Saturday, June 20, 2009


Obama: AWOL On Iran, Democracy And Human Rights

In following the uprising in Iran, the writers at Power Line are also examining Obama's weird behavior and preposterous statements that point to almost total paralysis on the matter. The question they raise is "Why is Obama AWOL on Iran"?

There is more than one possible answer, but they all appear to point in one direction: Obama just isn't all that enamored of democracy as we know it, an alarming proposition for Iranians, to say nothing of everyone else in the world living under tyranny.

Charles Krauthammer has issued a scathing indictment of Obama's cluelessness on Iran in an article titled, what do you know? Obama Clueless on Iran:
Millions of Iranians take to the streets to defy a theocratic dictatorship that, among its other finer qualities, is a self-declared enemy of America and the tolerance and liberties it represents. The demonstrators are fighting on their own, but they await just a word that America is on their side.

And what do they hear from the president of the United States? Silence. Then, worse. Three days in, the president makes clear his policy: continued "dialogue" with
their clerical masters. ...

[T]his incipient revolution is no longer about the election. Obama totally misses the point. The election allowed the political space and provided the spark for the eruption of anti-regime fervor that has been simmering for years and awaiting its moment. 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.

This started out about election fraud. But like all revolutions, it has far outgrown its origins. What's at stake now is the very legitimacy of this regime -- and the future of the entire Middle East.

This revolution will end either as a Tiananmen (a hot Tiananmen with massive and bloody repression or a cold Tiananmen with a finer mix of brutality and co-optation) or as a true revolution that brings down the Islamic Republic.

The latter is improbable but, for the first time in 30 years, not impossible. Imagine the repercussions. It would mark a decisive blow to Islamist radicalism, of which Iran today is not just standard-bearer and model, but financier and arms supplier. It would do to Islamism what the collapse of the Soviet Union did to communism -- leave it forever spent and discredited.

All hangs in the balance. The Khamenei regime is deciding whether to do a Tiananmen. And what side is the Obama administration taking? None. ...
Joshua Muravchik arrived at a similar conclusion even before the Iranian election and its violent aftermath that has so flummoxed this weak president, in the Commentary Magazine article The Abandonment of Democracy. What follows is just the introduction to Muravchik's charge that Obama has abdicated the American president's traditional role around the world as champion of democracy and individual freedom, and in so doing has abandoned the Iranian people and all others seeking relief from tyranny:
Iranian exiles in the U.S. are receiving calls from back home asking why President Obama has “given Khamenei the green light” to crack down on the election protestors. To conspiracy-minded Middle Easterners, that is the obvious meaning of Obama’s equivocal response to the Iranian nation’s sudden and unexpected reach for freedom. How to explain that this interpretation is implausible? That the more likely reason for Obama’s behavior is that he is imprisoned in the ideology of loving your enemies and hating George W. Bush?

Whatever the reason, Obama's failure may destroy his presidency. His betrayal of democracy and human rights through a series of pronouncements and small actions during his first months in office had been correctable until now. But the thousand daily decisions that usually make up policy are eclipsed by big-bang moments such as we are now witnessing. Failure to use the bully pulpit to give the Iranian people as much support as possible is morally reprehensible and a strategical blunder for which he will not be forgiven.
Muravchik builds on this in his reference to Obama's pathetic performance in Cairo, during which he dispensed with democracy in his ongoing rush to moral equivalency with even the worst regimes:
[T]he Cairo oration was a culmination of the themes of Obama's early months. He had blamed America for the world financial crisis, global warming, Mexico's drug wars, for "failure to appreciate Europe's role in the world," and in general for "all too often" trying "to dictate our terms." He had reinforced all this by dispatching his Secretary of State on what the New York Times dubbed a "contrition tour" of Asia and Latin America. Now he added apologies for overthrowing the government of Iran in 1953, and for treating the Muslim countries as "proxies" in the Cold War "without regard to their own aspirations."

Toward what end all these mea culpas? Perhaps it is a strategy designed, as he puts it, to "restor[e] America's standing in the world." Or perhaps he genuinely believes, as do many Muslims and Europeans, among others, that a great share of the world's ills may be laid at the doorstep of the United States. Either way, he seems to hope that such self-criticism will open the way to talking through our frictions with Iran, Syria, China, Russia, Burma, Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela, and the "moderate" side of the Taliban.

This strategy might be called peace through moral equivalence, and it finally makes fully intelligible Obama's resistance to advocating human rights and democracy. For as long as those issues are highlighted, the cultural relativism that laced his Cairo speech and similar pronouncements in other places is revealed to be absurd. Straining to find a deficiency of religious freedom in America, Obama came up with the claim that “in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation.” He was referring, apparently, to the fact that donations to foreign entities are not tax deductible. This has, of course, nothing to do with religious freedom but with assuring that tax deductions are given only to legitimate charities and not, say, to “violent extremists,” as Obama calls them (eschewing the word “terrorist”).

Consider this alleged peccadillo of America’s in comparison to the state of religious freedom in Egypt, where Christians may not build, renovate or repair a church without written authorization from the President of the country or a provincial governor (and where Jews no longer find it safe to reside). Or compare it to the practices at the previous stop on Obama’s itinerary, Saudi Arabia, where no church may stand, where Jews were for a time not allowed to set foot, and where even Muslims of non-Sunni varieties are constrained from building places of worship.

In short, while it may be possible to identify derogations from democracy and human rights in America, those that are ubiquitous in the Muslim world are greater by many orders of magnitude. If democracy and human rights are held as high values, then all societies are not morally equal. This is a thought that cuts sharply against Obama’s multicultural sensibilities.

America not only embodies these values, it is also more responsible than any other country for their spread. Many peoples today enjoy the blessings of liberty thanks to the influence of the United States, thanks to its aid, its example, and its leading role in bringing down the Axis powers, the Soviet Union and European colonialism. Moreover, the advancement of human rights and democracy requires the exercise of American influence and in turn may serve to strengthen that influence—neither of these, it seems, processes to be welcomed by apostles of national self-abnegation.
Power Line's John Hinderaker:
Muravchik has performed a useful service in observing comprehensively how Obama has removed human rights and democracy from the agenda of our foreign policy, and how odd it is for him to have done so. Whatever the reasons, Muravchik's conclusion applies in spades to Obama's equivocaton and ambivalence on events in Iran: "In this can be found neither strategic nor moral coherence."

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