As Iran roils with dissent following the apparent reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the world, or at least certain segments of it, apparently wait for U.S. President Barack Obama to condemn the election, criticize the lack of Iranian news coverage of the anti-election demonstrations, and generally behave as his predecessor did. Old habits die hard, but one must recall that Mr. Obama was elected on the mantra of change. Therefore, it should not be so difficult to see him handling the situation somewhat differently than President George Bush would have done.
Mr. Obama, as is his style, reflected thoughtfully on the situation. Commenting on the situation in Iran, he refrained from any outright criticism of that nation, its president or the election. Said he: “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.”
Leaving a nation to settle its own problems is certainly a change in U.S. policy. But it is one that Mr. Obama’s former opponent, Arizona Senator John McCain, could not tolerate. He minced no words: “He (Mr. Obama) should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election and that the Iranian people have been deprived of their rights.”
The senator must be granted some latitude; the memory is often not as sharp when one reaches his age as it may have been decades earlier. In 2000, the U.S. had ‘a corrupt, flawed sham of an election’ when Mr. Bush ran against then Vice-President Al Gore. For those who need reminding, it was Mr. Gore who received the majority of the votes, but somehow it was Mr. Bush who wound up in the White House for eight, long, deadly, disastrous years. It would not be too much of a stretch to say of the U.S. citizens, as Mr. McCain said of the Iranian people, that they ‘have been deprived of their rights.’
But one must not expect much from Mr. McCain; after all, this is the man who propelled Sarah Palin onto the world stage where she made a complete fool of herself and him. It is certainly giving her too much credit to say she cost Mr. McCain the election; he would certainly have lost it regardless of who he had selected as his running mate. But his judgment regarding what Mr. Obama should say or do about the Iranian election and its aftermath is probably every bit as sound as his judgment in selecting his running mate.
It seems that Mr. McCain clings to the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that initially worked so well for Mr. Bush, although one must suppose that he eventually came to regret it. Not that he ever did anything to change it, but with the legacy of disgrace, which is all he left, he might possibly wish he’d done a few things differently. Cutting loose the puppeteer-vice-president might have helped, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it is all too late now.
Mr. Obama continued his comments on Iran: “It’s important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi (Mr. Ahmadinejad’s major opponent), in terms of their actual policies, may not be as great as has been advertised. Either way we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons.”
It is likely that Mr. McCain will continue to ramble on in his criticism of Mr. Obama. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, echoing the sentiments of her boss, said this: “We are obviously waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes, but our intent is to pursue whatever opportunities might exist in the future with Iran.” This implies engagement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the war in Iraq and a possible host of other issues.
Six months before he faced Mr. Obama in the polling booths of the U.S., Mr. McCain had already begun singing this particular song. After Mr. Obama expressed willingness to meet with the Iranian president, the Arizona senator expressed shock and horror: “Such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama’s inexperience and reckless judgment. Those are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess.”
It was a tune not pleasant to the U.S. voter. They seemed to think that a candidate who wanted to prevent wars was probably a better bet than one who seemed content to continue two, and leave the door open for more. Mr. Obama, it appeared, would use diplomacy rather than belligerence; he would, as he later said, extend a hand a friendship to any nation that would unclench its fist. Mr. McCain, as a candidate and as a senator, seems to reflect the attitude of President James Polk who served from 1845 – 1849. It was said of him that he ‘held the niceties of diplomacy in contempt’. This contempt, along with the attitude of imperialism that Mr. McCain seems to share, was a major cause of the Mexican-American War. Mr. Bush’s disdain for diplomacy, supported and emulated by Mr. McCain, was a major cause of the Iraq War, which is now in its sixth year.
Yet Mr. McCain babbles on, perennially being elected due to his rather foggy war record, and his equally cloudy years as a prisoner of war. The good people of Arizona, blinded by his self-described heroics, keep electing him. And as long as the incumbent Mrs. McCain continues to pour money from her vast inheritance into his campaigns, he will probably continue to win.
The situation in Iran is probably dire for the Iranians. The repressive government is unlikely to perform a recount that will change the outcome, and violence against protestors will only increase. Yet Mr. Obama is wise in not becoming involved; as he stated during his recent European tour, he is president of the United States, not of the world. He must work with the world to prevent and solve shared problems, and a nuclear-armed Iran is worth working to prevent. He could use the tried and failed method of isolationism: not talking to those with whom the U.S. has serious differences, but that would result in what it always has in the past. But he is taking a higher road, meeting with those who, for a variety of reasons, many of them entirely legitimate, see the U.S. as the enemy, to be feared, loathed and certainly mistrusted. Mr. McCain would continue that disgraceful pattern; Mr. Obama wishes to break it.
We are told that the Republican Party is seeking to re-energize and revamp itself. For some, this means a moderating of its strident, right-wing, ‘my way or the highway’, self-righteous attitude. For others, it means consolidating its base by emphasizing its conservatism. This includes imperialism, a merging of far-right Christianity with government policies, maintaining the policies of Mr. Bush and the exclusion of all dissenting opinions. Mr. McCain seems to be a champion of this wing.
Should he and his cohort succeed in drowning the voices of moderation within the Grand Old Party (operative word: Old), it will take a huge effort by the Democrats to start losing elections (not that they are above running to the finish line only to fail to cross it). But for now, at least, the U.S. seems to have turned a corner, and is more than willing to try Mr. Obama’s approach. This is a good omen for the U.S. and the world.