In the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier criticizes the weakness of Obama’s support for the Iranian protesters. Wieseltier correctly points out that by his tepid response, Obama refused to take the leadership role that would have meant a great deal to those defying the mullahs’ regime. As president, Obama is hardly a passive observer like the bulk of the American people; his words might have actually meant something:
If all of us support the dissidents but the president does not, the dissidents have an American problem. If none of us support the dissidents but the president does, the dissidents do not have an American problem. And either way, the president is “meddling.” Obama’s parsimonious performance in the first weeks of the rebellion in Tehran, the disappearance of his eloquence and his championship of change, was an attempt by the president to impersonate the rest of us, to be just another saddened consumer of tweets and feeds. Hence his refrains about “bearing witness” and “the world is watching.” That is uplift for a demonstration, or a vigil. Witnessing and watching are varieties of passivity. The rest of us witness and watch, because we can do little else.
Wieseltier supported Obama for the presidency, and it’s instructive to go back and look at his reasons for doing so. Wieseltier is basically a liberal, but one who defies easy categorization (a Scoop Jackson liberal?). As he wrote back then:
I want universal health care and I want an interventionist foreign policy. I believe that the American president should help people in distress, at home and abroad–not all of them, but a lot of them. I like capitalism, but not religiously, and I feel the same way about diplomacy.
He also was made very uneasy by the Ayers and Wright revelations and how Obama handled them. But in the end, he was won over, with one caveat:
Obama is a smart man. He is a decent man. He is an undangerous man, in the manner of all pragmatists and opportunists. He reveres reason, though he often confuses it with conversation. His domestic goals are good, though the titans of American finance, the greedy geniuses of Wall Street, may have made many of those goals fantastic. He will see to it that some liberalism survives at the Supreme Court. This leaves only the rest of the world. What a time for a novice! I dread the prospect of Obama’s West Wing education in foreign policy: even when he spoke well about these matters in the debates, it all sounded so new to him, so light.
I wonder whether Wieseltier would call Obama an “undangerous man” now. Perhaps he would, since they seem to still share many domestic policy viewpoints such as demonization of Wall Street and a desire for liberals on the Court. But we now know that the note of warning and dread that Wieseltier sounded about foreign policy has been vindicated, as Wieseltier also seems to be thinking.
Notice, however, that Wieseltier still considers Obama’s foreign policy faux pas to be the result of Obama’s ignorance, both then and now. In his earlier piece, he referred to dreading the prospect of Obama’s education in foreign policy (this was also the point of Hillary’s 3 AM campaign ad; wonder what she’s thinking now, as she goes about Obama’s business). And even in Wieseltier’s recent piece on Obama and Iran, he writes most tellingly [emphasis mine]:
Will [Obama’s] mincing cease? Will the realist get real? In recent days Obama has begun–not under pressure, of course–to “condemn” and to “deplore.” The oppressed people of Iran may now endure what other oppressed peoples have endured: the learning curve of an American president. It is the insult that history adds to their injury.
I used to believe—or at least, to consider it the most likely possibility—that Obama was merely ignorant and naive, too, and that he might learn better with time and experience. Now, although I still hope that, I believe it to be highly unlikely. The missteps are too many to be missteps, the path too straight, the pattern too clear: Obama does not care about human rights or liberty abroad or at home. He has more in common with thugs than with those who would oppose them. And he believes in amassing and using as much power domestically as he can get his hands on in any way possible.