In the wake of President Obama’s presser yesterday, Walter Shapiro makes an observation:
Now I am not going to claim that the First Amendment requires presidents always to wear smiley faces when taking questions from reporters. Nor am I going to deny that occasionally – very occasionally – the short-term mindset of the press pack can be irritating for presidents with a more transcendent view of global events.
Instead, I am bringing this up because I want to tentatively advance a larger theory about the president’s public moods. Obama tends to drop his cool veneer and sound exasperated when he knows that he is in the wrong.
When it comes to Iran, Obama has at times spoken in particularly mealy mouthed fashion because he is fearful (as he has repeatedly explained) that his words could be hijacked by the Iranian theocrats. Even during Tuesday’s press conference, Obama ducked condemning the Iranian election as totally fraudulent by carefully saying, “We didn’t have international observers on the ground. We can’t say definitely what happened at polling places throughout the country.” Obama – who more than most leaders understands the power of inspirational rhetoric – has been forced to keep his most potent weapon (his moral outrage) sheathed through most of the Iranian crisis.
It’s kind of ironic isn’t it? The man whose primary political resource is his rhetorical abilities is rendered essentially speechless when it is only speech which is required to stand strongly by Iranians fighting for their freedom and rights and condemn their oppressors.
But let a CEO get a bonus he doesn’t like and he can muster both anger and eloquence.
Truly a strange world we live in.
Shades of the Chicoms and Saddam Hussein.
A protester is shot dead in Iran. His father learns of his death:
Upon learning of his son’s death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a “bullet fee”—a fee for the bullet used by security forces—before taking the body back, relatives said.
But we don’t want to be the “foil” so we’ll withold saying anything that might be misinterpreted. Well, except this:
But privately Obama advisers are crediting his Cairo speech for inspiring the protesters, especially the young ones, who are now posing the most direct challenge to the republic’s Islamic authority in its 30-year history.
Ed Morrisey calls this “despicable”. I say he’s being very understated in his criticism.
Pass the hot dogs.
The political fallout within Iran of the protests against the regime and the election seems to be pretty dramatic. For the first time in 30 years, the mullahs who actually run the place are split and are looking closely at their method of ruling the country and considering what they would see as some rather drastic modifications.
One thing that some of the mullahs are unhappy with (finally) is the power concentrated in the position of “supreme leader”.
Iran’s religious clerics in Qom and members of the Assembly of Experts, headed by Ayatollah Rafsanjani, are mulling the formation of an alternative collective leadership to replace that of the supreme leader, sources in Qom told Al Arabiya on condition of anonymity.
As mentioned before, the Assembly of Experts has the power to remove both the president of the country and the “supreme leader”. Rafsanjani has been at loggerheads with the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. 5 members of Rafsanjani’s family were arrested (and later released) during last week’s protests.
Members of the assembly are reportedly considering forming a collective ruling body and scrapping the model of Ayatollah Khomeini as a way out of the civil crisis that has engulfed Tehran in a series of protests,
The discussions have taken place in a series of secret meetings convened in the holy city of Qom and included Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq.
Serious stuff. And again, going back to what I mentioned in another post, a very large crack in the foundation of “divine authority” the regime is supposed to have.
The reformist clerics are calling for the protesters who’ve been arrested to be released as well. They claim that will help ease tensions. My guess is it will refuel the protests. No word on the clamp down on the media or the internet.
A couple of interesting quotes from protesters:
“The robocops beat us up badly,” one protestor told AFP. “Men and women were beaten up…. My whole body is bruised…. They confiscated my camera.”
Another witness said: “Lots of guards on motorbikes closed in on us and beat us brutally. “As we were running away the Basiji were waiting in side alleys with batons, but people opened their doors to us trapped in alleys.”
According to statements posted by witnesses on the social networking site Facebook, foreign embassies even opened the doors to injured protesters, among them the Danish embassy. The report was not confirmed by the Danish foreign ministry.
Meanwhile, in the US, the phrase of the day is “pass the hotdogs”.
