with Hitler should be reserved for people with eight-figure death tolls.

At least when the extremist is a protester, it’s relatively easy to shrug it off.  It’s a little bit harder when the inflamed rhetoric comes from the Senate Majority Leader.

Update: GayPatriotWest, who is not a Barney Frank fan, has some parallel thoughts.

R.I.P., President Obama’s Honeymoon

minus-2 - obama_index_june_22_2009It’s been a while since I’ve updated the Honeymoon-Over Watch.  According to David J. Rothkopf at Foreign Policy, this should be the last update needed:

Mark it on your calendars.  It was in June 2009 that Barack Obama’s honeymoon officially ended.  And to be more specific, it was this past week.  Through some mysterious alchemy, this was the week that Bush’s economy became Obama’s, Bush’s wars became Obama’s, and the ups and downs of a real workaday relationship with the press also introduced Obama to a more accurate sense of what life was like for Bush and for all his other modern predecessors.

Last week was when Obama’s Presidential Approval Index, as measured by Rasmussen Reports, slipped into negative territory, although it has since recovered to +1 as of today’s report.  Rasmussen focuses on “strongly approve” vs. “strongly disapprove.”  I’m not sure whether this is more significant than measuring total approval vs. total disapproval, but it works against Obama, who in every poll (including Rasmussen’s) is firmly in positive territory on a total approval basis.  (Near the end of the Bush Presidency, GWB logged in at -30 on Rasmussen’s strong-opinion index.)

I’m no Obama-hater, nor do I want him to “fail,” but I’ve been rooting for the end of the honeymoon since before the inauguration.  The media’s near-deification of “The One” has been, at its worst, nothing less than appalling.  Open-minded skepticism (as opposed to cynicism) is generally the right starting point for a journalist, and more of them are getting there, as seen in additional “honeymoon-over” coverage from around the web.

In Newsweek — among the worst Obama up-suckers, as parodied by National Review — Howard Fineman focuses this week on Obama’s evolving relationship with the White House press corps:

Bottom line: things are getting a little testy and are about to get more so. … [T]he problem is that they are too cute by half. They assume they can manipulate, manage and guide the media flawlessly. They think they can ride the wave all the way every time. And why shouldn’t they? Obama’s presidential campaign, after all, was perhaps the shrewdest, most disciplined message machine ever assembled in modern electoral politics. And the coverage, overall, was often close to hagiographic. The presidency is a harder course, and the risk is that, by over-managing, the president and his aides will damage their own credibility with the press and, more important, with the public.

Europeans famously preferred Obama to McCain last fall, but the honeymoon may be over on the other side of the pond as well.  According to Der Spiegel, which James Lileks aptly called the world’s most German-sounding newspaper, America has gone from the “war president” to the “debt president”.  The newspaper predicts a day of reckoning soon:

It is often said that the Chinese and the Japanese will buy [U.S.] government bonds. But the truth of the matter is that trust in the gravitas and reliability of the United States has suffered to such a great degree that fewer and fewer foreigners are purchasing its government bonds. That’s why the Federal Reserve is now buying securities that it has printed itself. The Fed’s balance sheet has more than doubled since 2007, making the US central bank one of the world’s fastest-growing companies. The purpose of this company, though, is to create money out of thin air. …

The German response to the excesses of the Bush era was refusal and obstinacy. Gerhard Schröder refused to go to war in Iraq with America and he organized a European resistance front the reached from Moscow to Paris.

Germany still hasn’t provided its response to the Obama administration’s fiscal policy excesses. Perhaps its time for Merkel to take her cue from Schröder.

Professor Julian Zelizer of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School:

If there is any new dip in the economy, the public will blame President Obama rather than President Bush. This is exactly what happened with the recession in 1937, which FDR’s opponents called the “Roosevelt Recession,” using the downturn to diminish the number of New Deal liberals in the House and Senate in 1938.

Quoting Jonah Goldberg, who’s quoting others:

Thanks to a few pointed questions from the press corps at a White House news conference, the long Obama captivity of the media is at an end. The Hotline, an inside-the-Beltway tip sheet, proclaimed June 23 “The Day the Love Ended.”

The New York Daily News’s Michael Goodwin celebrates the press corps’s ability to channel the mood of the country: “By peppering the President with forceful questions . . . and by challenging some of his slippery answers, reporters captured the changing tone in the country. Like the end of a real honeymoon, blind infatuation is giving way to a more accurate view of reality.”

“The press corps gets it,” Goodwin writes. “For Obama, the hard part begins now.”

I’ll end with two more passages from the Rothkopf essay I started with, which is titled “The definitive, final, once and for all, Obama’s honeymoon-is-over story.” He helpfully includes a mini-roundup of other publications and websites that have declared this week that the honeymoon is over:

Of course, people have been writing about the end of Obama’s honeymoon since the day he arrived in office. [Pikers! My Honeymoon-Over Watch started January 15! – KP.] But let me offer 10 solid pieces of evidence that it was over by this week.  And I say this despite the unnerving fact that the Daily Kos seems to agree with my assessment…and shored up by the fact that NBC’s Chuck Todd, CNN’s Jack Cafferty, CQ, the Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, and a host of other media outlets all seem to agree by having grappled with the issue…or, depending on how you look at it, succumbed to the conventional wisdom…in the past week or 10 days.  Just goes to show: even the conventional wisdom is right every once in a while. …

[details snipped]

The honeymoon is done. Time for a real life marriage. For better or for worse.

