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Jewish World Review
June 25, 2009
/ 3 Tamuz 5769
Our Presidential Tenderfoot
The anti-government protests in Iran following the
government's rigged elections are doubtless a little more than the "robust
debate" among Iranians that President Barack Obama welcomed during the
election. Some of the debaters have been shot dead. Others have been hustled
off to jail. I wonder whether this is an eye-opener for our novice
Conservatives have objected to his Laodicean calm in the first
days of the bloodshed. He fastidiously refused to take sides. Only by the
weekend did he come to his wits and call "on the Iranian government to stop
all violent and unjust actions against its own people." After that, the
bloodshed got worse. On Tuesday, he expressed "concerns," but by then, the
demonstrators had a martyr, 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan, an apparently
nonpolitical singer who was shot dead, presumably by government riot-control
troops, though she was not actually in the protest. The videotape of her
death has been circulating in news media and on the Internet ever since.
Though the nonsensical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains the president
of Iran after the disputed elections, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the
country's supreme leader. Having lost confidence in the police and members
of the street militia, the Basij, he called out the Revolutionary Guard to
clamp down on the protests. Interestingly, the head of the guard in the
province of Tehran, Gen. Ali Fazli, a veteran of the Iraq-Iran war, refused
to fire on his own countrymen and was arrested. The guard itself is a
powerful force in the country, with its own institutions and considerable
independence from the government and the Rev. Khamenei's Guardian Council.
Now it seems likely that the guard will turn Iran into a
military dictatorship, with the Rev. Khamenei slipping into a gray space
somewhere between political power and spiritual authority. Thus, the outcome
for now of the street demonstrations in Iran might well be what we Americans
call the division between church and state or between mosque and state.
Whether this will render Iran peaceful and an agreeable member of the world
community is dubious. The Revolutionary Guard obviously is full of angry
militants. Perhaps the best that the West can hope for is the ongoing
splintering of the ruling military dictatorship, with some members of the
guard resisting attacks on their countrymen and others attempting
totalitarian control of Iran.
Yet my question remains: Has our sententious new president
learned anything from the unforeseen violent culmination of the Iranian
elections? Frankly, I doubt it. He reminds me so much of our most recent
sanctimonious pontificator, President Jimmy Carter, who at first attempted
to end the Cold War by lecturing Americans against their "inordinate fear of
communism." Then the Soviets became more aggressive. Finally, Carter began
the military buildup for which his successor took justifiable credit.
President Ronald Reagan knew the value of a strong military in support of
Neither Carter nor Obama has any sense of the linkage of the
two, and now it looks as if the Obama administration is going to cut back on
our military, even as the dangers to world peace grow.
At the heart of our new president is, it seems to me,
ambivalence. Within him exist opposite attitudes. What we have seen during
the protests in Iran is not a clear sense of geopolitics, but uncertainty.
President Obama has not had a clue as to what to do. His White House aides
are actually claiming that his muddled Cairo speech before the Iranian
elections inspired the young demonstrators. "We're trying to promote a
foreign policy that advances our interests, not that makes us feel good
about ourselves," an anonymous Obama administration aide told The Washington
Post. That is precisely the opposite of the truth.
Increasingly, it is apparent that we have not only a very
unseasoned president in the White House but also a very weak one. At a
surprisingly early point in his presidency, Obama's program is in disarray.
On health care, he is under fire from the left and the right. His cap and
trade policy is in trouble. This week, The Hill reports that "congressional
Democrats are largely ignoring President Obama's $19.8 billion in budget
cuts." His Democrats on Capitol Hill are intent on cuts that he has not
asked for, some of which shave funds for his priorities.
Let the mainstream media purr on about this president's mastery
of government. My sense is that he is out of his depth. His dithering over
the Iranian protests is but one bloody example.
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