Friday, July 10, 2009

Could it be that Bush was right?

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, July 3, 2009

As the unrest in Iran changes form before the eyes and ears of the world, our president’s response seems to be just as amorphous. Obama has failed to demonstrate a resolute and determined response to the crisis. He has taken the risky position of sitting upon an ideological fence, as if he is waiting to see who is going to come out ahead before he makes a decision. However, in the course of dealing with conflicting philosophies, the luxury of waiting for the winds of change to give direction to core values does not belong to those who have placed themselves in positions of power.

Obama’s campaign promises to meet and talk with rogue leaders, such as Ahmadinejad and Kim Jung Il, with “no preconditions” was rightly blasted as na├»ve by Hilary Clinton and others. After the initial results of the June 12 election came in, and before the depth of outrage came out, Obama hailed the need to recognize Iran’s sovereignty in an attempt to keep diplomatic corridors free from obstacles. However, his current public response has morphed to one of being “appalled and outraged” by the violent response of the Iranian government toward the demonstrators who are demanding a valid recount of the votes.

The images that come out of Iran’s streets and public squares via cell phones and YouTube videos demand a more definite and firm voice of support for the cause of freedom and liberty. Obama has so far refused to use those two words, apparently because he is afraid of showing any agreement or confederacy with George Bush. Instead he only speaks of “justice” – a word that bears different meanings to different people. In fact, he has sought, in every way, to purge any Bush-ism from his vocabulary, although he sees no problem with continuing Bush’s most controversial policies.

That is why the response from Ahmadinejad, reported by Reuters on June 25, comparing Obama to Bush, served up the worst slap Obama could have ever received from another leader. He accused Obama of making a mistake by voicing outrage and claimed Obama “fell into a trap and said things that previously Bush used to say.” He went on to say that Obama should avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs, as if the act of shooting citizens in the streets was tantamount to a civil domestic dispute between loving family members.

So, how does Obama get out of this quandary?

If the revolt continues to grow via the new channels of communication such as Twitter, YouTube and cell phones, and results in the overthrowing of the current regime, Obama will be exposed as being behind the political curve. He will also be seen as the one world leader who was too timid to offer his support to a valiant group of people seeking freedom of expression.

If, on the other hand, the government is successful in crushing this demonstration of civilian unrest through the shed blood and dead bodies of unarmed citizens, Obama will be seen as either implicitly or explicitly condoning the action, should he ever shake the blood-stained hand of the perpetrator in signing any future agreements.

The solution, I believe, is similar to those I mentioned in my last column regarding the North Korean challenge. It involves learning from history and applying tactics that have proved successful in the past. The response of President Reagan during the revolution in Poland that eventually led to the flame of liberty spreading to other nations behind the Iron Curtain was to offer moral and philosophical support to the people of Poland while refraining from overt or covert endorsement of any one leader.

Obama has rightly concluded that we should not endorse Mousavi or Ahmadinejad. History has shown that the policy of choosing a particular leader over another is never a good idea. However, history has shown that support for the universal thirst for freedom can be an effective weapon against tyranny. Obama can make his plea directly to the people by using the tools afforded to him by the Internet’s long reach into individual homes and personal computers.

Obama has a chance to change the world like Reagan and Bush changed the world before him. He needs to extol the virtues of freedom and America’s history of fighting to promote it, as Reagan did, instead of apologizing for America’s role in the evils of the world. He needs to recognize that Bush’s policy of lighting a candle of liberty in a darkened area of the world will shed its light upon the neighboring nations. We are now witnessing the truth of Bush’s words.

As the people in Iran look to their neighbors in Iraq, who are now beginning to reap the fruits of our troops’ labors in gaining them free elections and personal liberties, it is going to be increasingly difficult for their leaders to brand the U.S. as the great Satan.

Instead of trying to be the Anti-Bush candidate, Obama needs to be mature enough to admit that, for all his faults, Bush did get some things right.

Listening to History

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, July 3, 2009

Anyone who has listened to talk radio over the last couple of weeks may be under the impression that President Obama sat idly by while events in Iran unfolded. There was some mention of his being on the wrong side of history, and of his falling behind the historical curve. I am not sure if the phrase “being on the right side of history” actually has any real meaning, but regarding Iran I think the case for that concept is even shakier.

The fact that the Iranian election results of June 12 indicate fraud and corruption is hardly disputed. How the rightful election of Mousavi would play out is a matter for greater debate. While his term as prime minister of Iran can be studied for a hint of how a Mousavi presidency would look, it is difficult to be certain since his service occurred during a transitional period in Iran’s governing structure. I agree that Obama is right not to side with either the devil we know or the devil we don’t.

So the issue of the election becomes less about its legitimacy and more about the Iranian government’s response to the protesters’ outcry.

A look beyond the ranting of conservative punditry reveals that the administration’s policy on that issue has consistently been to uphold the rights of the voting public, encourage investigation of the results, and to warn strongly against a violent retaliation by the state. Without fueling Ahmadinejad’s manipulation of perceived external interference to be used as a weapon against Iran’s citizens, Obama has effectively made a clear statement of what the international community expects of Iran. In fact, rather than waiting for things to shake out, he began focusing the discussion on the democratic process in speeches days before the suspect election results were announced.

Still, words like “weak” and “timid” have peppered the various critiques of the president’s response. My guess is that this characterization is part of the ongoing effort to portray Obama as an ineffective world-leader. A common model of recent comparison is the “bring-‘em-on” cowboy persona of George W. Bush. The implication seems to be that the leader of the free world should wear his title like some measure of his machismo. Apparently some feel that there is historical evidence to suggest that this posturing has made the United States more secure. I believe that such bravado has stirred animosity, especially in the Middle East and has led to complications that haunt us today.

There are lessons to be learned from history. The U.S. has been influential in regards to democracy of Iran – most often to its detriment. Since the CIA engineered a coup in the 1950s to overthrow the democratically elected government, there have been several points throughout history during which the United States has had a dramatic impact on regime change in Iran. Notable is our involvement bringing to power a tyrannical Shah who ruled with an iron fist until the Islamic Revolution led to his exile. Also of interest was the problematic relationship the United States fostered during the Reagan administration with a certain Iraqi leader. The image of the Bush administration Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (then a special envoy of Reagan) shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, while deals were cemented to provide U.S. weaponry and resources to be used against Iranian military and civilians, has become a symbol of that dysfunctional relationship.

In fact, outside intervention in the affairs of Iran in the interest of securing Middle Eastern oil supplies has done more to defeat the spread of democracy in the region than to encourage it. When it comes to the idea that the Iranian people can look to their neighbors in Iraq and be encouraged by the flames of democracy, the glow of that candle is often difficult to distinguish amidst the explosions in marketplaces that continue to plague the war-torn nation in the wake of the U.S. invasion.

History also shows us inconsistencies in the American approach to injustice and human rights violence. It is interesting to me to hear certain voices crying for action to prevent further violence against Iranian citizens, when those same voices were eerily silent during the Darfur conflict that left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced during the previous administration. Perhaps this disparity is evidence of a larger agenda that reflects our interests in Iran and the Middle East.

I think history will clearly proclaim that the world has been changed by the administrations of Bush and Reagan and will probably be changed by Obama’s. The brand of change will be different I’m sure. Perhaps reflective intellect and careful action will trump threats of annihilation and immature posturing. I certainly hope so.