No real cause for con­cern?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The po­lite ex­pla­na­tion for Pres­i­dent Obama’s dif­fi­dence on Iran is that he doesn’t want to give the mul­lahs the ex­cuse to say the Great Satan is med­dling in Tehran’s af­fairs. So the pres­i­dent’s of­fi­cial po­si­tion is that he’s mod­estly en­cour­aged by the regime’s sup­posed in­ter­est in in­ves­ti­gat­ing some of the al­le­ga­tions of fraud.

“You’ve seen in Iran,” ex­plained Mr. Obama, “some ini­tial re­ac­tion from the supreme leader that in­di­cates he un­der­stands the Ira­nian peo­ple have deep con­cerns about the elec­tion [. . .]”

“Supreme Leader”? I thought that was of­fi­cial house style for Mr. Obama at Newsweek and MSNBC. But no. It’s also the ti­tle held by Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei for the last cou­ple of decades. If it sounds odd from the lips of an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, that’s be­cause none has ever been as def­er­en­tial in ob­serv­ing the Is­lamic repub­lic’s dic­ta­to­rial pro­to­col. And how did it go down? Dur­ing June 19 pray­ers in Tehran, the Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei at­tacked “dirty Zion­ists” and “bad Bri­tish ra­dio.” “The most evil of them all is the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment,” added the Supreme Leader, warm­ing to his theme. The crowd, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madineland­slide and his Cab­i­net, chanted, “Death to the U.K.”

Her Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment brought this on them­selves by al­low­ing their shoot-from-the-lip prime min­is­ter to is­sue saber-rat­tling threats like: “The regime must ad­dress the se­ri­ous ques­tions which have been asked about the con­duct of the Ira­nian elec­tions.”

For­tu­nately, Mr. Obama was far more ju­di­cious. And in re­turn, in­stead of de­nounc­ing him as “evil” and de­plor­ing the qual­ity of his ra­dio pro­gram­ming, the Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei said Mr. Obama’s “agents” had been be­hind the protests: “They started to cause ri­ots in the street, they caused de­struc­tion, they burnt houses.”

But that wasn’t all the Great Satan did. “What is the worst thing to me in all this,” sighed the supreme leader, “are com­ments made in the name of hu­man rights and free­dom and lib­erty by Amer­i­can of­fi­cials. [. . .] What? Are you se­ri­ous? Do you know what hu­man rights are?”

And then he got into specifics: “Dur­ing the time of the Democrats, the time of Clin­ton, 80 peo­ple were burned alive in Waco. Now you are talk­ing about hu­man rights?”

It’s un­clear whether the “Death to the U.K.” chanters switched at this point to “Democrats lied, peo­ple fried.” But you get the gist.

The pres­i­dent of the United States can make nice to his hunka­li­cious mu­nif­i­cence the supremely supreme leader of leaders (peace be upon him) all he wants, but it won’t be re­cip­ro­cated. There’s a very ba­sic les­son here: For great pow­ers, stud­ied neu­tral­ity isn’t an op­tion. Even if you’re gen­uinely neu­tral. In the early 1990s, the at­ti­tude of much of the West to the dis­in­te­grat­ing Yu­goslavia was summed up in the brute dis­missal of Sec­re­tary of State James A. Baker III that Amer­ica didn’t have a dog in this fight. Fair enough. But over in the Balkans junk­yard, the var­i­ous mangy old pooches saw it rather dif­fer­ently. And so did the Mus­lim world, which re­garded Bri­tish and Euro­pean “neu­tral­ity” as a form of com­plic­ity in mass mur­der.

As Osama bin Laden put it: “The Bri­tish are re­spon­si­ble for de­stroy­ing the Caliphate sys­tem. They are the ones who cre­ated the Pales­tinian prob­lem. They are the ones who cre­ated the Kash­miri prob­lem. They are the ones who put the arms em­bargo on the Mus­lims of Bos­nia so that 2 mil­lion Mus­lims were killed.”

How come a cat­a­logue of im­pe­rial in­ter­ven­tions wound up with that bit of scrupu­lous non­im­pe­rial non­in­ter­ven­tion? Be­cause great-power “even-hand- ed­ness” will in­vari­ably be re­ceived as a form of one-hand­ed­ness by the time its ef­fects are felt on the other side of the world. West­ern “even-hand­ed­ness” on Bos­nia was the big­gest sin­gle fac­tor in rad­i­cal­iz­ing Euro­pean Mus­lims. For the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, this presents a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge — be­cause the pres­i­dent’s pre­ferred rhetor­i­cal tic is to stake out the two sides and present him­self as a dis­pas­sion­ate, dis­in­ter­ested soul of mod­er­a­tion: “There are those who would ar­gue [. . .]” on the one hand, whereas “there are those who in­sist [. . .]” on the other, whereas he is be­yond such petty dog­matic po­si­tions.

That was pretty much his shtick on abor­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Notre Dame. So in his re­cent speech in Cairo, he ap­plied the same tech­nique. Among his many unique qual­i­ties, the 44th pres­i­dent is the first to give the im­pres­sion that the job is be­neath him — that he is too big and too gifted to be con­fined to the hum­drum in­ter­ests of one na­tion-state. As my for­mer Na­tional Re­view col­league David Frum put it, the Obama ad­dress of­fered “the amaz­ing spec­ta­cle of an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent tak­ing an equidis­tant po­si­tion be­tween the coun­try he leads and its de­trac­tors and en­e­mies.”

What would you make of that “equidis­tance” if you were back in the palace watch­ing it on CNN In­ter­na­tional? Maybe you would know that, on do­mes­tic pol­icy, Mr. Obama uses the ve­neer of dis­in­ter­ested ar­biter as a feint.

Or maybe you’d just fig­ure that no se­ri­ous world leader can ever be neu­tral on vi­tal is­sues. So you’d start comb­ing the speech for what lies un­der­neath the usual Obama straw men — and women: “I re­ject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is some­how less equal.” Very brave of you, I’m sure. But what about the Mus­lim women who choose not to cover them­selves and wind up as the vic­tims of honor killings in Ger­many and Scan­di­navia and Toronto and Dal­las? Ah, but that would have re­quired real courage, not au­di­ence flat­tery mas­querad­ing as such.

And so, when the an­a­lysts had fin­ished comb­ing the speech, they would have con­cluded that the metames­sage of his “equidis­tance” was a pros­tra­tion be­fore “sta­bil­ity” — an ac­cep­tance of the re­gion’s worst patholo­gies as a per­ma­nent fea­ture of life.

The mul­lahs stole this elec­tion on a grander scale than ever be­fore pri­mar­ily for rea­sons of in­ter­nal se­cu­rity and re­gional strat­egy. But Mr. Obama’s speech told them that, in the “post-Amer­i­can world,” they could do so with im­punity. Blam­ing his “agents” for the protests is merely a bonus: Of­fered the world’s big­gest carrot, the Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei took it and used it as a stick.

He won’t be the last to read Mr. Obama this way.

Mark Steyn is the au­thor of the New York Times best-seller “Amer­ica Alone.”

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