Obama takes a calm, studied approach to problems. He always has. So far, it's worked out well for him and for all of us. Every crisis so far, pundits on the right and on the left have jumped in with opinions, politicians on the right and on the left have opined on what he should do - the right usually demanding some sort of military response. But Obama calmly weighs the information, studies the situation, and waits as long as possible until making a decision (well, except for Dept. of Justice rulings but that's another post altogether), and then either acts or not, makes a speech or not, or has someone say it for him. He's usually spot on in gauging the right tone to take when it comes to foreign policy matters.
But now Iran. Protests, riots, uncertainty. Information is limited, confusing, and either manipulated by the government or received from the younger, tech-savvy pro-Mousavi side able to get information out. In the midst of this, you say:
"During the campaign you mocked those who belittled your rhetoric as "just words." Well, what you've offered so far is less than just words. You've put a fresh coat of whitewash on Iran's sham "democracy." On Monday, you proclaimed yourself "troubled" by the events in Iran, before hinting that you'd negotiate with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad no matter what an investigation into his "landslide" victory found. Then there was your pre-election mumbling about "robust debate [that] hopefully will advance our ability to engage them in new ways."
You write about the grand ideals of liberal "nation building" lost during the Bush years when the Republicans embraced the idea out of need when we went to war with Iraq. Funny. I seem to remember Bush going on, and on about the need to spread democracy throughout the Middle East (including Iran) in order to ensure peace for Israel. That all people wanted democracy and to be free (of course, they all wanted American style democracy and freedom which he must have intuited by gazing deeply into their souls).
Then you say that:
"So far, "hope and change" has meant spending trillions we do not have on expanded government we do not need. Meanwhile, the huddled masses of Iranians yearning to breathe free think hope and change means something more. But the new American colossus stands all but silent, her beacon dimmed, her luster tarnished."
"Please, Mr. President, prove me wrong. "
You don't want Mr. President to prove you wrong. He couldn't if he tried. If he did, you'd find some way to find fault and discover another test for him to fail.
The point, that you and your other villagers fail to understand, is that the reason we are well-hated in the Middle East (or were) and in much of the world is because of the George Bush's of the world and his ilk. Because of the attitude that everyone wants to be free and live in an American style democracy. This attitude that America is the greatest nation on earth doesn't play well outside our borders. It's okay for us to say it to each other. It's okay for others to say it to each other and dream about coming to America. But it's not okay for us to say it to them. It's sort of like saying to your neighbor that "my house is bigger and better and more expensive than yours." Or saying that because your house is better, you're better. It's stupid. It's not how to make friends, gain allies, or earn respect.
There is this belief amongst the villagers, the right, and the previous administration that it is somehow the duty of the U.S. to take our style of democracy out into the world. That if there is a problem, it is our duty to solve it. That if there is a war, it is our duty to fight it (or start it). That if there is a different belief system, or religion, that they are wrong, and it is our duty to correct their thinking. Not a way to win popularity contests. The conservatives still talk of America as a "melting pot" when most progressives understand that we have long since moved beyond that and embraced the concept of a plural society that values our diversity. A "salad bowl" if you will, that does not expect everyone to "melt" into a blended, homogeneous sameness but appreciates the differences that make up not only the whole of our society, but the whole of our world.
In 1953, we overturned the democratically elected government of Iran because we didn't like it. Obama didn't have to say anything about it in his speech in Egypt. They already knew it. By acknowledging it, he was saying that there was fault on both sides and it was time to move on (their fault? the hostages). Whether or not they like their government or not, Iranians have believed that they had a democracy. For the first time since 1953, they now know, that they do not.
If Obama and the other nations stay out of it and let things play out as they will, they have a better opportunity of finally resolving things for themselves. If we come on too strong, the hard right, the Mullahs, can claim that the reformists are American-backed, which at this point, they are not. They and we cannot afford for the current government to be overturned by American-backed means. Peace in the Middle East will fail if so, but has real hope of being achieved if the people of Iran are able to successfully elect a new President who has the support of the world community but was not put into power by the world community. There is a huge difference.
Read more of Jonah's column here.
Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.