For more than a decade, we’ve been hearing about the real Iran—the one whose youth is Westernized, desirous of connection with the United States, and tired of living in a theocracy. It’s too soon to know whether the protests today in Iran represent the fruition of the ideas about popular sentiment and the possibility of an uprising. But it is clear that this is a time of testing for the idea that the mullahcracy can be shaken to its foundations by an aggrieved populace. If it can’t, then the regime will prove itself stronger than some of its most heated critics say it is, and the world will have to adjust accordingly. If this is Tienanmen II, and the regime crushes it, there will be no easy approach to regime change. And there will be no pretending any longer that Iran’s regime isn’t a unified, hardline, irridentist, and enormously dangerous one.
Posts For: June 13, 2009
Ben Smith sums up the cognitive dissonance sweeping the hope-n-change crowd:
The notion of an “Obama effect” sweeping the Middle East appeared to collide with the realities of the Islamic Republic of Iran Saturday, as the country’s confrontational, anti-American president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, celebrated a landslide victory in Friday’s election amid wide doubts about the honesty of the official vote count.
Iran’s election authority declared Ahmadinejad the victor with 63 percent of the vote Saturday and his victory received the imprimatur of the country’s supreme religious leader. But his main rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, denounced the results as a “charade” and there were reports of dramatic protests.
Though his backing of Iran’s nuclear program differed little from Ahamdinejad’s, the tone of Mousavi’s campaign, and the impression of a broad stirring for change led by the country’s youth, organized online and by text messages, seemed to echo Obama’s own victory and to respond to the promises of engagement in Obama’s recent speech in Cairo.
Did these people imagine that because one of the mullah’s handpicked candidates knew how to text that we were witnessing the second coming of Obama, Iranian-style? They assumed that in a country with four pre-selected candidates the mullahs would let just anyone win? It seems so.
The problem with claiming credit for events in other countries is that when things go poorly people will interpret it as a personal rebuke. You can’t have it both ways. And the problem with pretending that theocratic thugs are conducting a “real” elections is that when they prove to be not so “real” you look foolish for having cheered from the sidelines. Perhaps a less egocentric foreign policy is in order.
But, alas, Robert Gibbs provides proof of White House cluelessness:
Like the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians. We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities.
Yeah, everything was going so swimmingly with the handpicked candidates all committed to destroying Israel and pursuing nuclear weapons and then, poof! Who knew the fake elections were, you know, fake? But I bet the White House is “concerned” – who are they going to “engage” now?
And moreover, what is the White House going to do now? Is the administration prepared to do more than monitor or (that old standby) be “disappointed”? After witnessing just how thuggish the Iranian theocrats can be, what will Obama do to make clear his stance on human rights, democracy, etc? This, from Hillary Clinton, suggests Obama is so bent on engaging he’s really not prepared to make a fuss:
We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran. But we, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide. The United States has refrained from commenting on the election in Iran. We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people.
Well for starters, Obama might drop the “Islamic Republic of Iran” canard since this is obviously no functioning republic in any meaningful sense.
This week, I wrote regarding Sotomayor’s decision in the Ricci case that “the city never claimed and was never asked to prove that the test was defective and therefore the basis for a claim of disparate impact by the failing African American test-takers crumbles. You simply can’t be permitted to discriminate against one group of people because another group might raise a fuss, albeit a meritless one. (I discuss the analogy to ‘customer preference’ cases here.)”
Stuart Taylor reaches the identical conclusion:
The [Judge Jose]Cabranes dissent and the voluminous factual record that was before the Sotomayor panel flatly contradict the widely stated view that her position was justified by evidence that the exams were not job-related and that they discriminated against blacks in violation of the “disparate-impact” provisions of federal civil-rights law.
In fact, neither Sotomayor nor any other judge has ever found that the exams — one for would-be fire lieutenants, one for would-be captains — were invalid or unfair. Nor has any judge found that allowing the promotions would have violated disparate-impact law.
Taylor correctly argues that the natural result of Sotomayor’s decision would be to condone overt discrimination, that is disparate treatment, of any individuals who do well in their chosen field:
Such logic would convert disparate-impact law into an engine of overt discrimination against high-scoring groups across the country and allow racial politics and racial quotas to masquerade as voluntary compliance with the law.
What Taylor also makes clear is that the New Haven city officials knuckled into public pressure by “powerful African Americans” to throw out the test. What better example is there of the need for impartial justice to protect a politically unrepresented and unpopular figure ( Frank Ricci) from the howls of the mob that would deny him the equal protection of law? Unfortunately Sotomayor didn’t grasp that. She condoned the mob’s bullying and was prepared to give those that caved to their pressure a legal stamp of approval.
The Senate must ask: is this what we want in a Supreme Court justice?
Some (but regrettably not all) conservatives — who are supposed to pride themselves on fidelity to fixed truths and to history — grasped why Obama’s Cairo speech was so objectionable: it was built on a series of lies and distortions. By omitting historical events and setting up a false equivalence between current parties (not to mention between the Palestinians and enslaved African Americans), Obama sought to place himself in the position of dealmaker and help usher in the dawn of a new age of Middle East peace. But the opposite is true.
