Obama Critic Indulges in Overwrought Rhetoric

I think President Obama’s expression of support Friday for Iranians “seeking justice in a peaceful way” in Iran set the proper tone.  I’d give it a B+, with points deducted for tardiness, as it could and should have been said days earlier.  Obama is right to be wary of appearing to meddle in Iranian affairs, but proclaiming American support for democracy and non-violence isn’t meddling.  Calling for a new election would have been meddling.

Some commentators give the President an F — one of them literally using the word “failure.”  In the lead-in to a broader article on the Obama Administration’s alleged “Abandonment of Democracy,” Commentary magazine writes:

Failure to use the bully pulpit to give the Iranian people as much support as possible is morally reprehensible and a strategic blunder for which he will not be forgiven.

Wow.  “Reprehensible” is way over the top, and the  “will not be forgiven” part sounds like wishful thinking.  The lengthy article actually has some serious things to say about the administration’s apparent de-emphasis (not “abandonment”) of Democracy, but the article’s florid lead-in undercuts its credibility.

CWCID: Thank You, Mr. President; Now Please Teach CBS How to Edit

Credit where credit is due: President Obama yesterday said unambiguously “we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way” in Iran.

And then, after days of complaints about the president’s lack of public support for the demonstrators, CBS, which had Obama’s words on tape in an exclusive interview, edited that statement out of the clip that ran on the CBS Evening News. (Hat tip: Allahpundit.)

The complete transcript is on the CBS News site, and the headline indicates that somebody at CBS knows what the news is: “Obama: Iran Proestors ‘Seeking Justice’“.

Here’s the text that was edited out, with Allahpundit’s highlighting:

What you’re seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and – and seeking justice. And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way. And, you know, already we’ve seen violence out there. I think I’ve said this throughout the week. I want to repeat it that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict, and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that’s a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for…

But the last point I want to make on this – this is not an issue of the United States or the West versus Iran. This is an issue of the Iranian people. The fact that they are on the streets under pretty severe duress, at great risk to themselves, is a sign that there’s something in that society that wants to open up.

I don’t see why Obama couldn’t have said that five days ago, but I’m glad he said it yesterday.  Maybe today CBS will run the good parts.

The Election Was a Sham — I Hope the Revolt is Not

Charles Krauthammer today, taking aim at Obama’s tepid expression of “deep concern about the election”:

Moreover, this incipient revolution is no longer about the election. Obama totally misses the point. The election allowed the political space and provided the spark for the eruption of anti-regime fervor that has been simmering for years and awaiting its moment. But people aren’t dying in the street because they want a recount of hanging chads in suburban Isfahan. They want to bring down the tyrannical, misogynist, corrupt theocracy that has imposed itself with the very baton-wielding goons that today attack the demonstrators.

This started out about election fraud. But like all revolutions, it has far outgrown its origins. What’s at stake now is the very legitimacy of this regime — and the future of the entire Middle East.

A quibble: I think — I hope — that what’s at stake is the future of the regime.  I don’t think it has ever had any legitimacy.

Time to pick a side, Mr. President.  I don’t buy the idea that the Iranian protesters would somehow be undermined if Obama expresses support for democracy.  It may once have made pragmatic sense to try to make nice with the theocracy, but only because the regime’s power was unquestioned.  Now there’s an opposing force within the country.

Michael Ledeen, from yesterday:

I think that many pundits insist on thinking about the Iran-that-was-five-days-ago, instead of the bubbling cauldron that it is today.  The same mistake is repeated when people say that Mousavi, after all, is “one of them,” a member of the founding generation of the Islamic Republic, and so you can’t expect real change from him.  The president made that mistake when he said that he didn’t expect any real difference in Iran’s behavior, no matter how this drama plays out.

I think that is wrong;  at this point, Mousavi either brings down the Islamic Republic or he hangs. If he wins, and the Islamic Republic comes down, we may well see the whole world change, from an end of the theocratic fascist system, to a cutoff of money, arms, technology, training camps and intelligence to the world’s leading terrorist organizations, and yes, even to a termination of the nuclear weapons program.

I think that, whatever or whoever Mir Hossein Mousavi was five days ago, he is now the leader of a mass movement that demands the creation of a free Iran that will rejoin the Western world. And yes, the wheel could turn again, this revolution could one day be betrayed, all kinds of surprises no doubt await the Iranian people.  Yes, but.  But today, there is a dramatic chance of a very good thing happening in Iran, and thus in the Middle East, and therefore in the whole world.

Update — Rich Lowry today:

Obama says he wants to avoid stoking a nationalist backlash. A legitimate, but overblown, concern. Iranians surely can understand the difference between the U.S. sending CIA operatives into the country to help stage an anti-democratic coup — as Obama constantly reminds the world we did in the 1950s — and speaking up against repression. Without undue “meddling,” Obama could note that governments in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan honor election results, and exhort Iran to lead the democratic wave rather than resist it.

