Citing the present turmoil in Iran, David Ignatius argues that Barack Obama has shaken up the Muslim world to the point that the tide may be turning against jihad. Ignatius’ argument is built largely upon comments made to him by “U.S. intelligence officials.” It therefore stands mainly for the proposition that President Obama has some boosters within the intelligence community.
Had Ignatius been inclined to do a bit of independent research he might have discovered that the tide of Muslim opinion has been turning against jihad and its practitioners for some time. Explanations for this are not difficult to formulate. Jihad is, at root, an unattractive option, especially since these days it seems to entail suicide bombings that kill Muslim civilians. Moreover, times have been tough for jihadists, particularly in Iraq where they have been routed, due in part to the revulsion of local Muslim populations. This occurred pre-Obama, as the result, in part, of U.S. efforts that Obama opposed.
Turning specifically to Iran, it is foolish for Ignatius to suggest that the demonstrations in the streets have anything to do with Obama. Huge demonstrations by dissidents in the streets of Iran were common earlier in the decade; they ceased mainly because the government cracked down on them. They re-appeared because there was an election that seemed to offer an opportunity to oust Ahmadinejad and because the government permitted the demonstrations to take place. The demonstrations have continued, and become more militant, because the anti-Ahmadinejad “street” believes the election was fraudulent.
None of this has anything to do with President Obama, who has decided to be a bystander.
Ignatius addresses Obama’s reticence at the end of his piece when he praises the president’s unobtrusiveness and states that “millions of Muslims hunger for change — but they want to make it themselves.”
As Obama would say, this is a false choice. By speaking up in favor of the dissidents and against the Iranian regime Obama would not be displacing the dissents as agents of change, he would simply be providing them a boost. Ignatius cites no evidence (not even a statement from an “intelligence official”) that the millions of Muslims who hunger for change wouldn’t welcome less “unobtrusive” support from Obama than the mostly silent treatment they are getting.
JOHN adds: It is rather ludicrous to suggest that anything Obama has done in the last five months has somehow generated an appetite for freedom in Iran. It is not at all foolish, however, to suppose that President Bush’s belief that Arabs, like other peoples [UPDATE: e.g., non-Arab Muslims like the Iranians], deserve to be free and his policy of promoting democracy where possible, most notably in next-door Iraq, had a great deal to do with Iranians’ conviction that they, too, can hope to be free.