. . . Speak­ing for my­self, at least

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

“It is my deeply held be­lief,” Barack Obama told the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly, that “in the year 2009 — more than at any point in hu­man his­tory — the in­ter­ests of na­tions and peo­ples are shared.”

That is, of course, the year Mr. Obama be­came pres­i­dent, and he wasn’t shy about re­fer­ring in his sec­ond para­graph to “the ex­pec­ta­tions that ac­com­pany my pres­i­dency around the world,” though he as­sured us they “are not about me.”

Be­fore Mr. Obama’s speech, I wrote that he seems “stuck in a time warp in which the United States is the bad guy.” Not any more, he seemed to say in his U.N. speech. He has or­dered the clos­ing of Guan­tanamo. He has pro­hib­ited the use of tor­ture. He is “re­spon­si­bly end­ing” the war in Iraq (no tri­umphal­ist talk of victory). He is promis­ing sub­stan­tial re­duc­tions in U.S. nu­clear weapons. He has in­vested $80 bil­lion in clean en­ergy. The U.S. has joined the United Na­tions’ Hu­man Rights Coun­cil.

All of which is a way of say­ing that nasty Ge­orge W. Bush is no longer around with all his self-righ­teous swag­ger, and that with (as Mr. Obama did not fail to note) the first African-Amer­i­can in­stalled in the White House, Amer­ica is now on the same page with the rest of the world.

Much of the speech seemed to be an ex­er­cise in what Sig­mund Freud called “pro­jec­tion,” as­sum­ing that oth­ers think the way you do. Obama spoke as if the mul­lahs of Iran, the Kim Jong Il clan of North Korea, Vladimir Putin and his gang of oli­garchs, and the rulers of China had the same gripes against the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion as Mr. Obama and the lib­eral Democrats in Congress. Hey, if we just close Gitmo, they’ll re­al­ize that we’re all in sym­pa­thy now.

In that spirit, Mr. Obama at the Gen­eral As­sem­bly on Sept. 23 and while chair­ing the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on Sept. 24 tread war­ily on the is­sue of Iran’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram. “This is not about sin­gling out in­di­vid­ual na­tions,” he said Wed­nes­day, be­fore stat­ing that if Iran and North Korea “ig­nore in­ter­na­tional stan­dards,” they “must be held” — in un­spec­i­fied ways — “ac­count­able.” The next day, the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion on the sub­ject that did not name ei­ther coun­try.

Yet on Sept. 25, in­for­ma­tion be­came pub­lic that sug­gested that Mr. Obama’s com­ments on Iran were an ex­am­ple not of Freudian pro­jec­tion but of what psy­chol­o­gists call “cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance,” re­fus­ing to process facts that con­flict with deeply held be­liefs. The in­for­ma­tion was that Iran has been op­er­at­ing a sec­ond ura­nium en­rich­ment fa­cil­ity near the holy city of Qom and that it had so in­formed the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency ear­lier in the week.

In re­sponse, Mr. Obama, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown and French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy held a press con­fer­ence Sept. 25 morn­ing be­fore the G-20 sum­mit in Pittsburgh de­nounc­ing the Ira­ni­ans. “Iran is break­ing rules that all na­tions must fol­low,” Mr. Obama said. “In­ter­na­tional law is not an empty prom­ise.”

But the Qom fa­cil­ity was not news to Mr. Obama. West­ern in­tel­li­gence has long known about it, and Mr. Obama was briefed on it as pres­i­dent-elect. Even so, there was a sharp con­trast be­tween his wary ref­er­ences to Iran on Sept. 23-24, and his sharp crit­i­cism on Sept. 25. There were prob­a­bly good rea­sons — pro­tect­ing in­tel­li­gence sources? — for not dis­clos­ing the in­for­ma­tion be­fore then. But shouldn’t the pres­i­dent’s rhetoric two weeks ago have re­flected all that he knew?

Mr. Obama has based his pol­icy to­ward Iran on the hope that its leaders would see the prob­lem as he does — pro­jec­tion — and was ap­par­ently dis­count­ing con­trary ev­i­dence like the Qom fa­cil­ity — cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance. Per­haps he views him­self as, in the words of the At­lantic’s Marc Am­binder, “the first pres­i­dent of the nu­clear age who grew up with a nu­anced view of Amer­i­can power.”

Un­for­tu­nately, it is clear that even in the year 2009 the in­ter­ests of na­tions and peo­ples are not as unan­i­mously shared as Mr. Obama pro­claimed. Our diplo­mats and those of five other na­tions are sched­uled to meet with an Ira­nian coun­ter­part in Geneva on Oct. 1, but the Ira­ni­ans have in­di­cated they don’t want to dis­cuss nu­clear weapons is­sues.

At a press brief­ing be­fore the G-20 con­fer­ence, Messrs. Brown and Sarkozy threat­ened Iran with strin­gent in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions; con­gres­sional Democrats — Sen. Evan Bayh and House For­eign Af­fairs Chair­man Howard Berman — and Sen. Joe Lieber­man are press­ing for tougher sanc­tions, too. Is the time over for nu­ance, pro­jec­tion and cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance?

Michael Barone is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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