(CCU Faculty) Imagine a man, standing alone on the shoreline. Hours earlier, an earthquake rumbled miles off the coast, tsunami warnings blared and everyone else around fled to higher ground. All but this one man, all alone. He was determined to stand his ground, pointing his finger at the approaching tidal wave, shouting, "You can come ashore if you must, but you will not move me."
The Sunday, October 17th New York Times Magazine includes a lengthy account of President Obama’s first 21 months in office and the recent struggles his administration has been facing, including the decline in his public approval polls from the mid 60’s a year ago to the mid 40’s today.
In the article, Obama appears to be coming to grips with the fact that Republicans will make significant gains in this November’s election, likely taking control of the House of Representatives and moving closer to an even split – if not a majority – in the Senate. This will indeed be a new political landscape for Obama and, depending on the Republican pick-ups, may potentially a political “tsunami.”
Obama’s reaction to this coming tidal wave are two, equally absurd, responses. First, he suggests that Democrat losses will be due to a failure to effectively communicate, and second, that Republican victories will translate into a demand that Republicans be more cooperative.
In the Times interview, President Obama suggests that his decline in popularity is not due to the fact that Americans disagree with the direction in which he is leading the country; rather, he explains, it is caused by his failure to properly communicate and explain the reasoning for his policies.
Obama suggests that if only he and his White House team had more effectively explained to the American people what they were doing, Democrats would fare better this fall. “[W]e probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration – and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top – that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular.”
The suggestion that Presidential approval is at 44%, 55% favor repeal of the healthcare bill, and only 38% approve of how he is handling the economy is due to “poor communication” is of course absurd. Would Obama even entertain that the public understands full-well what his policies are about or that they are increasingly rejecting them and seeking change in the Congressional leadership in order to check and correct these policies?
Echoing this view is Vice President Joe Biden, who recently explained that the reason that Obama and the Democrats weren’t running on the “accomplishments” of the administration over the past 21 months was that “it’s just too hard to explain.” As if it couldn’t possibly be that the public recognizes that the administration just has had very few accomplishments.
The second reaction from Obama is that a Republican victory in November will be fueled by a public clamoring for Republicans to stop being the party of “no” and start working with him. Candidate Obama promised to work consistently with Republicans. If only Obama would have taken his own advice. While promising to work across the aisle, these overtures have been limited to the occasional deal with one of the New England Senate Republicans to secure a cloture vote.
With Obama’s approval, Republicans in both the House and the Senate have been shut out of all substantive negotiations during the past 21 months. And now, facing significant defeats in the mid-term election, he claims that it is the public demanding a repentant Republican party. “It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible… the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.” It is remarkable how an electoral repudiation of one’s own party can be interpreted as the public demanding responsibility of the winners.
Narcissus was charmed with his own beauty, wasting away as he was unable to turn away from his own reflection in a tidal pool. Obsession with self and an inability to consider criticism as justified is a disturbing quality of our President. Perhaps the tidal wave will crash the tidal pool and shatter the reflection, forcing him to look around.
(CCU Faculty) In 2008, Barack Obama presented American voters with a candidacy expressing “righteous indignation” and the appearance of a leader ready to take the helm in a time of great national economic difficulty. The anger he expressed, alleging numerous failings of the Bush administration – failure at war, failure at appealing to the international community, expansion of government programs and government debt, failure to respond to the economic crisis, etc. – found a receptive audience with a frustrated citizenry. His anger was tempered with his seeming readiness to tackle this laundry list of problems.
Rallying an angry electorate with a promise of “change” proved easy for Obama. Frustration is easy to harness when people fear declining economic opportunity while unemployment is rising and financial institutions are collapsing. The incumbent and his party are easy prey. Obama was able to present a calm demeanor suggesting a readiness to take charge. Here he was in contrast to the candidacy of Senator McCain. When the economic crisis reached a nadir in September 2008 and the government was forced to step in to prop up large investment firms, McCain called for a suspension of campaigns, a summit in Washington, and several inconsistent proposals. While McCain appeared to be flailing, Obama stayed on message and exhibited a calm detachment which gave the appearance of competence to a willing audience.
