Here are some of the remarks President Obama made yesterday on Iran. I don’t need to analyze them too closely; many others have already done so. But I will say that they highlight Obama’s already-marked tendency towards narcissistic referencing that emphasizes his own personal reaction and/or personal story, as well as his remarkably passive and mealymouthed “evenhandedness” in the international sphere.
Obama has positioned himself as the un-Bush. This means that making a strong statement of solidarity and support to the Iranian demonstrators is not possible for him either strategically or temperamentally. Commenters at the blogs on the Left defend this course of action by saying that any such statements would only afford the mullahs an opportunity to say that the demonstrators are mere US puppets. But since they’ll say that anyway if they wish at any time they wish no matter what Obama does or doesn’t do, and since such statements of strong support in the past have given protesters around the world heart in many countries and at many times (see this for just one example), that sort of argument rings hollow and seems mere apologia for the weak response of our current President.
I wrote “weak response;” some would say “cowardly response.” I don’t think it’s the latter; to be a coward implies that Obama knows that he should be denouncing the regime and supporting the demonstrators in stronger terms, and that he rejects that move because he is afraid. There may be a bit of that involved, but I don’t really think so; if I read Obama correctly, I believe that he is unmoved by the protests and has tunnel vision for his task, which he sees as negotiating with Ahmadinejad and convincing him (whether by the sheer force of Obamalove or the power of logic) to give up his nuclear program.
That this is a delusion on Obama’s part and a misreading of Iran’s intent and ability to deceive is not the point; Obama seems to believe that it will happen, and has staked quite a bit on this belief. And it’s not just about Iran itself. It’s about an entire philosophical approach to international conflict that is as different as night and day from that of Bush and Cheney (Manichaeans who believe in the division of good and evil in the world, and the need for the former to press hard against the latter). Obama is committed to proving that cultural relativism (read “respect for all other countries and their governments”), the talking cure, apologies, meekness, and American non-interventionism pave the way for productive dialogue with the likes of even Ahmadinejad.
Compared to this, a few demonstrators in Iran must seem paltry and unimportant to Obama. The big picture is the power of negotiation. In the meantime, Obama—who once would have been considered, as President of the United States, the “leader of the free world”—doesn’t see himself that way. He sees his role as subtly guiding, through his own measured and nuanced response, this country to a new position as facilitator rather than leader, as the great mediator rather than the great liberator.
I used the word “Manichaean” earlier in this essay. It’s of interest to note that Manichaeism originated in Persia. That country is now known as Iran, and you can bet that, although the mullahs are Shiite Moslems, they have an approach to the world that is profoundly Manichaean in the more general sense, and that whoever heads the US it is the embodiment of evil to them (the “big Satan”). They are most likely to see Obama’s evenhanded refusal to say much of anything to condemn them as evidence of the weakness of the current leader of the Western axis of evil, rather than of the fact that he isn’t evil.
Did I say “leader?” Yes, I did; the world still views the POTUS in this way, whether the current occupant of the office acknowledges it or not. And it’s not a good thing to be considered a weak leader or a weak horse by enemies; Bin Laden was certainly correct on that score.
I mentioned the Persian origins of Manichaeism. Persia was also the birthplace of chess, that game of complex strategic moves and planning. The mullahs are no doubt familiar with that discipline as well, and although in his autobiography Obama claimed to be a chess player, I think he’s a rank amateur compared to them.
That doesn’t mean that I (or anyone else, for that matter) have a clue what will ultimately happen in Iran. With or without Obama’s support, the opposition will either gather enough strength to actually put a dent in the mullahs’ power or it will be crushed. Michael Ledeen, somewhat of an expert on Iran, seems think it at least possible that the regime is currently in trouble. He bases this partly on the fact that there is evidence of defection in both the Revolutionary Guards and the clergy itself. As a commenter on the Ledeen article writes (see #43, “Uzi”):
Two things to look for in a revolution are the moment when the leader or leaders of the ancien regime suffer a sudden loss of nerve, often due to the sudden realization that their position is less secure than they had peviously thought. (Think of James II when Marlborough crossed the field to join the forces of William and Mary or of Nicolas Ceausescu when he suddenly realized that the hundreds of thousands of rent a crowd people he had gathered up for a pro- government demo in front of his palace were chanting anti-government slogans, or of Ferdinand Marcos when part of the leadership of the Phillipenes army came out in support of Corizon Acquino). At moments like that, the old regime leadership start suffering vicarious flashbacks of previously overthrown leaders: Charles I on the scaffold, Moussolini hanging upside-down from a lamp-post, etc. and start looking for the nearest exit. When that happens the game is over and the revolution quickly replaces the disintegtrating ancien regime.
The second possibly determinative development would be for key members of the current leadership to somehow fall into the hands of the revolutionaries (as happened with Louis XVI , Tzar Nicholas, Moussolini, and Ceausescu). This almost always changes the dynamic of the revolution, generally by reason of execution of the outgoing leadership. Obviously Khamenei and Ahmadinejad will be taking precautions, but if they can’t trust their own Revolutionary Guards Corps officers, anything could happen.