Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why the Obama Administration Won’t Denounce the Ahmadinejad Administration

By Barry Rubin

“We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran, but we, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Of course, it is understandable that the U.S. government wants to figure out what’s going on in Iran before making a major statement on these events. This is normal and proper diplomatic procedure.

A second legitimate reason for being careful is that if the United States “endorses” anyone that will be used against them by the Tehran regime, as proof they are American agents.

But then came this, as the New York Times reported:

"The Obama administration is determined to press on with efforts to engage the Iranian government despite misgivings about irregularities in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Ordinarily, when a hostile dictatorship rigs an election and represses protest, one can expect a U.S. government to denounce it. True, friendly dictatorships which sometimes help U.S. goals or further U.S. interests, say Egypt or China, will get much softer treatment when they engage in repressive acts and fix elections.

But the Obama administration has a huge problem in dealing with this crisis. Why? Because it is pretending that Iran is not hostile, or at least can be made non-hostile through engagement. Consequently, the administration is going to do everything possible to avoid making any criticism of the Islamist regime, lest that—in its own mind—destroy any chance to have d├ętente with the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This is grotesque, to say the least. No support for the courageous, nonviolent pro-reform demonstrators who are being beaten. No protest at the arrest of candidates or campaign workers. If Iranian forces opened fire on a crowd and shoots down hundreds of demonstrators there won’t be a peep from Washington.

The administration has painted itself into a corner and seems content to stay there. President Barack Obama has told us that Islam is always tolerant, that Palestinians are always victims, and that conflicts are almost always—not always, but usually—the fault of the West. More deeply, his is a philosophy that universal human rights must be filtered through local cultures and religious practices.

In short, it is a worldview that views this kind of talk as ethnocentric and insensitive to multicultural diversity in the world:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

It is also a philosophy which accepts the idea that radical regimes—Islamist, Arab nationalist, neo-Communist (Cuba and North Korea), and wherever one wants to put Venezuela and Bolivia—can daily denounce Western democratic states and societies in the most vicious terms but there can be no equivalent response. After all, their feelings might be hurt and they’ll refuse to participate in European and American efforts to engage them, give them money, and hand them concessions.

In this context, Hillary Clinton’s phrase is a most peculiar one: “see what the Iranian people decide.” What can this possibly mean? What constitutes that decision: demonstrators rejecting a stolen election or the “people” in the form of their government saying that Ahmadinejad has won?

Does the Iranian government represent the people? Aye, as William Shakespeare would put it, there’s the rub. But if it does represent the people why couldn’t it just cheat a little bit and declare Ahmadinejad winner in the end after a pretense of fairness? It must have really lost by a landslide to have to resort to staging something like a coup to crush opposition.

In the end, though, the Obama administration is determined to conclude that the regime does represent the people. After all, if it doesn’t then the U.S. government will have to combat it, and if it does then Washington can talk to Tehran.

One must remind oneself that this is a “liberal Democratic” administration. I can still remember when liberal meant—it still does for me—contempt for ferociously repressive governments, sympathy for democrats (with a small “d”), and hatred for what rightly used to be called clerical-fascist regimes.

As if it isn’t enough that the radical Islamist government in Iran doesn’t have to worry about Western pressure, now it doesn’t even have to worry about official criticism!

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