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.
“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.
The Iranian government has started making moves to quell the protests that have arisen in the wake of the contested Iranian presidential election.
Move one was for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to meet with Mir Hussein Moussavi and agree to investigate his allegations of election irregularities. This will again provide the veneer of legitimacy when the “investigation” returns its verdict of minor irregularities but none serious enough to invalidate the election within 10 days.
In the meantime, Khamenei apparently got Moussavi to help stop the protests:
The protesters gathered in Tehran despite a government ban on further demonstrations, and at one point Mr. Moussavi apparently called off the rally. As originally planned, the rally was to begin at Tehran University and reach Azadi Square several miles away.
But it apparently never got under way.
The other reason has to do with what we talked about on the podcast last night. Most of the protests are coming from university student groups. Those groups have been thoroughly infiltrated by police informers. Last night, police moved on the information gathered:
Opposition Web sites reported that security forces raided a dormitory at Tehran University and 15 people were injured. Between 150 and 200 students were arrested overnight, by these accounts, but there was no immediate confirmation of the incident from the authorities. There were also reports of official action against students in the cities of Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.
In addition, leaders of the opposition were rounded up:
The opposition members arrested late Saturday and Sunday were from all the major factions opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad and included the brother of a former president, Mohammad Khatami, opposition Web sites reported. Some were released after several hours.
Meanwhile Ahmadinejhad wrote off the opposition protests as “unimportant” and likened them to disappointed soccer fans. He also invoked the external threat:
He suggested the accusations of fraud were the work of foreign agitators and journalists.
Classic police-state tactics, with a twist. For whatever reason the Iranian mullocracy finds it desirable to have at least the veneer of democratic legitimacy associated with their authoritarian rule. So they will go through this charade of an investigation in an attempt to maintain it. But if anyone thinks that the outcome will be any different than that announced previously by the Interior Ministry, there’s a well-known bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in buying.
After a lot of partisan “happy talk” about how the Obama administration is handling the economic crisis here, Paul Krugman goes on record saying the world is doomed to suffer Japan’s lost economic decade on a global scale.
The thing about Japan, as with all of these cases, is how much people claim to know what happened, without having any evidence. What we do know is that recessions normally end everywhere because the monetary authority cuts interest rates a lot, and that gets things moving. And what we know in Japan was that eventually they cut their interest rates to zero and that wasn’t enough. And, so far, although we made the cuts faster than they did and cut them all the way to zero, it isn’t enough. We’ve hit that lower bound the same as they did. Now, everything after that is more or less speculation.
For example, were the problems with the Japanese banks the core problem? There are some stories about credit rationing, but they are not overwhelming. Certainly, when we look at the Japanese recovery, there was not a great surge of business investment. There was primarily a surge of exports. But was fixing the banks central to export growth?
In their case, the problems had a lot to do with demography. That made them a natural capital exporter, from older savers, and also made it harder for them to have enough demand. They also had one hell of a bubble in the 1980s and the wreckage left behind by that bubble – in their case a highly leveraged corporate sector – was and is a drag on the economy.
The size of the shock to our systems is going to be much bigger than what happened to Japan in the 1990s. They never had a freefall in their economy – a period when GDP declined by 3%, 4%. It is by no means clear that the underlying differences in the structure of the situation are significant. What we do know is that the zero bound is real. We know that there are situations in which ordinary monetary policy loses all traction. And we know that we’re in one now.
Shorter Krugman, “we’re in new territory in terms of the size of the problem, but it is all eerily similar to what happened to Japan”. Unfortunately our reaction has been eerily similar to what Japan did as well.
Krugman’s bottom line:
WH: So, one way to think about it is that self-reinforcing financial crises rooted in overstretched, overborrowed companies and governments in less developed countries – like those in Argentina and Indonesia, which were amazingly destructive in the 1990s and 2000s, but localised – are now playing out in the developed world?
PK: There are really two stories. One is the Japan-type story where you run out of room to cut interest rates. And the other is the Indonesia- and Argentina-type story where everything falls apart because of balance-sheet problems.
WH: So in a nutshell your story is …
PK: The “Nipponisation” of the world economy with a bunch of “Argentinafications” playing a role in the acute crisis. But even after those are over, we have the Nipponisation of the world economy. And that’s really something.
And of course, implicit in the “Nipponisation” of the world economy is the “Nipponisation” of the US economy – something we’ve been talking about for some time. Now, add “cap and trade” and “health care reform” into the mix.
What will we be wishing we were suffering when that all kicks in, should it pass? Nipponisation, of course. As bad as lost decade or two might be, it would be heaven compared to the economic carnage those big tax and spend programs will inflict on a very weak economy here in the US. And that, of course, will ensure the “Nipponisation” of the world economy.
Seriously, if George Bush hadn’t existed, the left would have had to invent him in order to have someone to blame the world’s ills on. CBS has republished a piece by Laura Secor that ran in the New Republic and calls Ahmadenijhad Iran’s “George Bush”. (This on the heels of the Bonnie Erbe piece calling for right-wingers to be rounded up before they can hurt anyone.)
Secor’s comparisons are strained at best, and are a rather simple attempt to fit a very round peg in an extremely square hole (no mention of the mullah’s control, which, of course, completely kills the comparison). Apparently Secor pins her premise on this line:
Ahmadinejad has made a mess of the economy, clamped down on political dissent and social freedoms, militarized the state, and earned the enmity of much of the world.
And in Secor’s world, that essentially makes Ahmadinejhad and Bush twins.
Of course, not to be outdone, “conservative” Andrew Sullivan manages to find even more parallels to the Bush years. If you think Secor’s attempt is strained, you’ll howl when you read Sullivan’s:
Ahmadinejad’s bag of tricks is eerily like that of Karl Rove – the constant use of fear, the exploitation of religion, the demonization of liberals, the deployment of Potemkin symbolism like Sarah Palin.
As an interesting aside, an article mostly ignored by the left has a fairly interesting take on the Bush era in the middle east. And by none other than Thomas Friedman. Even though he can’t bring himself to describe what has happened in complimentary terms, he finds he must give some credit where credit is due:
There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”
In Benen’s piece today, he ends up calling Ari Fleisher a “shameless hack” (as if Benen has any room to call anyone else a “hack”) for essentially saying the very same thing Friedman said. Apparently, Benen and the left are content to believe in the fantasy that it was more likely the “Cairo speech” that determined the results in Lebanon and spurred the protest vote in Iran – because we all know that movements such as those are easily developed within a week of someone like Obama speaking.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss hate speech, Iran and North Korea.
There is no direct link to the podcast this week, since a number of technical difficulties intervened (thanks for kicking me off the phone twice, Verizon!). So, if you want to hear this one, you’ll need to get it from our Podcast page at BTR. There will be no RSS link this week, either.
The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
Steve Benen is “shocked, shocked I tell you”, that some on the right are trying to hang the Iranian election shambles on Obama. He entitles his post:
“WHEN IN DOUBT, BLAME OBAMA…”
Of course, for 8 years, Benen and company made a cottage industry of substituting the name “Bush” for “Obama” while doing the very same thing. Apparently that’s gone the way of an Alzheimer patient’s memory of breakfast and they’ve awakened in a new world which began on January 20th of this year.
It would be funny if it wasn’t so insufferably hypocritical.
Bonnie Erbe, writing at the CBS News blog site, has had it up to here with all the hate speech, and its inevitable consequences. So, she has a cunning plan.
If yesterday’s Holocaust Museum slaying of security guard and national hero Stephen Tyrone Johns is not a clarion call for banning hate speech, I don’t know what is…
Not only have we had three hate crime murders within the last two weeks (Mr. Johns, as noted above, Dr. George Tiller a week ago last Sunday, and Pvt. William Andrew Long by an American-born Muslim convert outside a recruiting station just before that.)…
It’s not enough to prosecute these murders as murders. They are hate-motivated crimes and each of these men had been under some sort of police surveillance prior to their actions. Isn’t it time we started rounding up promoters of hate before they kill?
Let’s call it “preventative detention”, or something equally innocuous. Let’s pretend that it isn’t a suggestion that is so totalitarian, and so horribly un-American, that Ms. Erbe should be ahsamed for having publicly presented such an evil proposal. You see, not being privy to the internal lives of my fellow citizens, I don’t know which of them will commit a crime, so I don’t feel comfortable imprisoning for the possible consequences of their thoughts.
Ms. Erbe, on the other hand, seems to have no such compunctions.
This is, by the way, where the logic of “hate crimes” inevitably takes you. Once you realize that prosecution for hate crimes doesn’t stop them, you move to prevent them by other, inevitably totalitarian–means. And, eventually, the definition of what becomes “hate speech” starts expanding.
And so, we’ve arrived now where a “responsible” journalist can now advocate opening up prisons to house those whose only “crime” is to hold insufficiently pure thoughts.
Michael Kinsley annoyed some people this week by suggesting that we replace our national anthem with some other, more singable tune. This subject comes up at least once per year, usually around either the Super Bowl or the World Series, when some new butchering of the song prompts the discussion. Personally, while I don’t agree with Kinsley’s reasoning, I favor the change.
Growing up a Philadelphia Flyers fan, I’ve always had a special affinity for “God Bless America” and often wondered why that tune wouldn’t be a better choice. And anyone who has ever heard Ray Charles sing “America the Beautiful” can be forgiven for thinking that this is our country’s anthem. Both are far representative of the nation than a song about one battle in Baltimore’s harbor.
So, I’m curious. Where do you all stand on the Star-Spangled Banner? Would you rather a different song, and if so, which one?
It’s kind of hard to protest an election in court when you’re in jail.
Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was reportedly arrested Saturday following the reformist’s defeat at the polls by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mousavi’s arrest was reported by an unofficial source, who said that the presidential contender had been arrested en route to the home of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
My guess – and that’s all it is – is this is a move to defuse the protests. It will also remove the last bit of the veneer from the belief that these were “free and open” elections. In some ways this makes Iran easier to deal with. There’s no longer any doubt that it is a totalitarian regime where no “robust debate” is taking place or possible.
Look – the fantasy that these were “free and open” elections was a sham to begin with. 475 people applied to run for the presidency. 4 were approved by the ruling mullahs. That should tell you all you need to know about this election. Even Mousavi had impeccable revolutionary credentials, or he wouldn’t have been one of the 4.
But the election appears to have taken an unexpected turn. It would seem those that voted for Mousavi and perhaps Mousavi himself, took it a little more seriously than the authorities expected. Supporters turned out in record shattering numbers (85% of eligible voters) to vote and simply aren’t buying this supposed “landslide” win the mullahs and IRG had put together to keep their guy in office.
Crude, certainly, but to be expected. Authoritarians don’t believe in the democratic process – never have. But they understand the power of popular approval – even if they have to fake it and fake it poorly.