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Leadership, Obama and Iran

While I’ve been monitoring the upheaval in Iran, I’ve also been fascinated by the debate (and commentary) over what President Obama should or shouldn’t say about what is going on there.

Politico makes the point that the administration doesn’t want to become is part of the story. Consequently the State Department has been studying the situation, the White House was “monitoring” it and Obama had been silent. Finally, when the silence had become awkward, and other world leaders had spoken out, Obama finally commented:

“I am deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television,” Obama said Monday, more than two days after protests began to break out Saturday in Tehran. “I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent — all of those are universal values and need to be respected, and whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they are rightfully troubled.”

Not exactly the strongest statement in the world. Certainly better than silence, but not much.

You know, here’s a chance to show a little leadership, call on the ruling mullahs to do a careful investigation, invite in election monitors from around the world and have a run off so the world can see “the democratic process” actually works in Iran. Not that any of that would happen, but putting it out there as what should happen calls Iran’s hand, and puts pressure on the regime to respond.

Instead we get a statement that is more philosophical than practical, more general than specific. Something that can easily be waved away by Iran. Obama went on to say:

“I think it’s important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views,” he said.

Again, little of substance, carefully avoiding any condemnation or judgment concerning the events of the election. More talk about a process instead of the claimed irregularities.

The closest he got to actually criticizing the regime came when he talked about the desire to talk with Iran:

Obama reasserted a promise for “hard-headed diplomacy” with any Iranian regime and stressed that he wasn’t trying to dictate Iran’s internal politics, but he also expressed sympathy with the supporters of the opposition, describing “a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy, who now feel betrayed.”

Again, very nuanced, and, at least in my opinion, very weak. Certainly I appreciate the concerns about being perceived as “trying to dictate Iran’s internal politics”, but condemning violence, election irregularities and arrests don’t really do that, do they? And while he hits around those things, he never does, in fact, condemn them. He’s “troubled” by the violence, he’s “sympathetic” with the “opposition”, and he hopes that those with dissenting views won’t be “stifled”.

Meanwhile other world leaders have spoken out more forcefully and specificially:

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for an investigation of the election results, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said flatly that there were “signs of irregularities” in the results.

“Expressions of solidarity with those who are defending human rights, with students and others, are important,” former Czech President Vaclav Havel said Monday.

And Obama?

“We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran.”

Really? The US has been the “issue inside Iran” for 30+ years. It has been the “Great Satan” since the revolution. It can’t escape being the issue even when it remains silent.

Leaders who claim to represent democracy step up when a crisis dictates a strong response. Apparently Rahm Emanuel’s “never let a good crisis go to waste” only applies domestically in the Obama administration. With the hope of engaging who ever comes out on top in Iran, Obama is content to only give tepid support to those actually engaged in trying to establish democracy in Iran.

That’s not leadership. But it isn’t unexpected either.


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15 Responses to Leadership, Obama and Iran

  • Such a pathetic president.

  • Message from The Annointed One to the rest of the world:

    “If your government disenfranchises you, oppresses you, beats you, tortures you, or even guns you down in the streets, rest assured that the United States will be troubled by it. Hey, if things get bad enough for you, we may even be deeply troubled by it. And if things get really, really, REALLY rough, we may even ‘tut-tut’ to the officials of your government we meet for negotiations. Really. I swear. It’s the least we can do.”

    O’ course, as much fun as it is to mock TAO for his lilly-livered, weak-kneed, and altogether sore-p*ssy statement, there isn’t too much he can do. Should we send in the Marines? Waggle an admonitory finger at Tehran? Beg them to accept UN election observers? Hey! Why don’t we send Jimmuh over to put his seal of approval on the election results?!

    Personally, I’m for airdropping about a million rifles with ammo into the streets of Tehran and letting nature take its couse, but that’s just me.

  • Charles Krauthammer, December 12, 2008:

    Obama has no intention of being a foreign policy president. Unlike, say, Nixon or Reagan, he does not have aspirations abroad. He simply wants quiet on his eastern and western fronts so that he can proceed with what he really cares about — his domestic agenda.

    The reason Obama doesn’t say much is he doesn’t have much to say.  Meanwhile, the socialized medicine freight train, aided and abetted by the MSM, keeps on rolling.

  • Really? The US has been the “issue inside Iran” for 30+ years. It has been the “Great Satan” since the revolution. It can’t escape being the issue even when it remains silent.

    Exactly. We gain nothing of consequence by going easy on the ruling theocracy in Iran. They started the relationship with an act of war by taking the US Embassy, and have continued with actst that are arguably acts of war during our engagement in Iraq. The actions of the Iranian rulers in Iraq have led directly to dead American servicemen. We owe them nothing.

