Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sucker Punching

The Republicans are all over President Obama for not speaking out strongly against the alleged vote fraud and repression going on in Iran. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told the Today show that “[h]e should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election and that the Iranian people have been deprived of their rights,” and neocon Robert Kagan has an op-ed in the Washington Post that says that Mr. Obama’s pragmatic approach to the Iranian election — let’s get it over with and deal with whoever wins — by default makes him a supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Obama’s policy now requires getting past the election controversies quickly so that he can soon begin negotiations with the reelected Ahmadinejad government. This will be difficult as long as opposition protests continue and the government appears to be either unsettled or too brutal to do business with. What Obama needs is a rapid return to peace and quiet in Iran, not continued ferment. His goal must be to deflate the opposition, not to encourage it. And that, by and large, is what he has been doing.

The point of this sideline chiding is, of course, to provoke the president into doing something; either speaking out forcefully or endorsing strong sanctions against Iran. The neocons think that would be just dandy, and the Republicans, hiding behind their faux patriotism, want it because they think that if President Obama provokes Iran, it will blow up in his face, thereby proving that he’s incapable of dealing with foreign policy and handing them a campaign issue with candy and a stripper. So for them it’s a win-win: they get their war with another bunch of evil-doers and they take the president down a few pegs. They get to go on Morning Joe and Fox News and call him weak and unwilling to support “freedom fighters” in Iran. It’s the equivalent of “Hey, your shoe’s untied!” What’s not to like?

The president is wisely not rising to the bait. He and anyone with a passing knowledge of how foreign relations really work know that anything the United States does other than what we’re doing right now will only prove to the hard-liners in Tehran, not to mention other countries that still don’t trust us, that we’re taking it upon ourselves to butt into their internal problems for our own benefit. We’ve got a long history of showing that doesn’t work; the list of countries where our overt and covert meddling blew up on us includes Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Vietnam, the Philippines, and any number of other nations where we thought we knew best is long and blood-stained.

That President Obama is not taking the traditional approach of injecting America into every crisis around the world must be very disconcerting to those who think that is the way of the world, and frustrating to his political opponents who thought they could sucker him into it. Discretion is not only the better part of valor; it drives your enemies crazy.