The comparison hadn’t occurred to me until today, but what is striking about the
endless whining serious criticism concerning Obama’s response to the Green movement is how much it resembles the criticism of his handling of the Gulf oil spill in unreasonableness, pathetic need for executive activism, and overconfidence in the power of the Presidency. There seems to be no understanding that Presidents cannot address, much less solve, every problem that makes headlines. The U.S. government is not omnipotent, and Presidents do not work magic, but for whatever reason some people think it is reasonable to expect these things. Bret Stephens’ column this morning is a good example of what I mean.
Stephens concluded that Obama had a “fighting chance to alter the dynamics of Iranian politics,” but “flubbed” his chance. This is no less absurd than claiming that Obama squandered an opportunity to plug the oil leak with his powers of telekinesis. Small wonder that Stephens never explains how Obama could have successfully “altered the dynamics of Iranian politics” in a way that would not have harmed the opposition more than it helped, except by invoking a lot of heavy-handed sanctions measures that would have harmed the opposition more than they helped. Most of the consequences Stephens dreams up for punishing the Iranian government were not in the administration’s power to impose, and those that it could have imposed, such as gasoline sanctions, would have been destructive of the very opposition forces they are supposedly meant to aid.
The critics who think that the administration was too passive in its response to the post-election protests last summer had and still have no plausible proposal for what Obama could have done differently, except that they wanted to hear more fiery deunciations and more forceful rhetoric. This would have changed nothing, but it would have exposed the gap between the administration’s lofty sentiments and its lack of action. There was nothing that the administration could have practically done to put pressure on the regime that would not have been a disaster for the Iranian people (e.g., gasoline sanctions), but despite this Obama is being faulted because he did not “do something” and show that he cared by taking decisive, counterproductive and stupid action.