    I see no downside in Obama saying something along the lines of “We can’t determine the future for the Iranian people. That’s their job. But we have great sympathy for those dissidents attempting to move towards true democracy there, and we wish them well.”

  • The idea that there is an investigation going on is silly. The very people accused of rigging the election are doing the investigation.

    Is anyone holding their breath over what the results of this will be?

    • Yeah: all the “reporters” and anchors for all the major networks, the editors of the major papers, the boobs in the State Department, etc, etc. The rest of us, not so much.

  • “We gain nothing of consequence by going easy on the ruling theocracy in Iran.”
    I agree.  What’s more, we don’t really lose much (if anything) by condemning their actions.  What, the Iranian leadership may become upset and decide not to sit down with the USA and discuss the dismantling of their nuclear ambitions?
    This administration may be throwing away a great opportunity.  Civilian upheaval in Iran would look pretty good on Obama’s resume, IMO.  But it looks as if he’s willing to throw the Iranian people under the bus in the hopes of building a working relationship with a government that fervently wishes that we were all dead.

  • This is the problem with every political highwire act.  Eventually, something comes along and throws one off balance, and one must compensate or one falls.
    But it might be too early to gasp in horror and suspense.
    In addition, the Iranian opposition candidate Mousavi has not asked for America’s help and likely wouldn’t appreciate it.
    “The calculation here is this: We don’t want to become the story in Iranian politics,” said Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution analyst who led a White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. “The Ahmadinejad forces would love to turn this into the United States against the Islamic Republic and to make the opposition portrayed as the cat’s paw of American imperialism.”

    It’s only been a couple of days.  We don’t know what’s been said and done behind the scenes.

    The administration might be taking a well advised wait and see approach.  Having a lack of swagger and bravado that sometimes got the previous administration talking on the back of heels.
    Or, the current administration is hiding behind their desks.

    It might be too early to condemn this foreign policy philosophy for this particular situation.  A little time might well be afforded. 


    • That’s a defensible position. But I’d like to see you follow up by establishing your metric. What would you expect to see out of Obama that indicated he had thought this through and was acting on prudence rather than his innate leftist tendency to go easy on America’s ideological enemies? Is there any difference we could expect see in the future that would show such a difference?

  • But I’d like to see you follow up by establishing your metric. What would you expect to see out of Obama that indicated he had thought this through and was acting on prudence rather than his innate leftist tendency to go easy on America’s ideological enemies?
    Firstly, we’d have to establish a dichotomy of an, “innate leftist tendency to go easy on America’s ideological enemies.”
    After all, this is the America that overwhelmingly elected a “leftist” by your reckoning.  Then, I would have to recognize your assertion that is indeed a “leftist tendency to go easy on America’s ideological enemies.”
    I will not be painted into a corner, thank you very much.
    The only metric I would bestow, would be the one that recognized success or failure.  Whether by fate or fortune.
    That doesn’t mean I’m to sit around singing que sera sera.  But my position of it’s too early to tell, is my metric for the moment.  If conditions change, so might my metric.
    Sorry that I don’t have an answer like, “Obama should kick their ass.”  Or a, “Let’s all sing kumbaya.”  Or anything in between.
    It’s just too early for that nonsense.

    • I don’t see it as “nonsense”. You speak of succeeding or failing, and I had at least hoped to see what you thought success or failure looked like. Something along the lines of “Success: Theocracy overthrown. Failure: Business as usual. Partial success: Theocracy survives, but is significantly weakened and has to curtail supporting Hezbollah, et. al.”

      But Ok, no metric. That allows re-interpretation in the light of events, though, and thereby doesn’t say anything much about what you got right or wrong. I’m OK with that if you are.

  • We have negative credibility in Iran.  W was at -1000.  O is at -10.  Still in the red.  You do the math.

  • Isn’t this what George W Bush told you was going to happen in the Middle East? Maybe that’s why Barack Obama has so little apparent interest in finishing the job in Iran… no matter how much it benefits the US and free world. Anyone who expected him to act in the interests of the United States -rather than for his own political security- hasn’t taken a serious look at how Obama got this far in the first place.

  • Its very simple.

    If the Iranian hardliners are actually interested in negotiations about their nukees, Obama is wise to be muted. Because one reason they want them is fear of regime change, I would imagine.

    If the Iranian hardliners are not actually interested in negotitations about their nuke plans, then it makes little sense to support the hardliners.

    From the past few years experience, I would say Iranian hardliners and maybe even moderates are not interested in scrapping their nuke plans, but I could be wrong – we shall soon see.

  • Obama is not a leader, period.