Commentary Magazine


Topic: Green Movement in Iran

Mark Kirk Makes Sense Regarding Iran

I am delighted to see Rep. Mark Kirk leading in the Illinois Senate race to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama. If elected he would add a bracing voice of realism to the foreign-policy debate in the upper chamber. He has already emerged as a leader on Iran policy — an unusually well informed, sensible critic of the Obama administration’s head-in-the-sand approach. He makes a powerful case in this article that the administration should be doing much more to support the Green Movement in Iran. How? He offers some suggestions:

The President should speak directly and publicly to the dissidents of Iran—name their names from the White House podium—and make them heroes in homes across America. He should invite members of the Green Movement to meet with him at the White House. …

Overall funding for Iran democracy promotion should be increased with … control transferred from the State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy. From there, the United States should take the lead in facilitating Green Movement conferences outside of Iran—whether in the United States or Europe….

While Radio Farda continues the mission of Radio Free Europe, we should work to establish new public/private partnerships to fund independent Iranian filmmakers and producers—using them as a new way to foster more original content. VOA Persian and Radio Farda should set up a “Green Hour” for their broadcasts, and expand their interaction with Iranian dissidents.

Those sound like eminently sensible ideas to me. Why isn’t the Obama administration pursuing them? Surely it can’t think anymore that supporting Iranian dissidents will make the Iranian government less likely to talk to us. If the last year of wasted effort should have convinced the administration of anything, it is that Ahmadinejad et al. have no interest in bargaining away their nuclear program.

Trying to foment peaceful regime change is hardly a panacea. It will be a slow, difficult process that will likely not show results before Iran goes nuclear. But it is also the only long-term approach that has any hope of curbing the threat from Iran, whether it’s armed with nuclear weapons or not. Mark Kirk sees it. Why doesn’t Barack Obama?

I am delighted to see Rep. Mark Kirk leading in the Illinois Senate race to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama. If elected he would add a bracing voice of realism to the foreign-policy debate in the upper chamber. He has already emerged as a leader on Iran policy — an unusually well informed, sensible critic of the Obama administration’s head-in-the-sand approach. He makes a powerful case in this article that the administration should be doing much more to support the Green Movement in Iran. How? He offers some suggestions:

The President should speak directly and publicly to the dissidents of Iran—name their names from the White House podium—and make them heroes in homes across America. He should invite members of the Green Movement to meet with him at the White House. …

Overall funding for Iran democracy promotion should be increased with … control transferred from the State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy. From there, the United States should take the lead in facilitating Green Movement conferences outside of Iran—whether in the United States or Europe….

While Radio Farda continues the mission of Radio Free Europe, we should work to establish new public/private partnerships to fund independent Iranian filmmakers and producers—using them as a new way to foster more original content. VOA Persian and Radio Farda should set up a “Green Hour” for their broadcasts, and expand their interaction with Iranian dissidents.

Those sound like eminently sensible ideas to me. Why isn’t the Obama administration pursuing them? Surely it can’t think anymore that supporting Iranian dissidents will make the Iranian government less likely to talk to us. If the last year of wasted effort should have convinced the administration of anything, it is that Ahmadinejad et al. have no interest in bargaining away their nuclear program.

Trying to foment peaceful regime change is hardly a panacea. It will be a slow, difficult process that will likely not show results before Iran goes nuclear. But it is also the only long-term approach that has any hope of curbing the threat from Iran, whether it’s armed with nuclear weapons or not. Mark Kirk sees it. Why doesn’t Barack Obama?

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Human Rights Under the Bus — Again

It’s no secret that Obama is not enamored of democracy promotion or human rights advocacy. He has done as little as possible to aid the Green Movement in Iran, and in fact has cut funding to groups promoting democracy and documenting human rights abuses. His Sudan envoy is reviled by human rights advocates. He has engaged despotic governments in Burma and Syria, been largely mute on the atrocities against women in the “Muslim World,” and shoved human rights aside in hopes China would agree to sanctions against Iran. He has shown no interest in promoting religious freedom. Now he’s giving the back of the hand to Egyptian and Jordanian democracy advocates:

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change. …

The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.

It is not merely that “Obama has moved away from his predecessor George W. Bush’s aggressive push to democratize the regimes of the Middle East”; it is that Obama sees democracy and human rights as afterthoughts or, worse, impediments to his smooth dealings with the world’s despots. The erosion of America’s moral standing won’t easily be reversed, nor will despotic regimes be restrained in abusing their own people (at least not until there is a less-indifferent Oval Office occupant). Obama has not used his vaunted eloquence or his supposed international popularity to advocate for the repressed around the world. To the contrary, he has enabled and encouraged oppressors, who for now need not fear that they will suffer any adverse consequences from the American president.

It’s no secret that Obama is not enamored of democracy promotion or human rights advocacy. He has done as little as possible to aid the Green Movement in Iran, and in fact has cut funding to groups promoting democracy and documenting human rights abuses. His Sudan envoy is reviled by human rights advocates. He has engaged despotic governments in Burma and Syria, been largely mute on the atrocities against women in the “Muslim World,” and shoved human rights aside in hopes China would agree to sanctions against Iran. He has shown no interest in promoting religious freedom. Now he’s giving the back of the hand to Egyptian and Jordanian democracy advocates:

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change. …

The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.

It is not merely that “Obama has moved away from his predecessor George W. Bush’s aggressive push to democratize the regimes of the Middle East”; it is that Obama sees democracy and human rights as afterthoughts or, worse, impediments to his smooth dealings with the world’s despots. The erosion of America’s moral standing won’t easily be reversed, nor will despotic regimes be restrained in abusing their own people (at least not until there is a less-indifferent Oval Office occupant). Obama has not used his vaunted eloquence or his supposed international popularity to advocate for the repressed around the world. To the contrary, he has enabled and encouraged oppressors, who for now need not fear that they will suffer any adverse consequences from the American president.

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Foreign Policy AWOL in SOTU

I realize that Barack Obama, like most of his predecessors, came to the Oval Office primarily focused on his domestic agenda, not foreign policy, but I nevertheless find it stunning how little coverage national-security affairs received in this State of the Union. By my count, in a speech of 7,077 words, only 932 — 13 percent — were devoted to America’s role abroad, despite the fact that Obama’s most important responsibility is to act as commander in chief in wartime.

Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.

I would have thought that by now Obama, like most presidents, would have made the pivot toward foreign policy — that he would have realized he needs to focus more on dealing with real crises abroad rather than manufactured crises, such as health care, at home. Judging by this State of the Union, that hasn’t happened yet.

I realize that Barack Obama, like most of his predecessors, came to the Oval Office primarily focused on his domestic agenda, not foreign policy, but I nevertheless find it stunning how little coverage national-security affairs received in this State of the Union. By my count, in a speech of 7,077 words, only 932 — 13 percent — were devoted to America’s role abroad, despite the fact that Obama’s most important responsibility is to act as commander in chief in wartime.

Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.

I would have thought that by now Obama, like most presidents, would have made the pivot toward foreign policy — that he would have realized he needs to focus more on dealing with real crises abroad rather than manufactured crises, such as health care, at home. Judging by this State of the Union, that hasn’t happened yet.

Read Less