Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Iran, Politics — Rick Moran @ 11:58 am

I’m with Jonathan Chait on this:

President Obama has taken a cautious tone toward the demonstrators in Iran, with his stated reason being that more open support would discredit their cause. This strikes me as a sensible position. The revealed preferences of both sides suggest a mutual belief that an American embrace would hurt the protestors. The regime is trying (so far, without much success) to tie the demonstrators to the U.S., and the demonstrators are embracing the symbolism of the Iranian revolution (the color green, chants of “Alluah Akbar,” and so on) in order to demonstrate their patriotism and mainstream cultural status.

Still, this kind of judgment about an unfamiliar country’s internal politics is just a guess, and it’s a rebuttable proposition. What’s remarkable to me is that those on the other side refuses to rebut it. Today’s Washington Post op-ed page has two more columns lambasting Obama for failing to embrace the demonstrators. Today’s offerings are by Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz. Neither one of them even mentions, let alone answers, Obama’s argument for why embracing the demonstrators would be counterproductive.

I don’t understand how you could write a column without ever once addressing the primary argument for the proposition you’re arguing against. The low quality of argument on this topic from the right is striking.

President Obama has had a horrid foreign policy so far in my opinion; weak, naive, too eager to engage enemies and push away from friends (Great Britain). He has done some things that needed to be done such as changing our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I have applauded his attempt to explain America to the Muslim world. (His Russia and China policies - vital for the future - have not really taken shape although he seems to have made a good beginning).

But when it comes to Iran, I think Obama - after an inexplicable delay - has got our response to the upheaval there just about right. And when smart guys like Krauthammer and Wolfowitz take him to task for not “standing up” for the demonstrators without once mentioning the unique and painful history of US-Iran relations, it makes me believe that those two gentlemen were attacking the president for the sake of expediency rather than critiquing a policy choice.

Wolfowitz especially should know better. In his op-ed, he writes of Reagan’s initial response to the electoral fraud of Ferdinand Marcos in stealing the election in 1986. It was mild and congratulated the Philippine people for the election while expressing concern about fraud being committed by perhaps both sides:

At the time, I was working for Secretary of State George Shultz as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and I shared Shultz’s dismay at the president’s comments. For more than two years, with the president’s support, we had carefully pressed Marcos for reform. Reagan himself once cited Lord Acton’s famous dictum, that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” while speaking of Marcos. Nevertheless Reagan’s unfortunate comment about fraud on “both sides” threatened to put the United States on the wrong side at a critical moment.

Fortunately, Shultz managed to convince the president that he had made a serious mistake. On Feb. 15, the White House issued a new statement: “The elections were marred by widespread fraud and violence perpetrated largely by the ruling party.” The following day, Marcos and Aquino each claimed victory. On Feb. 22, when Marcos ordered the arrest of two key reformers, as many as a million Filipinos poured into EDSA Square in Manila to block the arrests in a dramatic demonstration of “people power.”

The difference between Iran and the Philippines is night and day. Wolfowitz even acknowledges that not every situation is analogous to Iran but this is an especially broad reach. The two governments could hardly have been closer and the people - despite a checkered colonial past - were generally favorably disposed toward the American government.

Contrast that with the hostility between Washington and Tehran. And the Iranian people, while liking the country of America, hold no feelings of affection for our government. It cost us nothing to side with the Philippine people in their “Yellow Power” revolution nor did it undermine Aquino’s efforts at overturning the result of the election to have America on her side. Again, contrasting that with the situation in Iran, our strong support for the reformers in the streets would probably make a crackdown even more likely given the clinical paranoia of the Iranian regime. These guys see CIA agents under their beds and it wouldn’t be a much of a leap of illogic for them to connect Obama’s words of encouragement for the street protestors to actual collusion with our intelligence people.

It would be hard to find a more non-similar historical analogy to Iran but Wolfowitz managed to do so by trying to draw a parallel with the Soviet coup in 1991 that saw Gorbachev under house arrest and Yeltsin - then a fresh face in the Russian parliament - standing on a tank outside of the parliament building calling on the plotters to release the Soviet premier. Again, it cost us virtually nothing to support the demonstrators and it may have even helped get Gorbachev released. There, we had real leverage unlike in Iran where we have none.

