Commentary Magazine


They’ve Chosen Their Path

At Tuesday’s press conference, Barack Obama finally condemned the Iranian regime for brutality that “appalled and outraged.” But as forceful as some of Obama’s language was, he left the door open for engagement with a repentant mullahcracy. He was asked: “[I]s there any red line that your administration won’t cross where that offer [to talk to Iran’s leaders] will be shut off?” He responded in part:

Well, obviously what’s happened in Iran is profound, and we’re still waiting to see how it plays itself out. . . We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out to the international community, engage, and become a part of international norms. . . It is up to them to make a decision as to whether they choose that path.

Wait no more, Mr. President. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced today, “[H]e would neither reconsider vote results nor bow to public pressure over the disputed reelection of his ally President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as state-controlled broadcasting intensified a media blitz against the West.” This comes in concert with stepped up brutality against protesters and raids on opposition “headquarters.” So much for that path to international norms.

It is no doubt a great surprise to the Obama administration that a fascist theocracy insists on acting like a fascist theocracy. Amazingly, the president and the State Department will have to adjust to the stubbornness of reality. This means treating the mullahs like enemy fanatics — not slighted innocents or kids hankering for hot dogs.

This also means accepting the necessity of George W. Bush’s general posture on Iran. There are those who wish Bush had followed through on his early proclamations and halted Iran’s nuclear program with air strikes before leaving office. Having stopped short of that, the last president did largely understand the inutility of diplomacy with the mullahs. Prostration and apology were out of the question — as they are soon to be for Obama.

Like the North Koreans before them, the Iranians have used the Obama approach as an opportunity for aggression. They took his sideline indifference as an all-clear. Just as Obama has reverted to early Bush policy on Pyongyang, so he will do in regard to Tehran. He will never call it that, of course; he’ll call it consistency.

But the only consistency on display has been embodied by the world’s bad actors. In response to Obama’s outstretched hand, toy reset button, and proclivity for mutual respect, rogue regimes have held fast to the policies and programs that have sustained them since their inceptions. In some sense that is the “international norm,” and it remains America’s job to upset it — not “witness” it. The red line was drawn when Khamenei and Ahmadinejad first cracked down on democratic protesters 12 days ago. President Obama just didn’t know it yet. He’s figuring it out now.

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