He sets it up with these observations:
1. There is nothing at all that any Western country can do to avoid the charge of intervening in Iran’s foreign affairs. The deep belief that everything—especially anything in English—is already and by definition an intervention is part of the very identity and ideology of the theocracy.
2. It is a mistake to assume that the ayatollahs, cynical and corrupt as they may be, are acting rationally. They are frequently in the grip of archaic beliefs and fears that would make a stupefied medieval European peasant seem mentally sturdy and resourceful by comparison.
3. The tendency of outside media to check the temperature of the clerics, rather than consult the writers and poets of the country, shows our own cultural backwardness in regrettably sharp relief. Anyone who had been reading Pezeshkzad and Nafisi, or talking to their students and readers in Tabriz and Esfahan and Mashad, would have been able to avoid the awful embarrassment by which everything that has occurred on the streets of Iran during recent days has come as one surprise after another to most of our uncultured “experts.”
And he brings it home with this:
That last observation also applies to the Obama administration. Want to take a noninterventionist position? All right, then, take a noninterventionist position. This would mean not referring to Khamenei in fawning tones as the supreme leader and not calling Iran itself by the tyrannical title of “the Islamic republic.” But be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed. [emphasis mine].
For those of you who continue to miss this point, there it is, perfectly stated.
And, for those who find “hot dogs on the 4th” still acceptable for members of a regime presently engaged in viciously and murderously silencing their own people, one has to assume you believe in rewarding bad behavior by pretending it hasn’t happened. That’s not “diplomacy”, that’s simply an abysmally poor choice that signals weakness.
There have probably been moments where I’ve been more disgusted with my country’s leadership, but I’m having great difficulty bringing them to mind. Somehow, having repressive and murderous regimes over for lunch clouds my memory of indiscretions gone by:
The United States said Monday its invitations were still standing for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 celebrations at US embassies despite the crackdown on opposition supporters.
President Barack Obama’s administration said earlier this month it would invite Iran to US embassy barbecues for the national holiday for the first time since the two nations severed relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“There’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.
“We have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran,” Kelly said. “We tried many years of isolation, and we’re pursuing a different path now.”
The only thing I can think to say is, how dare you?
How dare the representatives of a country founded on freedom from tyranny and the principles of inalienable rights not give any thought — no thought whatsoever — to reexamining its invitation to theocratic sponsors of terrorism who violently deny their own people access to any say in how their lives are governed?
How dare the supposed leader of the free world not ponder, even for a moment, that perhaps treating thuggish dictators as legitimate state actors, on our nation’s birthday no less, might be sending the wrong signal?
How dare the supreme ambassadors of everything we hold dear as a country extend anything more than a single, firmly-flexed digit in the direction of a bully state that clearly has no business pretending to represent the interests of its citizens?
President Obama, how dare you slap your own countrymen in the face with such a rude and thoughtless gesture?
How dare you forgo “thought” on the matter; aren’t you supposed to be the intellectual president … y’know, The One who thinks about things?
I can only hope that our government hasn’t become so comfortable with its own power-grabbing that it fails to recognize blatant state repression when it’s invited over for hot dogs and fireworks.
It’s one thing to hold one’s tongue, or to speak in moderate tones when addressing momentous historical events as they unfold. It’s entirely another thing altogether to look tyranny in the face and smile as you invite it into your home. Even more significantly, our duly elected representative to the world is doing all this on the day to commemorate the culmination of the blood, sweat and tears our forefathers spent in casting off the yolk of dictatorial control so that we might have a nation of laws, and freedom to pursue our own individual happiness — freedoms that our “guests” routinely spit upon. President Obama should be ashamed.
[HT: Hot Air]
UPDATE: Bruce helpfully makes the point I was trying to get at above, but somehow failed to include in my rant:
And, for those who find “hot dogs on the 4th” still acceptable for members of a regime presently engaged in viciously and murderously silencing their own people, on has to assume you believe in rewarding bad behavior by pretending it hasn’t happened. That’s not “diplomacy”, that’s simply an abysmally poor choice that signals weakness.