Krauthammer’s piece is mostly a political attack, criticizing the president for using Khamenei’s honorific “Supreme Leader”(?), using the president’s mild response to attack him for his outreach to Iran and naivete about being able to negotiate away their nuclear program. I agree with Charles about that but using the president’s response to the demonstrations as a club to beat him for his wrong headed approach to negotiations is wrong. These are two separate, distinct issues and while I wish the president would give up his unilateral outreach to Iran, I see nothing much wrong in his specific response to this crisis. Krauthammer tries to combine the two issues for the purpose of delegitimizing the president’s overall policy.

I wish the president had come out 48 hours earlier with his statement. I wish he would ratchet up the rhetoric a little. I wish there was some way we could let the Iranian reformers know we are with them 100% without raising the hackles of the regime which could lead to a bloody mess.

But wishing don’t get it done. I believe we are doing the demonstrators a favor by laying low and letting events unfold. There may come a time in the near future where Obama may wish to use stronger language to condemn the regime and support the demonstrators. Until then, he’s got it just about right - a Goldilocks moment for our president; moments that have been far too few in his young presidency.


  1. This is one of those odd cases where the best possible course of action is for the President to do virtually nothing (except to call for respect for the protesters) and for his “critics” to do their best to underscore that he is doing nothing by politically beating him about the head and face.

    Comment by Neo — 6/19/2009 @ 12:52 pm

  2. I agree that embracement of the demonstrators will have a nullifying effect. But I don’t think that Krauthammer addressed that point because he concedes it- it’s possible that C.K. believes that 1) the U.S. must, for moral purposes, make a statement of support and 2) believes that Obama is being seen as weak, inexperienced and indecisive (as you do, from the text of your post). You can make a stand on principle, even though you don’t believe you will necessarily profit.

    I’ve always thought that CK does a good job of proffering thoughtful critiques without gross partisanship (he’s no Glenn Beck). I have never seen him quote Obama out of context, or avoid a fight. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on his ommission of addressing the opposite side of the argument.

    Comment by lionheart — 6/19/2009 @ 1:04 pm

  3. I would imagine anyone not a die hard regime supporter in Iran would know Americans (and others in the world who enjoy far better governments and opportunities) wish them the best in their effort to pressure reforms or even gain a new government. People are not as dumb as some politicians and journalists would make them out to be.

    Not to mention that when this horrible regime slaughters its own children in the streets as it is threatening to do, the Iranian people (even some of the die hard regime supporters) will know that they died for their desired agenda for a better country, not the agenda of America or that of anyone else.

    And you will have a terrible regime ruling ever more illegitimately over its seething populace. This is a point David Brooks makes in a column that compares pressuring Iran now and in the future on human rights to pressuring the Soviet Union in the 80’s.

    Comment by Eddie — 6/19/2009 @ 1:12 pm

  4. “President Obama has had a horrid foreign policy so far in my opinion”

    I’m with you there … but on this point, laying low is just a rationalization of a lack of courage of convictions.

    As for analogies: what about the SERBIA analogy? Or China 1989 analogy? Or Ukraine? We were harldy on friendly terms with the repressers, but we helped. We don’t have much leverage beyond moral support and we fool ourselves with the prattle that meddling my boomerang. ( had to roll my eyes with Obama’s ‘meddling’ comments, coming just a few short weeks after his attempt to meddle vociferously in mid-east affairs by giving a Cairo speech and less than a WEEK after he made hopeful comments about the elections in Iran.) In none of those cases did/would laying low help.

    The point is not to meddle or demand or threaten, just tell the truth, stand on the right side of this issue - for human rights, human freedom, and democratic principles and processes. We frankly lose nothing in standing on the right side of the issue, with pro-democracy and pro-freedom protesters. France’s Sarkozy has led.

    Krauthammer says:

    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. … All hangs in the balance. The Khamenei regime is deciding whether to do a Tiananmen.

    There is a revolution possible here, and the helpful action here is NOT silence, but a global, united front to oppose a crack-down or repression of the Tehran “people power”. In this episode, Obama has channelled his inner Jimmy Carter - his instincts are all wrong on this. Obama should be calibrating his response at the level of France and others, not pro-repression Russia and China.

