The debate over the president’s response to the Iranian election continues today in the newspapers and the blogosphere.
The Washington Post editorial page sympathizes with Obama’s caution but says that “however the crisis ends, it may require rethinking of the administration’s Iran strategy.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial page blasts away at the White House, saying Obama’s response shows his “inexperience” and bad instincts, and says his administration is so impatient to negotiate with Tehran that they view the popular uprising as “inconvenient.”
Robert Kagan writes that the protests are an “unwelcome complication in [Obama’s] strategy of engaging and seeking rapprochement with the Iranian government on nuclear issues.”
Obama’s policy now requires getting past the election controversies quickly so that he can soon begin negotiations with the reelected Ahmadinejad government. This will be difficult as long as opposition protests continue and the government appears to be either unsettled or too brutal to do business with. What Obama needs is a rapid return to peace and quiet in Iran, not continued ferment. His goal must be to deflate the opposition, not to encourage it. And that, by and large, is what he has been doing.
If you find all this disturbing, you should.
My piece in today’s paper got into the basic issues. One thing that didn’t make it into the paper, however, for space reasons, was the fact that some of President Obama’s critics say they don’t have a disagreement on the substance of what he’s saying, but that they want him to say it more forcefully.
“This is partly a matter of delivery. The president’s delivery as he stood was unemotional and halting and showed no passion,” said Elliot Abrams, who was deputy national security adviser for the Middle East to President George W. Bush.
Abrams was referring to Obama’s remarks Tuesday in the Rose Garden during a press conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Another former Bush White House official, who was extremely close to the president on national security matters, agreed.
“It would be one thing for the administration to call Iranians to the streets, which of course is difficutl to do and is a huge responsibility,” said the official, who did not want to be quoted by name.
“The thing they can do, which is very easy, is raise dramatically their decibel level about the brutality of the [Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Basij [paramilitary] going around indiscriminately breaking heads of those demonstrating,” he said. “They ought to really ratchet up the noise. It may discourage the Iranian authorities from doing it and protect innocent civilians. And it will remind people of the nature of this regime. It will also clear a little space for peaceful demonstrations.”
“I haven’t seen him do it with heat and conviction. And I haven’t seen it echoed throughout the administration,” the official said. “There’s doing it and then there’s doing it over and over again.”
Of course, Obama is well known for his calm, almost detached persona. He’s not a passion guy.
David Ignatius writes today that, in fact, his focus on reason and careful, reasoned thinking, which some think borders on cowardice and leads to ineffective half-measures, is having an impact inside Iran.
Ignatius quotes intelligence officials as saying that “Obama, with his coolly rational approach, is suggesting a new pathway for young people who might otherwise be tempted by jihadist rhetoric.”
A similar analysis of Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world comes from Tawfik Hamid, a former jihadist from Egypt who was once part of a network that included Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 official in al-Qaeda. Hamid argued in an interview that Obama has encouraged “critical thinking” among young Muslims — pushing them to transcend the simple categories of halal (pure and Islamic) and haram (impure and un-Islamic.) Hamid recalled that among his jihadist group in Cairo, there was a saying: al fikr kufr, which loosely translates as: “To think makes you an infidel.” Obama challenges that.
One other piece worth reading on the U.S. response today is by Dan Senor and Christian Whiton in the Journal.
As for what is happening inside Iran, Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfoneh write in the New York Times that “in the most dramatic turnabout since the 1979 revolution, Iran has evolved from theocratic state to military dictatorship.”
David Wurmser, who was an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, told me Tuesday he has a different term for what he thinks Iran is becoming: “a theo-fascist state.”
“There is still theological overlay but it’s a different group of theologians,” Wurmser said, pointing to a cleric named Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi as one of the religious leaders who stand to gain if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has obtained greater power over the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council.
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times