Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the Obama administration’s decision to throw in the towel on Iraq, and as Team Obama prepares to repeat its mistake in Afghanistan, Iranian authorities seek to make it two for two.
On June 1, Iran sponsored commemorations in Kabul to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. From the accompanying BBC Persian photo essay and article, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the shrewdest analyst of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington—highlighted two points. First, Mohammad Akbari, a Shi’a jihadi leader now in Afghanistan’s parliament, declared, “Religious beliefs have no borders. Those who say today that Khomeini belongs to Iran will next day relate Prophet of Muslims Muhammad to Saudi Arabia.” However, Majidyar notes, some Afghans protested the pro-Iranian festivities. “This is Kabul, not Tehran or Qom,” some declared. Other held signs which read, “Puppets: no more betrayal.” Meanwhile, Iranian officials have ramped up pressure on Afghan politicians to reject the Strategic Cooperation Agreement, reportedly offering $25 million in bribes.
As the Obama administration and many Western officials persist in suggesting the Turkish experience might be a model for the Arab Middle East, it is worth considering whether the model about which American diplomats speak is the same one that Turkey’s Islamist prime minister considers.
After the AKP’s 2002 election victory, the party rightly focused on economics, and after the party’s second victory, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accelerated reforms to diminish the power of Turkey’s military. With the AKP victory in Turkey’s June 2011 general election, however, Erdoğan felt entrenched enough to implement his social agenda. Some of his agenda is bizarre: The prime minister, for example, now rants about the evil scourge of Caesarean sections. He has waged a war on beer. And now, the state-controlled media seeks to ensure that Lebanese pop singers dress more conservatively than they do back home. From Hürriyet Daily News:
Lebanese singer Jehan Barbur refused to attend a TRT show after she was asked to be careful about her clothes, daily Sabah reported. The singer complained of the incident on her Twitter account, saying: “I was asked to be a guest on one of TRT’s channels. But I was asked to be careful about my clothes. Who do you think you are dominating…?” The agent also told reporters that a similar warning was made for guitarist Kemal Evrim Aslan’s vocalist. “They put a table cloth over her because her shoulders were showing,” the agent said.
Last year, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stood its ground on the debt ceiling standoff, President Obama’s strategy for 2012 became apparent. Throughout the torturous negotiations over entitlements, budgets, taxes and spending, the president issued statements about wanting a compromise, but these were a thin veil covering his obvious desire for a confrontation. Demanding new taxes that the House majority elected in 2010 had vowed never to accept, the administration more or less dared the GOP leadership to allow the country to default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
It was painfully obvious as the controversy lingered throughout the summer that President Obama was working from Bill Clinton’s 1995 playbook when he similarly bluffed a Republican Congress into shutting down the government over a budget standoff. Though Congress’s popularity plunged, the president was disappointed in his hopes that House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to step into the Newt Gingrich clown suits he had prepared for them. Nevertheless, the White House still hoped that lingering disgust for Congress combined with an economic recovery would allow the president to win re-election in the same manner as Clinton did. But if there was any doubt about the inapplicability of the 1996 template, this year it was removed on Friday as another dismal jobs report more or less guaranteed that a summer recovery wasn’t in the cards. The bad economic news isn’t just a setback that will give the Democrats a few shaky news cycles. It is confirmation that the president’s re-election strategy has already failed.