On Iran, Mr. President, You're Doing Just Fine

07/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Taylor Marsh Political writer and cultural voyeur, author and speaker.

Have you noticed it? Pres. Obama is being called "weak" on Iran. John McCain started it; all that was missing was "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" in the background. Turn on Fox News. Hear the Republicans squawk. Seeing an opportunity, a "senior Israeli official" told CNN that Obama's response is "not strong." Add to it yesterday's political theater, driven by Republicans in Congress, who pushed an Iran resolution that was passed in both chambers, butting in where we don't belong. So, as usual, Republicans aren't listening to experts. They also aren't listening to Iranians, all of whom have warned that the U.S. getting involved would only play into the Iranians regime's hands. Iranians are doing this on their own:

"Clearly, things have changed. The country will never be the same. ... So long as the people are willing to go out, we are going to see a shift in the political landscape. ... It's really important to realize that this is a generational conflict going on." - Prag Khanna on CNN (senior fellow at the New America Foundation)

British Foreign Minister David Milliband, who isn't exactly prone to jumping in on these things, supports Obama's position. In the forum I attended where he was the speaker, he refused to weigh in on domestic issues in the U.S., particularly concerning Dick Cheney. Weighing in on Iran has far wider consequences, but weigh in he did.

The fact is that those on the streets have not asked for us to be their spokesmen. We need to stand for our deeply held commitment that it is for the Iranian people to decide on their government, and we will continue to call for peaceful respect for media and protesters. The fact is that many Iranians have severe doubts about the outcome announced on Friday. They deserve to have their doubts addressed. These are fine lines but we know the cost of crossing them. The memory of foreign intervention throughout their history is deep within all Iranians. A proud people wants to decide its own future. We should defend that.

In contrast, the U.S. State Dept.'s "official" blog remains silent on all things Iran; not even offering Obama's statements on the subject, which have been broadcast across the world. A back and forth I got into on the subject is telling. That State's "official" blog continues an Iran blackout is stunning. They should take a lesson from Foreign Minister Brad Milliband.

But as for Republicans arguing Obama is "weak" on his response, Henry Kissinger, whom I have intense disagreements with on many foreign policy decisions of which he was a main part, speaks plainly. Transcript by Think Progress:

KISSINGER: Well, you know, I was a McCain supporter and -- but I think the president has handled this well. Anything that the United States says that puts us totally behind one of the contenders, behind Mousavi, would be a handicap for that person. And I think it's the proper position to take that the people of Iran have to make that decision.

Of course, we have to state our fundamental convictions of freedom of speech, free elections, and I don't see how President Obama could say less than he has, and even that is considered intolerable meddling. He has, after all, carefully stayed away from saying things that seem to support one side or the other. And I think it was the right thing to do because public support for the opposition would only be used by the -- by Ahmadinejad -- if I can ever learn his name properly -- against Mousavi.

Trying to outdo John McCain, Mike Pence pontificated about his Iranian resolution that would would express support for the dissidents in Iran, fair and free elections and condemn the violence against protesters in Tehran. Republicans never too shy to capitalize with a little grandstanding, their eyes always on the next general election.

This will be the talking point tomorrow morning on the Sunday shows, no doubt. Obama's "weak." Obama's not doing enough. Stephen Hayes, Cheney's chief propagandist, asks if Obama can "afford to stay neutral." Evidently Mr. Hayes needs to brush up on his history. I'd suggest starting at the period around 1953, say, August.

The last Republican president put Iran in the "axis of evil" right after they'd helped us in Afghanistan immediately after we were attacked on 9/11. Where did George W. Bush get us with that move?

Zbigniew Brzezinski weighed in this week too, on the side of letting Iranians decide their own future, but staying far away from trying to intercede in any way.

John Kerry added his voice as well.

However, Obama has been taken to task for saying there's no difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, which, frankly, sounded to me like talking points from one of his aides. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a spokesperson for Mousavi, was quick to correct Obama in an interview with FP:

MM: Obama has said that there is no difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Does he like it himself [when someone is] saying that there is no difference between Obama and [George W.] Bush? Ahmadinejad is the Bush of Iran. And Mousavi is the Obama of Iran.

Whatever the comparisons, there is no doubt a difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, if only in perception, which is not a small point. Ahmadinejad the face of the holocaust denying Iran, with Mousavi representing someone who does not fear nuclear inspectors, even as he stands up with Iranians on nuclear energy rights. But this isn't where Republicans are waging their political war.

Now we've also got not only Charles Krauthammer bloviating on Iran, talking about all the things Obama is doing wrong on Iran; we're also treated to Paul Wolfowitz, a man who hasn't been right on anything in the region since he began offering advice on what to do there. Krauthammer, first:

Moreover, this incipient revolution is no longer about the election. Obama totally misses the point. The election allowed the political space and provided the spark for the eruption of anti-regime fervor that has been simmering for years and awaiting its moment. But people aren't dying in the street because they want a recount of hanging chads in suburban Isfahan. They want to bring down the tyrannical, misogynist, corrupt theocracy that has imposed itself with the very baton-wielding goons that today attack the demonstrators.

This started out about election fraud. But like all revolutions, it has far outgrown its origins. What's at stake now is the very legitimacy of this regime -- and the future of the entire Middle East.

Okay, and Obama is supposed to do what? Invade? Yell "charge!" from here and watch the blood flow there? Krauthammer never says, just that he judges Obama "afraid to take sides." Krauthammer actually believes the president controls whether Khamenei is "deciding whether to do a Tiananmen" or not.

Paul Wolfowitz simply illustrates once again how everything went so wrong in Iraq by arguing Iran is the Philippines. Then rambles on that Pres. Obama needs to change course. And. Do. What?

Neither man answers the question.

Never fear, the House of Representatives is here, Pence finally getting a vote on a resolution that, according to Glenn Thush's reporting, the White House actually helped craft, toning down Pence's rhetorical belligerency.

During day-long wrangling, White House officials worked with Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) to convince Pence that a harsh bill would provide Tehran with an excuse to drag America into their internal debate, according to people familiar with the situation.

"We made it clear that we didn't want to make the U.S. a foil in a debate that has nothing to do with us," a senior administration told me this morning. "This is a debate among Iranians."

Frankly, Pence and McCain, who drove the charade in Congress, should have stayed out of it, following Pres. Obama's lead, but that's not the way politics works, especially in the U.S. Congress. (Israel not missing the moment either.) But at least Dems were able to do some language damage control.

But amidst the entire debate, no Republican has yet stated what their end game would be if Obama inserted himself and made the Iranian revolution about us. Isn't this exactly what Khamanei and Ahmadinejad want?

As usual, Republicans never think about the answers to these questions, because they never ask the questions. On foreign policy, they shoot first, aim later.

Taylor Marsh reports from Washington, D.C., with podcasts, "TM-DC".