Across a broad swath of the political spectrum–including just about everyone, really, except the far Left, slavish Obamaphiles and the sinister Ron Paul–a consensus has developed that Barack Obama was wrong-footed by the Iranian election and the ensuing revolt in that country. True, Obama’s most devoted followers are still covering for him, like the Associated Press: “Obama holds to measured course on unrest in Iran.” But most Americans think that Obama has let us, and freedom-loving Iranians, down.
Charles Krauthammer issued the most stinging critique I’ve seen so far. You should read it all; here are a few excerpts:
Millions of Iranians take to the streets to defy a theocratic dictatorship that, among its other finer qualities, is a self-declared enemy of America and the tolerance and liberties it represents. The demonstrators are fighting on their own, but they await just a word that America is on their side.
And what do they hear from the president of the United States? Silence. Then, worse. Three days in, the president makes clear his policy: continued “dialogue” with their clerical masters. …
[T]his 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.
This revolution will end either as a Tiananmen (a hot Tiananmen with massive and bloody repression or a cold Tiananmen with a finer mix of brutality and co-optation) or as a true revolution that brings down the Islamic Republic.
The latter is improbable but, for the first time in 30 years, not impossible. Imagine the repercussions. It would mark a decisive blow to Islamist radicalism, of which Iran today is not just standard-bearer and model, but financier and arms supplier. It would do to Islamism what the collapse of the Soviet Union did to communism — leave it forever spent and discredited. …
All hangs in the balance. The Khamenei regime is deciding whether to do a Tiananmen. And what side is the Obama administration taking? None. …
Each new day brings reminders that it shouldn’t be difficult to choose between the thugs who rule Iran and their subjects. This video, filmed yesterday, shows radical militia beating up a woman protester:
It is interesting to consider why Obama is so hapless in this crisis, potentially the best opportunity for peace and progress in the Middle East for a generation. There are several possible explanations:
1) America is or has been evil, so it should do little or nothing in the world. This is a plausible theory that takes into account Obama’s friendship with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and his distressing tendency to apologize whenever he stands in front of a foreign audience. It may well be that Obama’s preferred version of America’s role in the world is one of sheer paralysis: inaction masquerading as virtue.
2) Obama is just a cautious guy who avoids risk at all costs. The most powerful support for this explanation comes from Obama’s conduct during the pirate hostage crisis off Somalia. Remember how he disappeared from public view, with his staffers announcing that he was receiving constant briefings, which led to no apparent action. Then, when Navy SEALS took matters into their own hands with a series of head shots, Obama was quick to claim credit for having authorized them, in some hazy manner, to shoot if they were so inclined. One could reasonably argue that Iran is the pirate “crisis” writ large. A variant of this theory is:
3) Obama has no idea what to do about Iran, and he knows it. Our President has always resembled Chance the gardener in Being There. It is easy to imagine that he is acutely aware that a few short years ago he was a State Senator in Illinois and that he is utterly unqualified to deal with matters as weighty as what is now transpiring in Iran. On this theory, his silence manifests an appropriate modesty. The problem with this hypothesis is that Obama has never exhibited modesty in any other context and, frankly, seems immune to the sentiment.
4) Obama is bold when it comes to domestic policy but considers anything that happens in a foreign country an unwelcome distraction. I think there is a lot of truth to this one. Obama is sort of the anti-Nixon. Nixon viewed the Presidency somewhat like a Risk player–the whole point was to manage his country’s foreign interests. Domestic policy–who cares? Install wage and price controls, establish affirmative action and the EPA, whatever. Obama is the opposite. We now know that he has an extraordinarily ambitious domestic agenda and wants to turn the U.S. into a European-type social democracy, or worse. On this theory, his incessant apologies for everything from treatment of the Indians to Guantanamo Bay are intended to buy time on the international front while he tends to business here at home. So the last thing he wants is a foreign crisis of any sort.
5) Obama can’t be in favor of democracy because Bush was for it. Are we getting to the heart of the matter here? Back in the days when I was a Democrat, supporting freedom fighters would have been a no-brainer. Now, though, pretty much every Democrat except Joe Lieberman is a “realist.” God only knows what a “realist” is, except that it involves believing fantastic claims, like that Barack Obama can talk the mullahs out of exporting terrorism and developing nuclear weapons. President Obama has tried on every occasion to distance himself publicly from President Bush’s policies (even when he has, nevertheless, quietly adopted them). Here, too, it is easy to imagine that Obama doesn’t want to sound like his predecessor, publicly endorsing democracy–even for Muslims! Obama’s supporters all know that he is much more sophisticated than President Bush. So how can he do anything as obvious–as Texan–some would say, as American–as taking the side of young women who are being brutalized by thugs? If Bush was in favor of democracy, Obama must incline a sympathetic ear toward Ayatollah Khamenei.
There we have it: five possible explanations for President Obama’s confusion vis-a-vis what is happening in Iran. It occurs to me that this could be a good poll. So, here it is:
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UPDATE: Thoughts on Obama’s Saturday press release here.