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.
Michale Barone, observing the Obama presidency as it unfolds, has penned his own “Three Rules of Obama”.
First, Obama likes to execute long-range strategies but suffers from cognitive dissonance when new facts render them inappropriate.
Barone cites Obama’s long range strategy of conciliatory diplomacy with the likes of Iran and North Korea being “undercut by North Korea’s missile launches and demonstrations in Iran against the mullah regime’s apparent election fraud.”
His assumption that friendly words could melt the hearts of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been refuted by events. He limits himself to expressing “deep concern” about the election in the almost surely vain hope of persuading the mullahs to abandon their drive for nuclear weapons, while he misses his chance to encourage the one result — regime change — that could protect us and our allies from Iranian attack.
Obama apologist continue to insist his policy of “restraint” is the right course. Events and history seem to argue otherwise. Bottom line: not very agile when his presumptions are shattered.
Second, he does not seem to care much about the details of policy.
The “closing” of Guantanamo is perhaps the perfect example. Obviously politically satisfying at the time it was announced, its execution has been an absolute fiasco. None of the underlying problems of closing the prison had apparently been researched or considered when the promise was made.
And that’s not the only example:
He subcontracted the stimulus package to congressional appropriators, the cap-and-trade legislation to Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, and his health care program to Max Baucus. The result is incoherent public policy: indefensible pork barrel projects, a carbon emissions bill that doesn’t limit carbon emissions from politically connected industries, and a health care program priced by the Congressional Budget Office at a fiscally unfeasible $1,600,000,000,000.
Obama sees himself as the grand vision guy and it is up to his minions to put his vision together. Of course, that sort of outsourcing is bound to come up against competing agendas. He doesn’t seem to take that into account, apparently doesn’t do the necessary work to assure his version of his agenda is the dominant one and the result is chaos. Bottom line: his legislative and executive inexperience is the worst enemy of his aggressive agenda.
Third, he does business Chicago-style.
“Transparency” and “openness” are now just a words as he and his administration begin to insist on more and more executive privilege. And there’s also the example of the IG mess, not to mention the stories of threats and intimidation toward auto company bond holders and banks.
From Chicago he brings the assumption that there will always be a bounteous private sector that can be plundered endlessly on behalf of political favorites.
Just ask the UAW (and other unions) and ACORN. And Barone uses precisely the right word here – plunder. All of his grand plans are based on plundering the rich and redistributing the spoils to favorites. A more destructive presidency is hard to imagine.
Hope and change.
Jim Lindgren at The Volokh Conspiracy says the White House is backing off of the promises Barack Obama made in his speech to the AMA.
You remember the promises:
If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.
Where I come from those sound like pretty straight-foward promises, wouldn’t you say? But Lindgren cites Mike Gonzales at the Heritage Foundation:
Less than 24 hours after Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner questioned the veracity of President Obama’s persistent claim that, under his health care proposals, “if you like your insurance package you can keep it”, the White House has begun to walk the President’s claim back. Turns out he didn’t really mean it.
According to the Associated Press, “White House officials suggest the president’s rhetoric shouldn’t be taken literally: What Obama really means is that government isn’t about to barge in and force people to change insurance.” How’s that for change you can believe in?
Depending on how the public plan is designed in Congress, millions of Americans would lose their existing coverage. By opening the public plan to all employees and using Medicare rates, the Lewin Group, a nationally prominent econometrics firm, has said that the public plan could result in 119.1 million Americans being transitioned out of private coverage, including employer based coverage, into a public plan. With employers making the key decision, millions of Americans could lose their private coverage, regardless of their personal preferences in this matter.
So the public plan will see those who have health care plans they like (and doctors) at the mercy of a distorted market (distorted by government intrusion and artificial pricing) which will see employers dump coverage of the present health care plans in favor of the public plan. How such a plan “fixes” anything remains a mystery.
However, for the record Lingren reformulates the Obama “promises”:
When Obama said he “will keep this promise”:
If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period.
he actually meant:
If you like your doctor, many of you will NOT be able to keep your doctor. Period.
And when Obama said he “will keep this promise”:
If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.
Obama really meant:
If you like your health care plan, many – perhaps most – of you will NOT be able to keep your health care plan. Period. Someone – perhaps your employer – may take it away. It all depends on how things work out.
Hope and change.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Letterman/Palin controversy, and the situation in Iran.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
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.
If ever there was a text book example of a false premise wrapped in an absurd ‘moral’ analogy, Glenn Smith at Firedoglake provides it:
The gravity of America’s health care crisis is the moral equivalent of the 19th Century’s bloody conflict over slavery. This is not hyperbole, though the truth of it is often lost in abstract talk of insurance company profits, treatment costs, and other cold, inhuman analyses.
Today’s health system condemns 50 million Americans to ill health and death while guaranteeing health care to the economic privileged. It cannot stand.
About 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance. That’s more than a third the number of lives lost in battle during each year of the four-year Civil War.
Heh … you have to love the attempt to wave off this hyperbole by simply declaring it isn’t hyperbole. But I would hope that it is evident to any rational thinker that the attempt here is to equate those who resist the intrusion of government into the realm of health to those who fought to retain the institution of slavery.
This is, instead, a plain old rant against capitalism and the free market cloaked in this absurd moral equivalence Smith invents. Seeing the liberal goal of government run health care being battered by real world realities, he’s decided he has to turbo-charge his argument for such change by defining down the horror of slavery in order to find a moral equivalence he can use as a bludgeon on the dissenters.
Don’t believe me? How about this:
Members of Congress without the moral clarity to recognize this equivalence will be condemned by history. Their spinelessness and lack of will when confronted with the power of the insurance industry is just as morally bankrupt as the American congressmen who bowed to Southern slave-owners.
The morally compromising efforts to pass health care reform that insurance companies might like is as insane as the compromises over slavery.
The health insurance industry earns its profits from the denial of coverage and benefits. It’s not so different from the Southern plantation owners who earned their profit from slave labor. The latter had their economic justifications for their immorality. So do the insurance companies.
Of course, this sort of nonsensical thinking muddles important concepts that underlie the inalienable rights of man. Slavery was a violation of man’s right to his own life. Health care insurance is nothing more than a tool that helps pay for a person’s health care. Health care is not “unavailable” to those who don’t have it. More importantly, health care is not a right.
Whereas slave owners physically denied slaves the freedom to pursue their lives, insurance companies do not stop anyone from pursuing their own health care.
But – they have to pay for it because it entails the use of the time, abilities and services of others. That is what people like Smith really object too. Read the nonsense in the paragraph above and that’s clear. And, as many extremists like to do (like those who claim, for instance, that those who don’t agree on AGW are akin to Holocaust deniers), he chooses the most inflammatory but false “moral” example he can choose to demonize his opposition, counting on the dearth of critical thinking these days to win their point.
Unfortunately, it is more successful than I’d like to admit, which is why it is important to refute it immediately when it crops up.
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.