If this is “for real” then let’s get real

Earlier this week, David Ignatius wrote a column in which he (a) gave President Obama credit for shaking up Iran’s mullahs and (b) argued that Obama is striking the right tone in his tepid comments about the Iranian uprising, on the theory that “millions of Muslims hunger for change — but they want to make it themselves.”

In a column called “This Is For Real,” Ignatius has now revised his position on both points. His current view is that “It’s time for [Obama] to express his solidarity with the Iranians who are so bravely taking to the streets each day.” And by noting a series of electoral setbacks for Muslim parties and their allies over the past several years, Ignatius implicitly acknowledges that it is not primarily Obama who is responsible for the “ferment” he detects in Iran and elsewhere in the Muslim world. This is a point I made when I wrote about Ignatius’ earlier Obama-fawning piece.

Ignatius deserves credit for revising his views, but he betrays his lingering confusion when he claims that Obama can “express his solidarity” with the Iranian protestors “without seeming to meddle” in Iranian affairs “if he chooses his words wisely.” As Ignatius observes, Obama has up until now spoken “carefully” about events in Iran. Yet the mullahs already say that he is meddling. If Obama moves away from his prior cautious rhetoric, the accusations of meddling will persist, but now would have merit.

Ignatius urges Obama to “cite from Iran’s own rich history of reform,” including the reforms of Cyrus the Great (539 BC) and the Iranian constitution of 1906. But to cite a tradition of reform is effectively to advocate reform, and to advocate reform is to “meddle.”

As I argued yesterday, this is one of those cases in which the choices are stark (not false) and the differences cannot be “wordsmithed” around. To pretend otherwise is wishful thinking of the worst kind.


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