GOP Rhetoric and the Difference between Q and N

06/28/2009 01:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There is something about the criticisms levied toward President Obama on Iran that would be comical if they were not so serious. As protesters in Tehran have been met with the oppressive and brutal hand of its government, what is the proper tone that the president should strike? Should he be more strident in his opposition against the actions of the Iran government? Should he be more forceful in his rhetoric in support for the protestors?

I believe "timid" has been the popular word choice among the chattering class who want the president to embrace a more forceful approach on Iran.

"The President of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on ABC. And Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told CNN that the president on Iran has "been timid and passive more than I would like."

Sen. John McCain, also criticized the president, for issuing a response, in McCain's opinion, "has not been enough." McCain, as many recall, famously joked while on the presidential campaign trail, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran."

If the president is more forceful in his support of the protesters, what does that mean and how is it heard? Does it mean that the United States will be treated as liberators in Iran in the unlikely scenario of a new election, with different results and a different president, but same Supreme Leader?

Does it mean those words will be heard in Tehran in the confines of the current moment as most Americans will hear it? Or does it mean the president's forceful comments would be linked to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the CIA-backed coup d'état that put the Shah in power in 1953?

I don't know exactly what is the right tone for Iran, I'm not certain anyone does. Regardless of the outcome between the protesters and the Iranian government, the United States is still facing three possible scenarios as it relates to Iran's nuclear ambitions: learn to live with it, diplomacy, or some type of military action.

It seems useless to advocate for a position that could escalate tension in a part of the world we still do not understand, from the exclusive lens of the US perspective. But there is a haunting familiarity emanating from this knowledgeable cluster of dissenters that is cause for concern.

The difference between an "n" and a "q" is all that separates the same individuals who were certain about Iraq--in some cases bombastically so--now leading the charge against the president that he's not tough enough with his rhetoric on Iran. Given where the US stands, or should I say bogged down in Iraq, calls for tougher rhetoric in Iran doesn't exactly come with the requisite credibility.

If Democrats can be punished on national security issues for Vietnam, then surely some price must be exacted from the political party who led the charge toward the biggest foreign policy blunder in US history.

For my money, part of that price would include a large amount of skepticism when receiving from those espousing tougher rhetoric on countries located in the Middle East that possess advanced desires for nuclear capability.

There is a certain ironic absurdity associated with the aforementioned senators critical of President Obama. Their criticism seems harsher on the president for not escalating his rhetoric on Iran than they were with President George W. Bush as he escalated an unnecessary invasion and occupation in Iraq.

I share the criticism of others that Obama clings too close to the safe shores of the amorphous middle on a number of issues. But on Iran I think he is right to do so. Words matter, especially those coming from the world's largest military super power. Unlike those advocating for tougher language, the president must deal with whoever and whatever comes out this scenario in Iran.

What's the point of escalating the rhetoric if it is not going to lead to saber rattling? And if it is not going to lead to saber rattling it's merely the musings of a paper tiger.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his website: