Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

06/16/2009 (10:27 am)

Obama Cautious on Iran (Updated)

…and I agree with him, which is a first.

It took the Obama administration until Monday to make an official statement about the Iranian elections, the outcome of which still remain in doubt. President Obama said he was “deeply troubled” by the images he and the rest of America have seen from Iran, and he called on the leaders of Iran to respect the “universal values” of democracy.

Meanwhile, literally millions of Iranians have taken to the streets in an outpouring of protest that could conceivably produce a revolution. The Washington Times blog, relying on a translation from the Cyrus News Agency, reports that 16 leaders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the government’s elite forces, have been arrested for contacting members of the Army to discuss joining the people’s movement.

Eric Cantor, House Whip for the Republicans, is lambasting the White House over their silence, calling the suppression of the protests a “step backwards for home-grown democracy in the Middle East.”

Iran’s Council of Guardians, 12 clerics with clout, has announced its plan to perform a partial recount of the ballots, while opposition candidate Moussavi has rejected their suggestion and wants a rerun of the election.

Personally, I think the President is wise to keep the matter at an arm’s length. If the US has ever been successful at aiding revolutions in foreign nations, we in the public are not aware of it, so it seems unlikely that we’re going to have a positive impact on this one. We actually don’t know what happened in the election, and need more information before we can make an assessment. And, we’re going to have to live with whomever comes out on top. We should be joining with UN leaders to call for international investigations of the election process in Iran.

UPDATE, 5:50 PM Pacific Time: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air posits Ronald Reagan’s response to the crackdown on Solidarity protesters by the Polish government. Reagan’s comment to the Pope, who was himself a Pole, was “We stand with the people, not with the government.” John McCain said something similar. I find their sentiments persuasive, and stand corrected.

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June 16, 2009 @ 7:31 pm #

Maybe, but I get the distinct feeling that if action was the best course, this is still what he’d be doing. I would still prefer that he acknowledge that the Iranian regime is our enemy, and act accordingly.

June 17, 2009 @ 2:03 am #

I think that your initial reaction was correct. Iran is a bit of a special case.

Beyond doubt, the overriding goal of the U.S. – and indeed, the entire free world – should be to see an end the brutal, bloody, hyperaggressive, and soon to be nuclear armed theocracy in Iran. The goal should be to see a true democracy put in its place, both for our self defense and for the good of the Iranian people. The only restraint on that goal should be that none of our overt actions provide a pretext for the regime to claim that the grass roots resistance to the theocracy is actually a foreign plot – a replay of the 1953 CIA led Mossadeq coup. And do not underestimate Iran’s fixation on that coup. It is central to the theocrat’s historical narrative. Anything that smacks of U.S. invovlement in Iran’s internal politics is cast through the lens of that coup.

With that in mind, as to Obama’s speech yesterday, many seem upset by his lack of robust support for the protestors. For example, Gateway Pundit is pointing out that Sarkozy has denounced the Iranian election as fraudulent and taking Obama to task for not doing the same. And as you note, Hot Air has similar criticism for Obama.

My own belief is that Obama went as far as he could reasonably go in his speech. We are not at the point where there is massive repression and tanks in the street. It would be very easy, therefore, for anything Obama says to cross the “Mossadeq” line and allow the regime to justify such acts of repression. In this case, Obama’s failure to robustly promote democracy and stand foresquare with the protestors was probably for the best. That said, I am concerned about two things.

One, Obama’s continued statements regarding his intent to go forward with unconditional talks is absolutely wrong headed. It sends the message that whoever occupies the Presidency in Iran will be sufficiently legitimate for the U.S. and, conversely, that the protests do not matter in that regards. Those are the polar opposite of the messages we should be sending.

Two, I am concerned that Obama may not be pursuing regime change in Iran, particularly given his statment on unconditional talks. Iran has been an intelligence nightmare for thirty years because it is so closed and repressive. But with the border between Iran and Iraq now open, and with thousands of Iranians and Iraqis crossing it every day, Obama has a golden opportunity for gathering intelligence and as a means to quietly support the protest movement. I hope that is what he is doing, but everything that I know about Obama – his apologetics for America, his refusal to actively promote democracy, etc. – suggests that we are not. Time will tell. Obama’s promise to hold unconditional talks with Iran is naive and counterproductive. But a failure to exploit this golden opportunity for intelligence and to support regime change in Iran would be far worse. It would be criminal negligence.

