Brief is all I can muster at this point since I am laid up with a vicious bug of some sort. Nothing more fun than being sick at Christmas, he?
The target of my anger this morning is our president, Barack Obama, who I believe has made a wrong decision in not interrupting his golfing to make a personal statement about the events in Iran this past weekend.
No, he should not break off his vacation and come home. But with people being shot dead in the streets of Tehran, I think a statement of support and sympathy for the reformers from the elected leader of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy might be in order.
It can’t be that he still harbors hope for a breakthrough in talks with the Iranian regime. He gave it the old college try, sending private missives pleading for better relations to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Both letters were publicly spurned and ridiculed. He sent envoys to multi-lateral discussions on areas of mutual interest. He set up the P5+1 talks in Geneva last October where he was shown first hand how the regime operates; they initially accepted an enrichment deal and then walked back from it until totally rejecting it about a month ago.
Clearly, the president gets an “A” for effort in seeking to engage the Iranians in talks to avoid war over the stockpile of enriched uranium held by the mullahs. We’ll let historians argue whether he has made the situation worse or not, or war more likely. But where we are now with Iran is the same place we were January 20, 2009 and no amount of spin will change that fact.
So his silence on the bloodletting in the streets is all the more puzzling. There are no relations to damage if he comes out four-square in support of the reformers and their goals. I understand the practical reluctance in being too gushy since the regime will point to that as proof that the demonstrators are in cahoots with the Great Satan. But the question is how much cred does the regime still have with Mohammed on the street? Not much, I’d wager.
What those kids dodging bullets in the streets need more than anything is a strong signal that the world is watching - even with all the restrictions the regime has placed on international reporting. They are feeling pretty lonely at this point and a strong statement from President Obama would be a morale booster, that’s for sure.
I can’t believe that Obama is naive enough not have resigned himself to imposing some kind of tough, multi-lateral sanctions against the regime (he will never get tough sanctions through the Security Council). He knows that there is a clock ticking in Tel Aviv and that he has to make every effort to force the Iranians to accept the modest proposals offered in Geneva last October or the very worst may happen and Israel would strike. The resulting backlash could be very, very bad for our interests and perhaps even peace in the Middle East.
The idea that sanctions of any kind would alter the regme’s stance was never more than a long shot anyway. So why not come down on the side of the angels in this one and wholeheartedly condemn the regime for everything from their non-cooperation on nukes to slaughtering their own children in the streets? I don’t see an upside to keeping quiet about the violence. A statement from the NSC or State Department doesn’t carry half as much weight as a personal statement from the president. He should know this and act accordingly.
While he’s at it, he might want to say a word or two about the failed terrorist attack. I understand this statement will be coming “soon,” which is fine but why not earlier?
There is a reason why Obama hasn’t given a public statement. It’s strategy.
Here’s the theory: a two-bit mook is sent by Al Qaeda to do a dastardly deed. He winds up neutering himself. Literally.
Authorities respond appropriately; the president (as this president is wont to to) presides over the federal response. His senior aides speak for him, letting reporters know that he’s videoconferencing regularly, that he’s ordering a review of terrorist watch lists, that he’s discoursing with his secretary of Homeland Security.
But an in-person Obama statement isn’t needed; Indeed, a message expressing command, control, outrage and anger might elevate the importance of the deed, would generate panic (because Obama usually DOESN’T talk about the specifics of cases like this, and so him deciding to do so would cue the American people to respond in a way that exacerbates the situation).
Obama of course will say something at some point. Had the terrorist blown up the plane, it’s safe to assume that Obama would no longer be in Hawaii. In either case, the public will need presidential fortification at some point. But Obama is willing to risk the accusation that he is “soft” on terrorism or is hovering above it all, or is just not to be bothered (his “head’s in the sand,” or “golfing comes first”) in order to advance what he believes is the proper collective response to a failed act of terrorism.
Let the authorities do their work. Don’t presume; don’t panic the country; don’t chest-thump, prejudge, interfere, politicize (in an international sense), don’t give Al Qaeda (or whomever) a symbolic victory; resist the urge to open the old playbook and run a familiar play.
To date, the Obama administration has failed to demonstrate they are as clever or nuanced as Ambinder makes them out to be here. And how would Obama saying a few words to the nation about this foiled attack panic the country? Or that a statement couldn’t easily avoid “chest thumping? Ambinder appears to be channeling his inner George Bush if he thinks there is no choice between giving al-Qaeda a “symbolic” victory and saying nothing. That’s a ludicrous position to take and it appears that Ambinder should have laid off the Christmas cheer before writing it.
The people want reassurance. Obama could have given that without resorting to histrionics or drama. He doesn’t have to interrupt his vacation to make a 3 minute statement assuring people that the skies will be made as safe as humanly possible, that this attack means al-Qaeda is still alive and kicking, and that our efforts in Afghanistan are worth it because of this.
On both Iran and the terror attack on flight 253, the country - and the world - needed to hear from the president. The fact that we didn’t, and probably won’t hear from him until later this week, is a disappointment.