Monday, January 31, 2011

Iran and Egypt: a tale of two failed U.S. responses

During the Iranian protests over what was believed to have been a rigged election, keeping Amahdinejad in power, Obama's stated U.S. policy was that he "didn't want to meddle".

The best opportunity the United States had to overturn the Iranian regime from within was lost as Obama refused to offer strong language of support for the demonstrators based on American values and principles of democracy and human rights. No one knows for sure what might have happened had Obama stood up for the demonstrators and even encouraged them, but in the world of seizing the moment and doing whatever could be done to support the forces for change in Iran, Obama backed down from a face off with Ahmadinejad, and said he " didn't want to meddle in the internal affairs of Iran" not unlike what we have seen him do in the face of political opposition from Republicans and conservatives.

Obama not only failed to encourage to the demonstrators in the streets and kept a hands off attitude, but Ahmadinejad rubbed his nose in it accusing him of "meddling" in the internal affairs of Iran anyway even though Obama bent over backwards to avoid a confrontation with Ahmadinejad.

In essence Obama decided to lay low. While no one can say for sure what the kind of effect encouragement from the US would have had, we know from an interview with a former head of the Revolutionary Guard that had Ahmadinejad ordered them to fire on Iranian civilians (which the security forces had been doing), they would have refused. Had that happened it would have shown that Ahmadinejad had lost control of the army and it could have been the end of Ahmadinejad. So attempting to escalate the revolt was worth the risk. But Obama didn't take it, instead deciding to try and preserve the viability of talks with a mad man which to day have borne no fruit.

In Egypt, the Obama administration has been doing what Obama does best -- talk out of both sides of his mouth offering support for both the demonstrators but also for Mubarak while other world leaders have been urging Mubarak to resign.

Obama continues to get criticism for his apparent siding with Mubarak,which is the result of Obama's ambivalence about what to do, an ambivalence borne of no real convictions or principles about anything and affects everything Obama does.It also makes even more of a mockery of Obama's empty campaign slogan of being the agent of change.

Obama has condemned violence,and supported the rights of the demonstrators to demonstrate and to demand reforms something he didn't do during the Iranian uprising. But in both cases there seems to be a real confusion about what to do and where the U.S. stands in that part of the world. Obama refused to call for a democratic government in Iran but has been doing so in Egypt even though Mubarak has ruled with an iron hand for 30 years. Even so, Obama is stopping short of calling for Mubarak to step down.

At the time Obama made his Cairo speech, I called it empty and vacuous, another example of Obama doing nothing more than trying to say something that will please everyone without regard for the consequences of what he was saying. I expressed a certainty that it was typical Obama and that there was nothing real behind a word of it. Now more than a year later, other commentators, notably on CNN have been saying similar things over the past few days, pointing out  that there is no correlation with any of Obama's statements in his so called Cairo speech and his actions and statements since the Egyptian revolt against Mubarak began.

There is a pattern here with regards to Obama's actual positions on issues affecting the middle east and it seems to be either to talk out of both sides of his mouth, or to do and say as little as possible which results in taking no real position at all in the wake of upheavals in the middle east.   So much for the policy of a president who campaigned on the idea of "change". When it came to trying to effect change in Iran, Obama shirked from it and blew the best chance the West had in 30 years to foment and encourage revolution and democracy in Iran. In Egypt there is now also a seamy reluctance to come out against a dictator who is the target of a revolution, but one that has been friendly to the U.S.

Senior experts on the middle east and Egypt in particular are already saying that Obama has been badly behind the curve in his response to events in Egypt and as one senior Fellow of Egyptian studies put it, "has already shown he is on the wrong side of history". The consensus is that Obama and the U.S. will be remembered by Egyptians as supporting Mubarak at the crucial moment and that even if the Obama comes out in support of the demonstrators after Mubarak steps down it will be considered too little too late.

This is a pattern that perisists with Obama in everything he does and  has also failed to bring about any progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It's a know nothing do nothing approach that if continued will have serious consequences for U.S. influence in the middle east, or in any future crisis that hits closer to home. This is Hillary Clinton's Red Phone nightmare commercial come to life, the political commerical that ran during the Democratic primaries that asked,  if Obama was president and the red phone rang in the middle of the night would he know what to do? The implication in the commerical was that he wouldnt.

The phone has been ringing off the hook all week.   Obama still hasn't answered.

No comments: