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Not Exactly Like the Campaign

Richard Cohen seems to like Obama’s equivocation on Iran because, after all, who’s to know “how Iran is actually governed.” (Hint: through terror, murder, abduction, and censorship). He concludes:

Still, if McCain, Graham and others have a valid complaint, it is not with Obama’s words but with his music. The President of Cool seems emotionally disconnected from events in Tehran — not unconcerned but not particularly upset, either. This is a quality that will cost Obama plenty in coming years. He can acknowledge your pain, but he cannot feel it.

Iran, the first foreign policy “crisis,” alerts us to what to expect in the future: a tightly controlled message from the White House (Anyone heard from Hillary Clinton lately?), a deliberate consideration of the options and no shoot-from-the-hip remarks. This is how Obama ran his campaign. This is how he’ll run his foreign policy. As McCain should know, it works.

That’s a lot to unpack. But his first point is a valid one: does Obama really empathize (that’s supposed to be big with him) with those Iranians yearning to throw off the yoke of the theocratic thugs? Does he even know about the gruesome killing of the young woman Neda in Iran? His spokesman isn’t really sure. All we know is that he remains obsessed with keeping hope alive — for a deal with the regime to give up their nukes. The rest is simply a distraction.

As to his next point, Cohen isn’t quite right: the White House message hasn’t been all that disciplined. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden felt compelled to leak their objections to the “no meddling” approach to the New York Times. The president on Saturday offered support for the demonstrators but by Monday the State Department was back to spinning for engagement once again. And then, of course, we can’t let the murder of Iranian citizens, the arrest of protesters and reporters, and the attack on independent media get in the way of July 4 picnics and outreach, right? If, as the president says, the whole world is watching, then the whole world might be a bit confused about just what America stands for and how strongly it stands for it.

But Cohen’s last point is simply ludicrous, although it no doubt channels the White House thinking on Iran and most everything else. In their eyes, governing is just like the campaign. You have photo ops, the media swoons, the opposition can be distorted or ignored (because they are less popular than Obama) and everything falls into place. Except it doesn’t. The world is not a campaign. The mullahs aren’t a hapless McCain team weighed down by an unpopular incumbent. This is the real deal and the president seems painfully oblivious to the monumental events unfolding.

Come to think of it, there was a campaign moment just like this — the invasion of Georgia. And there too Obama froze, hid behind the palm trees on vacation, and could not tell the aggressor from the victim. Well, maybe Cohen has a point after all.



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