The Caucus has the text of Obama’s (prepared) remarks on the situation in Iran, and it seems to me that his increasingly critical rhetoric is likely to be counterproductive:
He began his opening remarks with Iran, saying that “The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.”
This is the first time that Mr. Obama has used the word “condemn” in relation to the Iranian regime’s actions against demonstrators.
Mr. Obama also reiterated that “the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. 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.”
Well of course we do, and somehow one suspects that everyone already knew it – but then what’s the point of saying so? The other day, I criticized the idea that silence in the face of empty taunts from the likes of Ahmadinejad would create a “disastrous impression” of American weakness that would run counter to our national interests; there’s no denying, however, that the psychological impulse behind that suggestion was a natural one, and it seems to me that reflecting on that impulse can help us see why Obama’s remarks are likely to do more harm than good. It’s rather like the “concerned” relative who insists on striking self-righteous poses and lecturing you on how best how best to raise your children: given the messenger’s lack of moral credibility and the fact that you’re already on very bad terms with her, does sitting through her lecture make you more likely to do what she advises, or less so? And by the same token, what reason is there to think that the mullahs’ response to Obama’s professed outrage will center on anything other than an attempt to show him who’s really in charge?
Obama goes on to play the international “respect” card:
“As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.”
Again: of course that’s what they’re calling for, and of course they’ll be the ones to judge. But having just lived through a period where the “international community’s” (proper) condemnation of our own nation’s unjust actions led to boycotts of French wine and frantic calls to “double Gitmo”, can it really be believed that being incessantly hectored about how best to run elections and deal with political protests is going to lead the Iranian government to be more respectful of liberal values? Of course not. No matter the thrill it might be for Americans to see the Leader of the Free World get up on his high horse, the people with the guns are going to view these words as a provocation, if not an attempt at exactly the kind of coercion Obama professedly deplores. So why add fuel to the fire? Why not just keep quiet, when it’s as clear as day that this kind of moralizing is only going to strengthen the oppressors’ resolve?