Obviously we’ve coddled repressive regimes before, to our and their people’s detriment, but I’m not trying to suggest that we simply disengage from any discussions whatsoever. There are times and places for diplomatic discussion, even with tyrannical governments such as Iran’s. While that regime is busy slaughtering peaceful protesters and on a national holiday celebrating our hard-won freedoms is not such a time.
Frankly, that’s precisely what’s going on with the developing situation in Iran. Our President is both inexperienced and naive, and in the world of foreign relations, that can be a fatal mix.
As I pointed out about Gitmo below, the president hadn’t done his homework when he announced his pre-election decision to close the prison there. And, as mentioned, his decision has been a fiasco.
Iran is the same sort of problem for him. He announced a policy of engagement as though nothing of the sort had ever been put forward before. And, in so announcing his policy, he apparently didn’t understand or chose to overlook the fact that two of the regimes about which he spoke (Iran and NoKo) had absolutely no real desire to engage him.
Part of the problem is Obama believes the hubris about his abilities. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime doesn’t and has no real reason or necessity to actually engage him. Professor Faoud Ajami takes Obama to task over his performance so far:
Mr. Obama may believe that his offer to Iran is a break with a hard-line American policy. But nothing could be further from the truth. In 1989, in his inaugural, George H.W. Bush extended an offer to Iran: “Good will begets good will,” he said. A decade later, in a typically Clintonian spirit of penance and contrition, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came forth with a full apology for America’s role in the 1953 coup that ousted nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.
Iran’s rulers scoffed. They had inherited a world, and they were in no need of opening it to outsiders. They were able to fly under the radar. Selective, targeted deeds of terror, and oil income, enabled them to hold their regime intact. There is a Persian pride and a Persian solitude, and the impact of three decades of zeal and indoctrination. The drama of Barack Obama’s election was not an affair of Iran.
Obama obviously thinks more of his abilities to persuade than are proven on the world stage. Again hubris. The magic “Cairo speech” which is assumed to have done in a week or so what wasn’t possible for decades in the region:
That ambivalence at the heart of the Obama diplomacy about freedom has not served American policy well in this crisis. We had tried to “cheat” — an opening to the regime with an obligatory wink to those who took to the streets appalled by their rulers’ cynicism and utter disregard for their people’s intelligence and common sense — and we were caught at it. Mr. Obama’s statement that “the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as had been advertised” put on cruel display the administration’s incoherence. For once, there was an acknowledgment by this young president of history’s burden: “Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons.” No Wilsonianism on offer here.
Mr. Obama will have to acknowledge the “foreignness” of foreign lands. His breezy self-assurance has been put on notice. The Obama administration believed its own rhetoric that the pro-Western March 14 coalition in Lebanon had ridden Mr. Obama’s coattails to an electoral victory. (It had given every indication that it expected similar vindication in Iran.)
But the claim about Lebanon was hollow and reflected little understanding of the forces at play in Lebanon’s politics. That contest was settled by Lebanese rules, and by the push and pull of Saudi and Syrian and Iranian interests in Lebanon.
Mr. Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo did not reshape the Islamic landscape. I was in Saudi Arabia when Mr. Obama traveled to Riyadh and Cairo. The earth did not move, life went on as usual. There were countless people puzzled by the presumption of the entire exercise, an outsider walking into sacred matters of their faith.
As someone said, it’s 3am and Obama is continuing to hit the snooze button. He needs to learn very quickly, and especially when it comes to foreign affairs, that you can’t vote “present” when you’re the President of the United States.
I believe the answer is “yes”. It has to do with the breaking of the aura of divine authority coming from the ruling mullahs and casting doubt, among the people, on the belief that the theocracy is divinely sanctioned.
Fareed Zakaria offers an excellent summary of the point:
CNN: Do you mean you think the regime will fall?
Zakaria: No, I don’t mean the Iranian regime will fall soon. It may — I certainly hope it will — but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. I mean that this is the end of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian regime.
The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists had divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea was at its heart. Last week, that ideology suffered a fatal wound.
CNN: How so?
Zakaria: When the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment,” he was indicating it was divinely sanctioned. But no one bought it. He was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran’s supreme constitutional body, met with the candidates and promised to investigate and perhaps recount some votes. Khamenei has subsequently hardened his position but that is now irrelevant. Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today — legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.
CNN: There have been protests in Iran before. What makes this different?
Zakaria: In the past the protests were always the street against the state, and the clerics all sided with the state. When the reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, was in power, he entertained the possibility of siding with the street, but eventually stuck with the establishment. The street and state are at odds again but this time the clerics are divided. Khatami has openly sided with the challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, as has the reformist Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. So has Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament and a man with strong family connections to the highest levels of the religious hierarchy. Behind the scenes, the former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of the Assembly of Experts, another important constitutional body, is waging a campaign against Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader himself. If senior clerics dispute Khamenei’s divine assessment and argue that the Guardian Council is wrong, it is a death blow to the basic premise behind the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is as if a senior Soviet leader had said in 1980 that Karl Marx was not the right guide to economic policy.
Once the genie is out of the bottle in this sort of a situation it is pretty much impossible to get it back in. The split among the mullahs, who have, in the past, always sided with the regime, is a critical point. Someone comes out of this being declared “wrong” (whether they actually are or not). And the split will remain even of those declared “wrong” are replaced. As Zakaria points out, the very fact that some mullahs have acknowledged that there may be some credibility to the charges of vote fraud and are willing to investigate it is a huge blow to the legitimacy of “divine authority” (which originally supposed “approved” this election), the power of the mullahs and Ahmadinejhad.
I agree with Zakaria that it is indeed a mortal blow to the basic premise behind Iran’s government. How long it will take for that blow to finally kill the regime is, as of yet undetermined. But I think the assumption that it is merely a matter of time is basically correct.
Certainly the regime may muster the force necessary to put the protests down at this moment. But the powder keg will remain, just waiting for the proper detonator event to blow it sky high. I don’t think these protests are going to stop any time soon. And at some point, if the protesters keep the pressure on, the tide is going to begin to turn. The ability of the regime to muster the will and the thugs to do this over and over again is, at some point, going to fail.
It always does.
My question is, will whatever government eventually takes the helm there see the US as a supportive ally in their quest for freedom or a country that sat on the sideline, mouthing platitudes and trying to keep their options open with the oppressive regime now gone (on this particular question, Fareed Zakaria and I seem to disagree)?
That seems to be the outcome based on the limited information about today’s events in Iran that has trickled out to the West.
Reports seem to indicate that police and pro-government militias deployed early and in great numbers to block access to the public squares where planned demonstrations were to be held. Limiting access and turning back would-be protesters seems to have taken the impetus away from the protesting groups. Additionally, given the warning issued to opposition leaders contending they’d be held personally responsible for any bloodshed as a result of protests, those that attempted to gather we’re seemingly leaderless (Mousavi officially canceled protest rallies for today).
As an added measure, the government took down cell phone service in the areas in which the protests were planned.
It appears, for the most part, that regime chose to avoid the spectacle of a bloody shootout with protesters opting to drown the protests through the use of water cannon and tear gas instead. The tactic of intercepting protesters, piece-meal, as they approached Tehran’s “Revolution Square” and other announced protest sites and driving them away in small groups seems to have successfully dispersed them and prevented them from massing, at least for today.
The only mention of numbers I could find was in a Fox News report which said police battled a crowd of 3,000 in Revolution Square. Far below what was hoped for by the opposition I’m sure. Also included in that Fox News article was a report that 50 to 60 protesters had been badly beaten by police and pro-government militia (the “Basij”- if you’re unfamiliar with them, read this – more here.) and taken to a local hospital.
CNN reports that the government is saying 7 have died in the protests, Amnesty International puts the number at 15 while another source is saying 32.
Indications are the government isn’t going to act with restraint forever (although they clearly understand the world is watching):
“We acted with leniency but I think from today on, we should resume law and confront more seriously,” General Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam said on state television. “The events have become exhausting, bothersome and intolerable. I want them to take the police cautions seriously because we will definitely show a serious confrontation against those who violate rules.”
It seems obvious the regime is very wary about a brutal repression of the protests, but seem to be signaling their patience isn’t infinite.