June 17, 2009 @ 8:20 am #


First of all, welcome. For those readers not familiar, GW is a pretty good blogger from a site called Wolf Howling. Hmmm… does GW stand for “Growling Wolf?” Prolly not.

Second, it’s a bit odd that you warn against the US seeming like it’s playing the Mossadeq game, then worry that perhaps we’re not playing the Mossadeq game. A bit odd, but not unusual. A lot of people seem conflicted about the same thing; we ought to be helping them, but we’re embarrassed that 50-odd years ago we were caught helping them.

Hence my turn-around in this article. What does help, imho, is the US standing as a clear and consistent symbol for liberty. Symbols are powerful. Thus, a President stating “We stand for the liberty of the people” is not a bad thing, it’s the right thing. If they’re going to accuse us of meddling just for saying that, we might as well suck it up and do what’s best from our own point of view, ’cause they’re going to accuse us pretty much no matter what we do. Frankly, we’re more likely to be embarrassed by quietly engaging in undermining the regime than by publicly stating support for the people. (This is not to say we should not be gathering intel from Iran. We should be.)

I do agree with your assessment of Obama’s approach — naive and counterproductive. I also agree with Chris’ assessment earlier — he’d be cautiously sitting on the sidelines even if it were not the best thing. He’s just lucky this time; his fearful, face-saving default happens to be one of the plausible strategies. He will not always be so lucky.

June 17, 2009 @ 6:50 pm #

Appeasement doesn’t work. It just gives credibility to dictators, murderers, and those that seek to enslave their fellow man. When are you left-wing, weak, and immoral fools going to understand this? Where do you think the freedoms we have in the USA came from???? Discussion??? Diplomacy???? It was the right thing to do???? IT WAS IN WARS THAT MANY, MANY AMERICANS FOUGHT AND DIED FOR THAT GAVE YOU YOUR RIGHTS!!!!!! What do you think those brave men would say about Obama and people like you that don’t feel that it is a good idea for the USA to stand up for freedon and democracy because it might be interpreted by tyrants as “meddling” with Iran?

June 18, 2009 @ 1:42 am #

Fred: I will assume that your tirade is directed at me. I served my country as an infantry officer, as has every male in my family for generations. My son is enlisting next month; my daughter is just finishing up her service in the Army. In an amazing run of luck, not a member of my family has died in war, despite many of us seeing action and despite a few coming back with less limbs than they had when they enlisted. I am well aware of where our freedoms come from and how they are maintained, sir.

As to Iran, I have written several long posts detailing the problem of Iran and calling for limited military strikes on Qods bases over the past year, both to make Iran pay a price for their acts of war against us inside Iraq and to give substance to threats of force over their drive for a nuclear weapon. You can see a post I did in April 08 on the subject, http://wolfhowling.blogspot.com/2008/04/next-moves-in-bloody-chess-match-with.html

My concern now is insuring that we do all we can to encourage regime change to a democracy. If this uprising is stamped out, we are back to square one, and I strongly suspect that it will mean that our soldiers are eventually called into a war at some point down the road. If it succeeds, I suspect that it will mean far more than simply installing Mousavi for Ahmedinejad. I will be amazed if it doesn’t result in the entire fall of the theocracy.

Phil: True, there is cognitive dissonance in my take on this. Understand though, while you, I and the rest of the rational world would think of the 53 coup as ancient history, it is an entirely differnt matter for Iranians as a whole – not just an excuse of conviienience for the theocrats. Nothing that I suggest is out of embarresment. I have Iranian friends who fought for the 79 revolution in Iran. When they figured out what Khomeini was intent on installing a theocracy, they joined MEK and were fighting against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. My understanding of how touchy of a topic that is comes from them, and I have verified it by decades of reading on Iran.

But regardless, we are already probably at the point where it is time for the President to put Reagan’s speech in the teleprompter, substituting the word Iran for the word Poland. I am hearing of enough repression at this point and the grass roots bona fides of this uprising are probably sufficiently established that Obama can help more than hurt by making a much stronger statement.

June 19, 2009 @ 10:54 am #

“his[Obama’s] nonreaction to the fraudulent Iranian election shows that he will not allow facts to interfere with his slavish devotion to his ideological canon that claims that no enemy is unappeasable and no ally deserves automatic support.”

From Carolyn Glick’s article:


A leader who is so fixed in his own principles that he ignores his opponents principles is primed for defeat. Would that he viewed other countries as opponents instead of his fellow countrymen…

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