Presidents who ‘meddled’
As a candidate, President Obama said he believed “words matter” as “catalysts for change.” As president, not so much. Taking sides in difficult circumstances is part of the presidential job description, particularly when America’s most basic value — freedom — is under assault. Yet, despite the blood of innocents flowing through Tehran’s streets, Mr. Obama has only mustered a few halfhearted words about “bearing witness,” as if we were dispassionate observers of freedom’s struggles.
At a moment in Iran for which we’ve been waiting 30 years, he muttered about not wanting to “meddle,” lest he be seen as a nosy American regime changer. He “strongly condemned” the Iranian regime’s crackdown, but then equated it to a “debate.” He referenced “human rights” but will not permit them to interrupt his legacy-scoring plan for nuclear diplomacy. He steadfastly refuses to take sides when taking sides is both a strategic and moral imperative.
Lingering for too long on the wrong side of history can get uncomfortable, and the consequences can be cruel. Mr. Obama can still avoid the Neville Chamberlain ash heap by saying something like this:
“Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.”
Or: “To the people of Iran: [. . .] We call on the regime in Tehran to heed your will and to make itself accountable to you. [. . .] We hear your cries for justice. We share your desire for a free and prosperous future. And as you struggle to find your voice [. . .] the United States will stand with you.”If these clarion calls of moral support ring familiar, it’s because President George W. Bush spoke them in 2006 and 2008, respectively.
Mr. Bush was right, of course, but if Mr. Obama can’t bring himself to quote him (too soon?), he may want to refer instead to the words of his political heroes. The presidents he reveres were just as unequivocal in their support of those clamoring for freedom as was Mr. Bush.
President Lincoln took sides in the epic battle of liberty versus enslavement. He once said, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” Lincoln believed so strongly in bringing freedom to the oppressed that he gave his life for it.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt took sides: Almost a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he spoke of “four freedoms,” including “the freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world” and “freedom from fear [. . .] anywhere in the world.”
And further: “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. [. . .] Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them.” Roo- sevelt saw to it that it did.
President Truman took sides: In his 1949 inaugural address, he referred to the massive postwar mobilization for freedom’s defense and said, “We are aided by all who wish to live in freedom from fear — even by those who live today in fear under their own governments. [. . .] We are aided by all who desire self-government and a voice in deciding their own affairs. [. . .] We will advance toward a world where man’s freedom is secure. To that end, we will devote our strength, our resources, and our firmness of resolve.”
And he did: Mr. Truman authorized the Marshall Plan and NATO as bulwarks against Soviet aggression. Faced with a Soviet blockade of West Berlin, he ordered the airlift of food and supplies to the isolated part of the city, saving countless lives and ensuring their freedom from Soviet domination. He wasn’t too concerned about the perception of American “meddling.”
President Kennedy took sides: In his 1961 inaugural address, he said, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”Four months later, he au- thorized the invasion of Cuba by U.S.-trained Cuban exiles to overthrow the communist regime of Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs operation was unsuccessful, but Mr. Kennedy was unafraid to attempt it on behalf of freedom.
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, avoids taking sides because he dreams of being a 21st-century “Nixon in China,” a historic peacemaker who “flips” a former adversary and then takes a hero’s stroll through its streets. Nothing must be allowed to derail this stab at a Nobel Peace Prize.
History, however, does not have the patience to indulge the president’s self-serving reticence. It marches on in Iran, in shades of green for the revolution and red for the violent efforts to halt it. The Iranian people may have only gotten a grudging shout-out from the president, but they now have what Roosevelt called “freedom from fear.”
Mr. Obama may fear the effects of his words, but the people of Iran are becoming increasingly fearless — and willing to take sides.
Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group,” and a Fox News contributor.