To his credit, Marty Peretz focuses on one of the lesser-discussed falsehoods in the Obama speech:
The history of Israel cannot be fathomed without understanding that it emerges from the Zionist idea (both ancient and modern), from the Zionist struggle (both ideological and with arms) and the Jewish response to Zionism which was successful in gathering of the exiles. After all, half of the world’s Jews now live in Israel and speak their revived-by-Zionism Hebrew language. The point is that if the president truly wanted to give an honest rendering of the conflict he wouldn’t have omitted this essential ingredient of the narrative.
[. . .]
Attributing the birth and development of Israel solely to the Holocaust is, then, simply wrong, egregiously wrong. Moreover, the presidential attribution justifies and reifies the Arab grievance that they are paying for Hitler’s crimes. Did the president imagine–I cannot believe he did–that this account might not soften Palestinian feelings towards their neighbors? This means it was both largely false and undermined Obama’s stated goals.
One can interpret this and the other egregious historical errors and omissions (Camp David, the withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza, the wars between 1948 and 2008 were all left out) as evidence of ignorance by the Obama administration. But that seems far-fetched. It’s not likely that Hillary Clinton has forgotten her husband’s 2000 peace plan efforts; it’s just impolite, I suppose, to bring it up.
It seems more likely to be a grand effort not to bother his listeners with too many inconvenient facts which might suggest we’re not on the verge of a new Obama era of peaceful co-existence. If one tells the whole story – of Zionism, of wars, of efforts to give the Palestinians their state, of brutality toward women in Muslim countries, and of the impact of a nuclear-armed Iran on the region – then Obama might not be so successful in his charm offensive. And the people who were annoyed with past American administrations for bringing these things up would now be annoyed with him. Where’s the popularity boost in all that?
Moreover, people might scratch their heads, wondering why he persists in his pose of moral equivalence rather than dealing with the fundamental issues: the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize a Jewish state, the lack of a viable negotiator with whom Israel can engage, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran which will blackmail its neighbors and the egregious violation of human (and specifically, women’s) rights by Israel’s neighbors. Come to think of it, why isn’t he?
David Broder thinks the shoe is on the other foot in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey this year. He argues that, unlike Obama in 2008, the Democrats won’t be able to blame George W. Bush this time around: “The election results may well show how much of the responsibility for the bad economy has shifted to their shoulders — and implicitly to Obama’s.”
Yes, I suppose it will be hard to blame Bush for the $2B budget deficit in New Jersey or for Corzine’s payoffs to his ex-girlfriend (a powerful union president at the time.) But Broder is a bit off on one point, declaring: “A victory by either McDonnell or Christie is likely to strengthen the pragmatist camp in internal Republican debates — the people who argue that mobilizing the conservative base is not enough for victory in competitive races.”
Actually both Christie and McDonnell are running not on “pragmatic” fiscal policies, but conservative one, so it’s even more critical for Obama to beat them both. If people get the idea that liberal government doesn’t work and conservatives have better ideas, where will it end?
Pondering the possible link between Guantanamo and President Obama’s speech in Cairo, Christopher Hitchens wrote that,
Any person with the smallest pretense to cultural literacy knows that there is no such place or thing as “the Muslim world,” or, rather, that it consists of many places and many things. (It is precisely the aim of the jihadists to bring it all under one rulership preparatory to making Islam the world’s only religion.) But Obama said nothing about the schism between Sunni and Shiites, or about the argument over Sufism, or about Ahmadi and Ismaili forms of worship and practice. All this was conceded to the umma: the highly ideological notion that a person is first and foremost defined by their adherence to a religion and that all concepts of citizenship and rights take second place to this theocratic diktat. Nothing could be more reactionary.
President Obama does not consider himself illiterate on Islam. To the contrary. As he said in Cairo, “I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed.” So why is he feigning ignorance?
The reason is simple – and Hitchens highlights it. Whether in the Cairo speech or in his public musings about the Islamic Republic of Iran, the president has decided to speak directly to radicals, bypassing both regimes and liberal dissidents – as long as they forgo violence. That is why he has not just embraced their rhetoric (the “Muslim world”) but also indulged in their grievances – Mossadegh and the rest of it.
That is the same strategy the British government adopted in the UK prior to the horrific London bombings on July 7, 2005 – and some would say afterwards as well.
It did not work very well, Mr. President. Perhaps a review course on Islam might come in handy at this point.
Jonathan, I share your take on Krugman’s selectivity. But let’s be clear: ranting about Jewish control of the U.S. has been largely the role of the Left as of late. It doesn’t make good New York Times copy to point out that the carping about the Jewish Lobby comes from Harvard professors and Leftwing bloggers. It wasn’t Rush Limbaugh or Fox commentators who said during the campaign that John McCain “surrounded himself with, and [was] funded by Jewish neoconservatives”; such rhetoric came from “respectable” Left and Center-Left publications. Do I think those people are responsible for the Holocaust Museum shooting? No. But the heart of this issue is whether there are those who slowly, bit by bit, make anti-Semitism more acceptable and, therefore, more popular. On that score, the answer is sadly yes.
Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution on Joe Biden: “An outstanding senator was elected vice president; six months later he’s the butt of late-night comics’ jokes. Craig Ferguson says, ‘Biden speaks the language of crazy’; Jimmy Fallon calls him ‘Chewbacca with fur plugs.’” Totally unfair. He was never outstanding at anything other than jaw-dropping pomposity and a lack of verbal discipline. Obama should have seen this one coming.
Obama is not merely defending the Defense of Marriage Act – he’s undermining the entire constitutional framework for pro-gay marriage advocates. Dale Carpenter explains the administration didn’t just make technical procedural arguments: “[T]he DOJ brief goes further than it needs to . . . by addressing the merits of the constitutional issues in the case, which attacks both DOMA Section 2 (interstate recognition) and DOMA Section 3 (federal recognition). There’s a hodge-podge of claims in the case. Everything from the Full Faith & Credit Clause to freedom of speech is hurled at DOMA by the claimants. Of most interest is what the DOJ has to say about the due process and equal protection claims, rejecting just about every single variation of an argument that gay-rights scholars and litigants have made over the past 30 years. . . Obama says he opposes DOMA as a policy matter and wants to repeal it. Nothing in the DOJ brief prevents him from acting on that belief. He is, he says, a ‘fierce advocate’ for gay and lesbian Americans. When does that part start?” Next to pro-Israel voters, has any group received worse treatment by Obama than gay voters?
Meanwhile, Marty Peretz seems to be harboring no illusions these days: “Four especially reassuring elections occurred at the United Nations on Wednesday. So I hasten to bring you the good news. Let me give it to you seriatim:1. Libya was elected President of the U.N. General Assembly. The Libyan minister for African affairs has been designated for the post. 2. Sudan as been elected as vice president of the General Assembly. This bodes well for Darfur.3. Algeria has been elected as chair of the Assembly’s Legal Committee, known in the U.N.’s streamlined bureaucracy as the Sixth Committee.4. Iran has been elected vice-chair of the Sixth Committee. Susan Rice will have a wonderful time engaging with these men. Especially since the president’s Cairo speech, which has changed the world.”
Yuval Levin and Bill Kristol see healthcare reform crumbling as we leave the realm of generalities. “The government insurance ‘option’ is clearly shaping up to be the first key vulnerability of ObamaCare. It is crucial to the logic of the Democrats’ approach, as it would offer convenient cover both for the move toward government financing of coverage and for the rationing of care such a move would require. The president, congressional leaders, and key liberal interest groups have insisted it be part of any reform effort. But as outside opposition grows, it is far from clear that the government option will have the votes to pass. If it were voted down or pulled out of the Democrats’ bills, the logic and the inevitability of the remainder of their reform effort would be called into question, and Republicans would face a real opportunity to make the case for their own brand of reform, and to stop the ObamaCare train in its tracks.”
And on a related note, because CBO — that is the Congressional Budget Office – may “score” the healthcare too “high” ( that is Congress-speak for “honestly tell us it will cost a fortune”) Congress may use the figures cooked up by the executive branch’s OMB. That tells you everything you need to know about which entity is more accurate and which is more politicized.
Charlie Rangel admits it will cost more than $1 trillion; Orin Hatch says $1.5 trillion. Democrats are starting the bidding at $600M in new taxes and $400M in Medicare and Medicaid. So how are they going to do that without limiting care for old and poor people?
Fred Barnes explains the lay of the land in Virginia’s gubernatorial race: “Mr. McDonnell’s task is to differentiate himself from Mr. Deeds, point out that the last two Democratic governors in the state raised taxes, and persuade voters the Democrat is far to his left. . . . Mr. McDonnell’s conservative but less ideological strategy may have implications for the GOP. He hasn’t jettisoned social issues, but he’s downplayed them in favor of basic economic, energy and education issues — those designed to attract suburban and middle-class voters. We’ll know in November if this works.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman tells the president and the rest of us that Guantanamo is a “humane” place for the detainees. Yeah, but it can’t match the beaches on Palau and Bermuda.
Speaking of which, Bermuda is in an uproar over the Uighurs. There is something unseemly about using little countries as our toxic dump for terrorists. I thought this was the administration which was going to be a good neighbor in the world community.
Sen. Lindsay Graham isn’t going away quietly on the detainee abuse photo ban: “However, Mr. Graham said he would drop his objections to the $105.6 billion spending measure on two conditions: a promise of a free-standing vote on his ban before July 8 and a commitment from the White House that President Obama would issue an executive order classifying the photos as secret should that be needed to keep them under wraps.”
Lanny Davis doesn’t buy Paul Krugman’s line that it’s the Right which is the home of anti-Semitic haters. Davis remembers the Lieberman Senate race in 2006 all too well.
Will Obama take credit for this one too? “ Defying many predictions, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a commanding lead in the presidential vote count early Saturday, election officials with Iran’s Interior Ministry said.” Be prepared for liberal pundit to reverse course and tell us none of this matters. (But weren’t they just saying that. . . . Oh, never mind.)