- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2011

The people flooding into the streets of Iran to seek regime change find no support from the U.S. government. President Obama, who hectored Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak to transfer power “right now,” suddenly doesn’t want to get involved when it comes to the dictators running the Islamic republic.

The administration argues that taking a firm stand on regime change would hand Tehran a pretext for cracking down on pro-democracy protesters. It took the same approach during the 2009 protests, and the result was that Tehran’s thugs ruthlessly suppressed demonstrators and blamed the United States for instigating them. Iran’s leaders will do the same again no matter what Mr. Obama says. The president has nothing to lose by standing up for freedom, especially because the Iranian regime really needs changing.

Taking the easy route projects weakness to the world, and it hardly takes courage for the United States to caution all sides against resorting to violence. The current situation cries out for a show of strength. As we learned in 2009, failure to stand up to the Islamic regime only emboldens the despots to respond with force. Mr. Obama apparently thinks his supine approach produced the right outcome in Egypt. On Tuesday the president claimed, with his usual humility, that “history will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt, that we were on the right side of history. … I think we calibrated just about right.” For that to be the case, historians would have to overlook the administration’s surprise and befuddlement as the events on the Nile began to unfold. It may be a bit premature for the president to clear space on his shelf for another prize certifying his role in history.

When Mr. Obama noted, “It was very important for this to remain an Egyptian event, that the United States did not become the issue,” he attempted to make a virtue out of impotence. The United States is always the issue, whether Mr. Obama takes action or not. This country is not well-liked in Egypt, and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood openly despise everything we stand for.

The White House refuses to acknowledge these facts. On Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to revise his comment that the Muslim Brotherhood was “largely secular.” He said what he had meant to say was that “the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt tries to work through a political system that has been largely secular in its orientation.” This does not mean much because the political system in Egypt has been controlled by a military-backed regime for more than half a century. It fails to address the stated intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood to impose hard-line Shariah law given the opportunity.

Mr. Clapper said the Muslim Brotherhood “has gained much of its support through both grass-roots outreach and nonreligious functions like providing health clinics and day care centers,” which of course places them in the same category as Hezbollah and Hamas. He also maintains that the group is riven with factions and includes “a younger, more liberal wing who is more inclined to work through the secular political process.” This is in the great tradition of the hunt for the “moderate extremists,” which was a common liberal pastime during the Cold War that led to bad policy decisions every time. The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, has obligingly toned down its rhetoric and is talking up democracy and inclusion. Mr. Obama sees himself surfing the waves of history, but we have to wonder what the Arab equivalent is of the phrase “peace in our time.”