And for richer or poorer.  Fortunately, America doesn’t marry its leaders “until death do us part.” And no, dammit, I’m not wishing anybody dead.  I’m celebrating the fact that in three-plus years, our system will give us an opportunity for a course correction under new leadership, if enough Americans come to believe one is needed. In the meantime, Mr. Obama is my president, and on some level at least I wish him well.

Iran Revolt Vindicates Neoconservative Ideals — and the Iraq War


(Welcome, GayPatriot readers)

Since he turned against the Iraq War that he once championed, Andrew Sullivan has taken to using the term “neocon” as a curse word.  “The neocon hope that Ahmadinejad keeps himself in power – barely disguised any more – seems to me premature,” Sullivan said a few days ago — while linking to a blog post that is more accurately summarized by its own headline: “The Bright Side of Ahmadinejad’s ‘Win'”.

So when I saw Sullivan’s headline this morning — “The Good Neocons” — I was prepared for sarcasm.  But he was praising the work of two writers, Michael J. Totten (who years ago rejected the neocon label) and Daniel Finkelstein, whose London Times article Sullivan then quoted at length.  The whole thing is worth reading, but it was a different passage that jumped out at me:

Now, there is something you need to know. I am a neocon. Given all that has happened over the past ten years, I am sure my PR consultant would advise me to drop this label. But I don’t employ a PR consultant. [KP note: please contact me if you’d like to discuss your PR needs.] So, stubbornly, I cling on to the designation. It declares my belief in two things – that in every country in the world, wherever it may be and whatever its traditions, the people yearn for liberty, for free expression and for democracy; and that the spread of liberty and democracy (not necessarily through the barrel of a gun) is the only real way to bring peace to the world. I believe that what we are seeing on the streets of Iran now is a vindication of these neoconservative ideas.

Hear hear, and I’ll take it a step further:  It is a vindication of the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraq.

I sniped at Sullivan in my first Iran post for saying that Obama inspired the Iranian revolt by sweeping away the Bush years.   To me it seems self-evident that exactly the opposite is true.  If the Bush Administration had not planted democracies (albeit still troubled democracies) in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s inconceivable to me that so many Iranians would risk their lives and their freedom for an idealistic vision that did not yet exist in their neighborhood.  Just as it was inconceivable that Libya would renounce its nuclear ambitions in the absence of a credible threat.

In the long run, the only hope for victory over Islamic fascism is a Reformation within Islam.  As Jews and Christians have evolved beyond the most repugnant parts of their own scriptures, so too can Islam.   If an Islamic Reformation occurs, the democracies that President Bush helped install in the heart of the ancient Caliphate will play an important role.

And yes, I’m a neocon too.

(Photo: Mousavi1388)

Here’s Hoping Iran is the Next Domino for Democracy

Pity the mullahs who cling to power in Iran.  With budding (albeit flawed) democracies to the east and west, with tens of thousands of angry people protesting the tainted election of a figurehead, with web-savvy dissidents informing the world via Twitter, YouTube and Flickr — what’s a frightened theocrat to do?

tehran-womanHere’s my favorite image thus far — evoking the lone man facing down the Tiananmen tanks, a woman shakes her fist and waves the green flag of revolution at the advancing riot troops.  You go, sister — next thing you know, she’ll be uncovering her head.

Andrew Sullivan is proclaiming that a coup has taken place, and he’s furnishing continuous updates.  Interestingly, the other day it looked like Sullivan was giving props to the man who set the first dominos in motion:

How is what is happening in Iran not exactly what the Bush administration wanted to happen in Arab regimes? New technology, massive over-reach by the Ahmadinejad forces, emerging women’s voices: these have already precipitated a fracturing of the regime.

Set aside the quibble that Iran is Persian rather than Arab — this is indeed exactly the kind of development that President Bush sought to precipitate with the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan.  And it’s great that Sullivan was finally able to set aside his hatred of all things GWB to recognize that.

Or… did he?  Sullivan continues:

And what achieved this? In a strange way, the messianic radicalism of Bush sustained the messianic radicalism of Ahmadinejad. Obama’s election, as many of us hoped, broke that cycle and allowed for Iran’s opposition to re-emerge without looking like a pawn of the US.

The mind reels.  Still, Sullivan has been one of the best sources for fresh updates on Iran.  Others are Michael J. Totten, NYT’s The Lede blog  and, for photographs,

American Ideals in Bush’s Third Term

obama_in_cairoPresident Obama sometimes sounds a lot like President Bush — and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Barack Hussein Obama, Cairo University, June 4, 2009:

But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.

George Walker Bush, second inaugural address, January 20, 2005:

America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty…. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

If the passages were swapped one for the other, neither president would miss a beat.

I’ll second Rich Lowry’s assessment at The Corner:

I don’t want to make exalted claims for the speech. It was a mixed bag and there are limits to the effect any one speech can have. But I think some in the conservative blogosphere are pronouncing it a scandal because they leave out all the good things. Consider: He extolled America as “one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known”; pledged we will “relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our country”; condemned Holocaust denial as “baseless, ignorant, and hateful”; said “it is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus”; insisted that “the Arab-Israel conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems”; and called for more democracy, religious freedom, and women’s rights in the Muslim world. And he got a standing ovation.

Photo: White House