Monday, June 22, 2009

Mr. President: Inaction is not a strategy.

In response to the recent crackdown by the Iranian regimes against millions of protesters in defense of what they perceive was a corrupt and stolen election, President Obama has tended to be remarkably silent. So quiet, in fact, he has been accused by some as “voting Present”.

Obama, in response to growing pressure, has finally made a new statement (from The Belgravia):

"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. 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... Right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."

In short, Obama has only committed to “bear witness” to the actions of the Iranian regime. But what consequences are there? The Mullahs must be thinking: “So what?”

Obama recently took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement to Iran that coincided with their new year, known as Noruz. In that statement, Obama made one very important point:
“The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.”

This was just weeks before the Iranian elections that triggered the upheaval. Considering the stunning courage on display by unarmed Iranian citizens who have continued to march while they are gunned down by government snipers, I feel that the “true greatness” of at least one sector of the “Iranian people and civilization” is on clear display. To this, we bear witness, but should we stop there?

While some on the left have stated that the United States should not do or say anything that would be interpreted as “meddling” in the “sovereign” affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, because “the Iranians don’t want our interference” (overheard on radio commentaries), we should also “bear witness” to the fact that the protestors carried innumerable placards written in English—the language in Iran is Farsi, not English. So why would they do that, if they were not sending a message out to the rest of the world, that they are fighting for freedom, and hope for support? On a twitter page I read the comment sent by an Iranian that stated (in English): “Thank you for paying attention to our struggle.”

In a speech Obama made speaking to the Wisconsin Democratic Party Dinner in Milwaukee on the campaign trail, he said:
"Don't tell me words don't matter," Obama said. "'I have a dream.' Just words? 'We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.' Just words?

The sentiment behind that speech was that words that bear undeniable truths are somehow more than simple, hollow phrases. They are powerful, capable of changing minds, nations, even the world.

And it is clear that Obama, who has been lauded as one of the great political speakers of our time, has a love affair with words, although he apparently cannot commit them to memory, and must have them displayed for him on a teleprompter.

It may be fruitful to review the words he uttered in Egypt, while promoting himself as the American ambassador to the Muslim world. His intention there was not just to apologize for America (he had done enough of that in Europe and Turkey), but to smooth over the differences—both perceived and real—between the Muslim world and our nation. And he started by reiterating some of the concepts that he believes are universal truths.

“…Recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.”

How right you are, Mr. President. Words alone are useless. We must act boldly. And when he stood upon that dais, it would have been easy to imagine that he would follow up those words with brave acts. After all, he continued: “We must face these tensions squarely.”

Obama had set the stage for bold actions that would support Muslims who sought peaceful progress toward democracy. In citing the case of Israel and Palestine, he urged the Palestinians to seek justice through peaceful means, because “resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.”

I myself have stated the same point, although certainly not as eloquently as Obama, his staff of writers, and his reliable teleprompter were able to do. “America will align our policies with those who pursue peace,” he promised in the same speech.

His message appears to have been especially prescient, foretelling the upcoming electoral clash in Iran. Bear witness to the following two paragraphs of rhetorical brilliance:
“I …have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”

Elections alone do not make true democracy.

I wonder if the Iranians, who are dying by the score in the streets of Tehran, had heard this speech. I wonder if they took heart in these words, so courageously uttered from the safety of a well-guarded dais at a major university in Egypt, and if they wrote their English placards for him.

So what, Mr. Obama? So you went out of your way to tell the world that America is not at war with Islam. So what? And then you travelled around Europe apologizing for what you perceived as the errors of American arrogance, we who dare to “impose our values” upon other nations. So what? And then you, with the unique heritage of Christian and Muslim roots, who saw Islam from the perspective of three different nations, you who recognize that our American values are international, are human rights, and that elections are not legitimate if the will of the people is quashed by coercive means. So what? Are these “just words”?

What the Iranians want from you now, is not just the empty echo of truisms read from a teleprompter; what they want from you now, what the entire world is waiting to see, is how you convert your beautiful prose into meaningful actions.

Rhetoric is the tool of rabble rousers, propagandists and flim flam artists. American Presidents cannot rely upon rhetoric alone. They must lead through action—action that is often unpopular among some quarters, action that angers the tyrants who coerce and oppress their people, action that may have unpredictable outcomes, but actions, nonetheless.

Mr. President: Inaction is not a strategy.

Obama has now made new statements...words...
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared the United States and the entire world "appalled and outraged" by Iran's violent efforts to crush dissent, a clear toughening of his rhetoric as Republican critics at home pound him for being too passive.
Obama condemned the "threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. "
"I strongly condemn these unjust actions," Obama said in a news conference at the White House.
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared the United States and the entire world "appalled and outraged" by Iran's violent efforts to crush dissent, a clear toughening of his rhetoric as Republican critics at home pound him for being too passive.
Obama condemned the "threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. "
"I strongly condemn these unjust actions," Obama said in a news conference at the White House.

"I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering in Iran's affairs," Obama said. "But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place."

"We have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets," Obama said. "While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history."


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