    Comment by Freedoms Truth — 6/19/2009 @ 1:35 pm

  5. President Obama has been brilliant in foreign policy.

    It is so refreshing to see our President use a thoughtful approach after the moron Bush used to stand up and threaten our adversaries and utter the idiotic claim “they hate us for our freedom”.

    Thank you President Obama. Keep up the good work.

    A man with an IQ of 117 is not a moron. And you exaggerate how Bush “threatened” our adversaries. Whether they hate us for our freedom is a matter of opinion and depends on who you are referring to.

    In short, you are a boring, exaggerating, ignorant, spouter of talking points. Since you cannot be any more original than that, you are hereby banned from commenting.


    Comment by jharp — 6/19/2009 @ 1:52 pm

  6. [...] Moran, who, like many Conservatives, goes his own way, seems to agree with Jonathan But when it comes to Iran, I think Obama - after an inexplicable delay - has got our response to [...]

    Pingback by What Is The Argument For A Bolder Obama Statement On Iran? : Stop The ACLU — 6/19/2009 @ 2:36 pm

  7. Obama could take the following position:

    1. The United States wants to protect our nation from harm and to promote freedom and liberty in the world.

    2. We have shown in the past, and in two on-going wars, that we are willing to fight for the cause of our freedom and liberty, and the same cause of freedom for many other nations and their suppressed people around the world, when their cause is just.

    3. Because of the continuing development of threatening military capabilities in the world, I have deemed it prudent for the United States to enhance its defensive capacity by sending to Congress a bill that would add 6 new composite divisions (about 30 Brigades) and their support units to the Army, 250 aditional multipurpose aircraft to the Air Force, 200 new tankers, 20 additional warships of several types for the Navy, 50 of the latest landing and support craft for the Coast Guard, and two new divisions for the Marines. Other significant provisions will be included for bombs and ammunition, vehicles, artillery, and especially a major upgrade for Abrams tanks, and significant other classified capabilities as well.

    4. We will use these new resources as they come on line over the next years to meet our defensive requirements in today’s increasingly dangerous situations in the world, notably in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, and Iran.

    5. The United States does not want war, nor do we seek domination of anyone in the world, but we do want to ensure that adequate military resources are available to us in the event of a conflict arising that we did not seek.

    Comment by mannning — 6/19/2009 @ 2:47 pm

  8. Just because Obama has decided - wisely - to lay low, doesn’t mean that the US isn’t pumping money and resources into Iran to fuel the opposition fire. I really hope this works.

    Comment by Chuck Tucson — 6/19/2009 @ 2:51 pm

  9. @Mr. M.:
    Close your pie hole, dammit! Demonstrating rationality and reason by acknowledging even someone you bitterly disagree with may be right about some things (even if by luck or accident) suggests that you actually give each fact pattern or situation consideration. In turn when you say “he/she did ‘x’ wrong”, that judgment tends to carry more weight since you’ve demonstrated you don’t knee-jerk reject everything.
    AND YOU GO BLABBING TO THE NUTJOBBERS?!? When Obama buys McDonalds and some idiot screams how Lenin would approve, it makes it easier to spot them in crowds.
    Now who am I supposed to throw these Snappers at? You’re totally off the Christmas card list.

    Seriously, good post. I do my fair share of criticizing international policy, but that’s based on my many years of experience in the field — neighborhood Diplomacy and Axis & Allies champ 2 years running back in Jr. high (the secret is, cheat when everybody takes a bathroom break . . . that’s how Churchill did it). Everybody ELSE opining on the best way to handle multi-lateral International crises are just armchair quarterbacks.

    p.s.: Obama, if you’re reading — invite the Supreme Leader over to talk. Give him water, kool-aid, lemon-ade, soda pop. Lots of it. Then, make sure you meet in a room where the only working john is in another wing (gotta shut the others down for maintenance sometime, right?).
    You’re welcome.

    Comment by busboy33 — 6/19/2009 @ 5:10 pm

  10. This is still a very dangerous regime that could crack down on it’s own in Tienanmen square style. That is what I’m worried about even though my heart is with the Persian people in this. As painful as it is, I think not being to confrontational is the right thing to do. Everybody knows that the entire West is with the reformers but what can you realistically do.The only way the regime is going to crack is when part of the military or Revolutionary Guards starts refusing to shoot it’s own people. It’s not impossible and I hope for the best.

    Comment by funny man — 6/19/2009 @ 9:50 pm

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