Robert J. Elisberg
"Now is not the time for the president to dig in to a neutral posture," Paul Wolfowitz wrote last week in the Washington Post. "It is time to change course."
Oh, swell. Now he wants to change course.
Mind you, as an architect of the Iraq War, it's not like Mr. Wolfowitz's track record on advice for the Middle East is terribly dazzling.
His opinion here is not terribly surprising, though. The neocon wing of the Republican Party has rarely found a war it doesn't love to start (finishing, optional), most especially if they themselves don't have to risk fighting it. And now, it seems like most conservative Republicans have their trigger finger itching to start yet another Middle East war.
No, thanks. Been there, done that.
In his op-ed, Mr. Wolfowitz chose two comparisons (noting only quietly at the very end that "no two situations are identical.").
The first was the1986 Philippine elections when Ronald Reagan initially made a cautious statement (exactly as President Obama has done...), and only later declared that there had been fraud. Never mind that the Philippines is one of our longtime allies with whom (unlike Iran) we have actual diplomatic ties. And never mind that whatever happened there would not destabilize the entire world - let alone neighboring Mindanao. And never mind what overturned events was that Philippine President Fernando Marcos had two reform leaders arrested, which brought a national protest that forced him to flee the country three days later.
Yes, that's so much like Iran...
His other "comparison" - and one uses that word advisedly - was when George Bush (the first) spoke out against a coup attempt in the Soviet Union in 1991. After he too was initially non-committal and cautious. Exactly like President Obama. Later, Bush took the "bold" step of condemning the coup. Yes, honest, this is the comparison Paul Wolfowitz is trying to draw.
Noteworthy though is that Mr. Wolfowitz stops right there and leaves out the other involvement Mr. Bush 41 also made in 1991. That's when he challenged Iraqis to stage a coup and "to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside." The result of these empty words of false encouragement was that the uprising was defenseless, and Saddam Hussein ordered mass killings that have been estimated in the range of up to 230,000.
Shocking, I know, that Paul Wolfowitz ignored this "comparison" in American presidential intervention. Especially given that as far as comparisons go, Iraq is next door to Iran. It was just an oversight, I'm sure...
Of course, pretty much all the right-wing Republican voices who want the president to involve himself in Iran have ignored this recent history, as well. Instead, they prefer words that will either - 1) be empty with no substance behind them and put millions of Iranians at risk, or 2) get us involved in yet another Middle East war.
It is this very same, empty belligerence that John McCain has been ratcheting, including on his new-found Twitter account. (Republican discovery of Twitter misses the point that when your messages are limited to 140 characters, so is the depth of your thought.)
"Mass peaceful demonstrations in Iran today," he tweeted, "let's support them & stand up for democracy & freedom! President & his Admin should do the same."
Mind you, it's not remotely clear what "standing up" actually would accomplish - or means - but it is an admonition he's fallen in love with. "It's our duty to stand up for people who are struggling for freedom," he quoted to C-Span. "We should stand up for them," he told Fox News. "The way we stood up for the Polish workers in Gdansk, the way we stood up for the people of then Czechoslovakia..."
...and the way we stood up for Iraqis in 1991 with empty, meaningless words before they were mass murdered? But then, John McCain has a record of being reckless here. After all, we can't forget his singing, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," during his failed presidential candidacy. At least we now know what America avoided by not having his experienced leadership during this time of grave diplomatic delicacy.
This is all the same hubris and ignorance that got us involved in Iraq. That's why Iranian experts have near-unanimously applauded President Obama's handling of the situation - because they actually understand the perspective.
They know that what is happening in Iran right now is far deeper than protesting a vote. It's a political/religious battle that goes back to the Muslim Brotherhood formed in Egypt in 1928 - and to many hundreds of years of conflict. As Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle Eastern specialist in the C.I.A., wrote in Sunday's New York Times:
"Yet in the current demonstrations we are witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule....Westerners would do well to understand the magnitude of what is transpiring in the Islamic Republic."
"Standing up" for the reform candidate Mr. Moussavi would get him painted as an American puppet, a disaster for reformers. It could even be the one thing that unites Iran. Further, despite whatever rigging existed, President Ahmadinejad may still have won the election, just that the rigging guaranteed a bigger margin. And if Ahmadinejad did, indeed, win - or stays in power, regardless - this is the Iranian administration we will need to deal with to lessen their nuclear threat. Most importantly, though, as anyone who understand Iran knows, its president doesn't have authority - that rests with the Supreme Leader. So, imposing ourselves for a figurehead while spiting the actual sovereign is as dangerous and counterproductive as anything imaginable towards an unstable nuclear power.
And President Obama understands all this. And has been widely praised by those who understand the situation. For goodness sake, even George Will called the right-wing criticism, "foolish".
"The people on the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is. And they don't need that reinforced."
And the reality is, that Mr. Obama did speak out early, contrary to the fake-talking points of the neocons and far right Republicans.
"We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust action against the Iranian people," the president stated last week. "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." ("Stands"!) "If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion."
That is as blunt a statement as any that Ronald Reagan made towards the Philippines, or George Bush (the first) made towards the Soviet Union. And it was far more diplomatic and thoughtful than what Mr. Bush (the first) said to Iraqis before they got mass murdered.
Yet still the neocons want more, insist the president isn't saying anything, isn't doing anything.
It's irresponsibly dangerous. As when the right-wing Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post: "And where is our president? Afraid of "meddling."
Amazingly, there is Mr. Krauthammer, in his own words, admonishing the president to actually "meddle." Meddle in a centuries-old religious conflict of a nuclear power. The same meddling that got us mired in the disaster of Iraq.
Meddling! They want meddling! Enough already. We've seen the result of "meddling." Which is why the far right has long-since lost its credibility for giving any advice. But still they give it.
"He's been timid and passive more than I would like," said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC).
Apparently, more "meddling" would be to Mr. Graham's liking. That belligerent "Bring it on!" swagger than George W. Bush managed so well.
These right-wing voices just love war, as long as they don't have to fight it. Just love sending young Americans to die, to salve their posturing ego and failed politics. Just love the idea to "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." Perhaps that would be aggressive enough for them all, calling for more active meddling in Iran.
Been there, done that. The results are right across Iran's border in Iraq.
What all these loud, empty, aggressive voices ignore is that a president who measures his public statements thoughtfully is not inherently silent under the surface, which keeps the channels open for creating real change. Any one of these war-mongering voices who thinks that all Barack Obama is doing about Iran is making public statements is either naïve or disingenuous.
And yet Barack Obama makes his public statements - as he did again on Tuesday, strongly. But makes them responsibly. Because words can't be empty when they matter most. A responsible President speaks to improve conditions, not inflame them. Not meddle. Not posture. Not paint us into war.
Happily, there are far more voices who understand this. And understand history, not just posturing for political air time. And happily, these include the more moderate of Republicans, as well.
During the presidential election, Barack Obama was roundly chastised by this same right wing and by Mr. McCain for his supposed "naivety" in saying he'd sit down with Iran without preconditions. Yet now, on Sunday, Republican Richard Lugar, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one the country's experts, told CNN that the United States and Iran should "sit down." Even amid all the Iranian upheaval, even though the government "is shooting people...beating people," host John King asked, if Iran called tomorrow, should the U.S. "sit down with them?" And Sen. Lugar again repeated his answer - "Yes."
Saturday, June 27, 2009