President Obama has now adopted a position that many critics of his commitment to “engagement” with Iran were articulating before the Iranian election, namely that there isn’t much difference between the reformist Mir Hussein Moussavi and the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
It’s true that had Moussavi been allowed to win, the result would not have advanced peace in the region or increased the chances of Iran halting its nuclear program. By the same token, those who say that having Ahmadinejad in power is in the interests of both the United Sates and Israel are not thinking clearly. Ahmadinejad’s shameless anti-Semitism makes appeasement of Iran a less attractive policy in the West. But to make this the central consideration is to mistake tactics for strategy. Given the stakes involved in that nation’s quest for nuclear weapons, having a slightly saner Iranian government is preferable to the status quo — though both alternatives are pretty bad.
Yet Obama’s plague-on-both-their-houses attitude toward Moussavi and Ahmadinejad would have more credibility if the administration were not so clearly determined to make nice with Iran, no matter who becomes its next president. The growing pro-appeasement sentiment of the Iran lobby has been momentarily flummoxed by the drama in Tehran. But there is little doubt that following a “decent interval” (as the now slightly contrite Roger Cohen put it) Washington’s determination to avoid confrontation over the genocidal threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel will not be changed.
Though the administration’s spin masters are trying to avoid painting the president as a cynical observer who couldn’t care less about the beastly behavior of his proposed “engagement” partner, the meaning of his failure to speak out is becoming more and more obvious. After six months in office, it is time to face up to the fact that what Americans got when they elected Barack Obama last November is the second term of the first President George Bush’s foreign policy.
The first Bush presidency was, of course, the heyday of foreign policy “realism.” It was the elder Bush who was unmoved by the Tiananmen Square massacre. Making a stink about the snuffing out of a movement for Chinese liberty would have interfered with his friendship with the Beijing gerontocracy behind the slaughter. And it was the elder Bush who opposed freedom for the Baltic states and Ukraine when the Soviet Empire was tottering.
Obama’s refusal to “meddle” in foreign quarrels may have its origins in a belief in America’s unworthiness and past sins (for which he has ceaselessly apologized since his inauguration) rather than the pure cynicism about human rights that seemed to characterize the James “f___ the Jews” Baker school of diplomacy. But the bottom line here is the same.
Indeed, like Bush, the one nation Obama feels free to “meddle” with is the one true democracy in the Middle East: Israel. The only difference is that while it might have been argued in 1991 — when Bush I pioneered the Walt-Mearsheimer critique of pro-Israel activists — that peace might be the outcome if Israel were pressured to make concessions to Palestinian terrorists, today, after many attempts on the Jewish State’s part to do just that, such a position has been exposed as utterly fantastic.
What the president’s legion of admirers must admit today is that though Obama is much better at articulating the sort of “vision thing” that Poppy Bush was incapable of doing, his foreign policy is in this respect virtually indistinguishable from the elderly Republican. Opposition to the younger President Bush’s democracy promotion agenda has become the keystone for Obama, even if it means that the world’s greatest democracy must clam up when Tehran’s tyrants stifle hope for change. The sad truth is that appeasement of tyranny has never been the sole preserve of either the Left or the Right. It is, however, the default position for cynics and cowards of all political persuasions.