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)

Should Obama Take Sides in Iran?

Photo: Posterous.com

Photo: IranElection.Posterous.com

The question in the headline virtually answers itself. One side is a repressive, terror-sponsoring regime that has waged war against America, both directly and by proxy, since 1979.  The other side consists of hundreds of thousands of citizens whose democratic aspirations have been thwarted in a transparently stolen election, and whose peaceful assemblies have been attacked with governmental batons and guns. Decisions, decisions.

Set aside the fact that it was a sham election among clerically pre-approved candidates for a largely figurehead Presidency. Set aside the lack of resemblance between opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Thomas Jefferson. Mousavi might or might not have provided real change as President — but the Iranian people certainly thought they were voting for change.

Obama has said “it is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling — the US president, meddling in Iranian elections.”  You know, that whole Mosaddeq thing in ’53.  There’s a surface logic to that.


The Iranian regime has been a self-declared enemy of America for three decades. There now appears to be considerable popular Iranian sentiment for regime change.  There might once have been a tactical justification for Obama’s efforts to make nice with the regime… but the facts on the ground have changed.

No, I’m not saying we should go to war in Iran.  I’m saying that the leader of the world’s beacon of democracy should be able to muster a few words in support of the Iranian people and their hopes for a democratic future.

Contrast Obama’s expression of “deep concerns” with the forthright declarations of Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of… um… France:

“The extent of the fraud is proportional to the violent reaction,” said the French leader.

“It is a tragedy, but it is not negative to have a real opinion movement that tries to break its chains,” Sarkozy said.

“If Ahmadinejad has really made progress since the last election and if he really represents two thirds of the electorate… why has this violence erupted?”

I continue to hope that Obama will evolve beyond his campaign rhetoric regarding Iran, as he already has evolved so decisively regarding Iraq.  But first he’s going to need to get past his sense of shame at a CIA operation that occurred before he was born.

Iran Looms Large in Bush’s Third Term


Risking police violence in Tehran (Photo: mousavi1388)

I’ve said that regarding foreign affairs, Obama has been serving Bush’s third term.  It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but there’s plenty of substance behind the label.  So I find myself wondering how the Obama Administration’s response to the turmoil in Iran will compare with what Bush might have done in a third term.

Michael J. Totten calls out Obama:

Obama Administration officials still hope they can talk Khamenei out of developing nuclear weapons and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. This is delusion on stilts. Khamenei can’t even compromise with his own regime or his hand-picked presidential candidates. He placed them under house arrest, along with a Grand Ayatollah, and deployed thousands of violent enforcers into the streets. Not only does he confront the world, he is at war with his very own country. …

Military action against Iran should be the very last option and used only if everything short of it fails. Dialogue, though, is only the first option, one that has been failing for three decades. And there is a vast range of options between war and discussion.

I think Totten is right about the nature of the Khamenei regime, but I have two issues with his analysis.  I love the stilts metaphor, but I’m willing to give Obama some benefit of the doubt about whether he will change course in the face of changing reality.  He certainly changed course sharply in Iraq, which gives me hope that he’ll consider doing so in Iran.

And I by no means am advocating a hasty war in Iran, but I have an immediate strong reaction every time I hear words to the effect that war should be a last resort, only if all else fails.  There are always other options besides war.  There may be no good options, but passivity, appeasement and surrender, for example, are always options.  “Last resort” therefore becomes a euphemism for “never.”  Totten is on stronger ground when he says “there is a vast range of options between war and discussion,” and I hope to see Obama pursue some of those options for putting pressure on Iran.

The administration hasn’t taken a strong stand yet on the Iranian elections, although Vice President Biden has questioned the legitimacy of the results.  As Gordon Robison writes:

The Obama administration appears concerned mainly with not painting itself into any rhetorical corners. In a situation where events are fluid, and it is unclear even who all of the key players are, that seems, at least for now, like a good policy.

Bill Kristol issues a clarion call to Republicans who might be tempted to engage in Obama bashing:

Presuming ahead of time that Obama will fail to exercise leadership, and cataloguing this episode pre-emptively as another in a list of Obama failures, would be a mistake. The U.S. has a huge stake in the possible transformation, or at least reformation, of the Iranian regime. If there’s some chance of that happening, and some chance of U.S. policy contributing to that outcome, we should hope Obama does the right thing, and urge and pressure him to do so–because then the United States will be doing the right thing, and the United States, and the world, will benefit.

It’s still far too early to grade Obama’s performance on Iran.  I’m cautiously hopeful.  Hat tip for the Kristol and Robison quotes to Andrew Sullivan, who continues to be all over the developments in Iran.

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, TehranLive.org.