That leaves the ball in the protesters court. Do they continue to try to rally protests and ignore the government ban? Further protests will either call the regime’s bluff or force them to turn to brutality. The hope then has to be that such an act would inspire even more massive protests, leading to, at a minimum, a change of leadership.
We’ll have to see what Sunday brings and whether the protesters can figure out a way to get around the tactics the government has deployed.
The lines are drawn. “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made it pretty clear where he stands on this “democratic” election:
“Nothing can be changed. The presidential campaign is finished,” he declared.
Meanwhile, here, the mealy-mouthed and fearful “support” from the President remains an embarrassment.
UPDATE: Speaking of the president – his latest:
The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.
Martin Luther King once said – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.
For once, Joe Biden was right – he prophesied that within 6 months of taking office Barack Obama would be tested on the world stage.
Well, we’re a bit early, but thus for his performance has been underwhelming as it pertains to Iran. Even Biden and Hillary Clinton want to see a stronger response.
Instead we got silence, then a mealy-mouthed response and recently a bit stronger but still using language that vaguely supports the Iranian regime.
Today the House and Senate passed resolutions concerning Iran.
The Senate version “”condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones.”
It seems the House version now sounds like the Senate version, because apparently the White House was not pleased with the original version of the House resolution (it was too strongly worded for their taste), and helped the House “tone down” the resolution. Robert Gibbs then said the resolutions were consistent with the administration.
“We made it clear that we didn’t want to make the U.S. a foil in a debate that has nothing to do with us,” a senior administration told me this morning. “This is a debate among Iranians.”
The dangerous naivete? The belief that a totalitarian regime that has made the US their “foil” for 30 years wouldn’t do it at the drop of a hat when there was trouble?
And guess what? They have.
So the US has silenced itself based on the false presumption that Iran would only blame them for meddling if we said something.
Naive. Dangerous. And a sure way to loose any moral leverage in any future negotiations should the regime survive tomorrow.
We may be getting ready to see a repressive regime underestimating the power of the people or we may be on the cusp of another Tiananmen Square.
Ayatollah Khamenei didn’t budge an inch in his speech today:
Addressing Friday prayers at Tehran University, the bearded septuagenarian offered no concessions to the millions of irate Iranians who have taken to the streets this week. Instead he issued an unmistakable warning to Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated candidates.
“Those politicans who have influence on people should be very careful about their behaviour if they act in an extremist manner,” he said. “This extremism will reach a level which they will not be able to contain. They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos.”
“The Supreme Leader has drawn a line in the sand, and he has the muscle to back it up,” one Iranian analyst said. “His speech was a polite way of saying ‘Hey – there’s a coup and we’re in charge.’ It was an absolute declaration of power.”
Indeed it was. And Fox just had a correspondent on now in Tehran who has been seeing armed militias setting up at all the key intersections in the city.
Ayatollah Khamenei demanded the demonstrations stop. “I want to tell everyone these things must finish. These street actions are being done to put pressure on leaders but we will not bow in front of them,” he said. “I call on all to put an end to this method…If they don’t they will be held responsible for the consequences and chaos.”
“Consequences and chaos” seems a pretty clear indication that Khamenei plans on taking action of some type should the planned protests materialize tomorrow.
And the opposition?
But protestors said they would attend today’s rally come what may. “If the crowd is large enough there’s nothing they can do,” Bahrooz, an engineer, said. “If they start killing people that would bring about the fall of the regime.”
“All my friends are coming and they’re bringing their families,” Taraneh, an office worker, said. ”How many people can they arrest or kill?”
Brave words. Courageous intent. I wish them well and pray for their success.
But the bottom line is the guy who presently enjoys the monopoly on the use of force in that country has, in a somewhat nuanced way, announced he’s willing to use it.
But then the protester has a point as well. I believe we’re going to see a violent crackdown. The question then is do those who will have to inflict the violence upon the protesters have the will to see it through to completion – completion being killing and/or arresting enough protesters necessary to completely gut the protest movement.
I’m not sure, but I’m afraid we’re going to find out.