The Washington Post today includes this headline: “Ahmadinejad Demands Apology From Obama: Iranian Warns Against Further Criticism.” According to the story,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at President Obama on Thursday, warning him against “interfering” in Iranian affairs and demanding an apology for criticism of a government crackdown on demonstrators protesting alleged electoral fraud… In a speech at a petrochemical plant in southern Iran, Ahmadinejad said Obama was behaving like his predecessor, George W. Bush, and suggested that talks with the United States on Iran’s nuclear program would be pointless if Obama kept up his criticism. Obama, who has expressed interest in talking to the Iranian leadership about the nuclear issue, said at a news conference Tuesday that he was “appalled and outraged” by recent violence against demonstrators, and he accused the Iranian government of trying to “distract people” by blaming the unrest on the United States and other Western nations. “Do you want to speak with this tone?” Ahmadinejad responded Thursday, addressing Obama. “If that is your stance, then what is left to talk about?” He added: “I hope you avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it.” He asked why Obama “has fallen into this trap and repeated the comments that Bush used to make” and told the U.S. president that such an attitude “will only make you another Bush in the eyes of the people.” Ahmadinejad also praised Iran’s election as demonstrating “the great capabilities and grandeur of the Iranian nation” and declared that his country is practicing true “freedom,” as opposed to “this unpopular democracy which is governing America and Europe.” Americans and Europeans “have no right to choose and are restricted to . . . two or three parties” in voting for their leaders, he said.
Now isn’t that revealing?
For the entire campaign and much of his presidency, Barack Obama has laid the blame for Iran’s actions on George W. Bush rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama would, unlike Bush, engage the Iranian regime. He would bring the Sweet Voice of Reason to the dialogue. Obama’s skills at international diplomacy, so evident during his years in the Illinois state senate, would tame the terrorist-sponsoring, Holocaust-denying, Israel-threatening, election-frauding, America-is-the-Great-Satan believing president of Iran and the mullahs who support him. So long as we didn’t provoke the Iranian regime — and so long as our president spoke respectfully of it and took the obligatory subtle jabs at the U.S. in the process — all things were possible. After all, how could Ahmadinejad be unmoved by the young, sophisticated, charismatic Barack Hussein Obama, author of The Cairo Speech (already deemed by Rahm Emanuel as one of the greatest foreign policy speeches ever made by an American president)?
Quite easily, it turns out.
It may be that the problems with Iran rested not with President Bush but with the nature of the Iranian regime itself. It may be that referring to the Iranian regime, as well as the regimes of North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, as an “axis of evil” wasn’t the source of the difficulty after all. It may be that those regimes actually were and still are evil. And it may be that leaders like Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il are immune to the charms of America’s 44th president. They may interpret Obama’s efforts at outreach as signs of weakness. They may decide to set the terms of debate and, later, negotiations. And they may turn out to be so unreasonable and intransigent that Obama the Logician is flummoxed when it comes to dealing with them. Maybe Obama’s effort to cast himself as the Great Reconciler and the Great Apologizer will not only fail, but prove to be counterproductive.
Time will tell. But as Professor Fouad Ajami put it in his outstanding column in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, “President Obama’s Persian tutorial has just begun.” I hope Obama is a quicker learner and wiser leader than Jimmy Carter.