Flash forward 24 months from the calm and controlled candidate Obama of September 2008. The criticism of President Obama is not simply coming from the right. The anger expressed by conservatives and the Tea Party movement are well documented. Increasingly, frustration is being expressed from the left, from the hard-core supporters of just two years ago. This past week, Obama spoke before an audience at a CNBC sponsored Town Hall event. Velma Hart, a supporter of Obama in 08 said the following:
“I'm a mother. I'm a wife. I'm an American veteran, and I'm one of your middle-class Americans. And, quite frankly, I'm exhausted; I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.”Liberal columnist Eleanor Clift wrote the following: “President Obama’s supporters are angry at a White House they think has grown insular, and at a president who’s lost his touch.”
The problem facing President Obama stems from the message of his campaign in 2008: righteous indignation paired with the appearance of calming competence. Unfortunately for him: this formula works well when challenging and not so well when governing. The righteous indignation has turned against him and the appearance of competence is increasingly proving to have been false. While he might wish to express indignation at our nation’s current state of affairs, this doesn’t work so well when you are the leader of that nation.
Obama has had 20 months to right the ship, the entire time with large majorities in both the House and Senate. The state of the union can no longer be placed at the feet of George Bush. Expressing indignation works when you are on the outside looking in. Indignation doesn’t work when you are on the inside looking out.
Anger at the establishment is a great way to rally a political movement. When you become the establishment, it is time to lead.
Eleanor Clift continues: “It’s mind-boggling how poorly the White House has related to its friends, putting up a wall of cool and refusing to hit the panic button even as the Democrats’ congressional majorities slip away.” The calm demeanor found so attractive two years ago seems today to be less the sign of a ready leader and more the evidence of someone not ready to take the helm. Ms. Clift concludes that Obama’s management style and demeanor are in need of change. Perhaps she is missing a more likely reality: Obama’s demeanor indicates that he has nothing more to offer?
In February of 2008, while the primary season was still in full swing, David Von Dreihle wrote a column titled: “Does Experience Matter in a President?” His central question was whether or not the fact that Barack Obama’s limited experience of eight years in the Illinois legislature and three years in the United States Senate was something voters should take into consideration. Notably missing from this résumé was any real executive leadership experience (save running a community organization).
At the time of Von Driehle’s essay, Obama was still in the midst of his battle with Hilary Clinton to secure the Democrat Party nomination and was facing the charges from the Clinton administration that he was, indeed, unprepared. It was around this time that the “3 AM Phone Call” ad was run by the Clinton team.
For the past 50 years, executive leadership, whether serving as governor of a state or Vice President of the country, has either consciously or subconsciously been crucial to the electorate’s choice for President. We need to go back to 1960 to find a President and Vice-President in Kennedy and Johnson to find a similar level of inexperience in the Executive Branch that we find today with Obama and Biden.
Von Driehle referenced Kennedy’s first 100 days in office and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion as evidence that the inexperienced administration was ill-equipped to deal with the national security crisis. Historians largely agree today that the Kennedy administration made many missteps in confronting the Soviet Union’s attempt to base nuclear missiles in Cuba.
Some pundits gave Obama high marks for his 15 months in office based upon his passage of the stimulus bill and the health care overhaul. This evaluation is consistent with some presidential scholars who base their evaluation of presidencies on their legislative successes. While this is indeed a part a president’s track record, the duties of the office are measured by far more than legislative accomplishments. Indeed, Obama’s legislative successes – realized by bargaining and arm twisting that was necessary in spite of the large majorities in both chambers – could be viewed as successes for a party whip or majority leader. But it would be wrong to categorize these as “executive” accomplishments.
When we turn to the executive duties and the challenges facing our President – the war in Afghanistan; the oil spill in the gulf; dealing with the North Korean intransigence; failure to secure the southern border; the decision and then apparent reversal of this decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York City federal court; dealing with the other detainees in Guantanamo Bay; and perhaps most importantly, preventing the Iranian regime from developing weapons grade uranium – we find significant reason to question his executive leadership. In many ways, Obama may wish to imitate the Kennedy style, and certainly they share the trait of charisma. But as Von Driehle writes, charisma may get you elected, but it isn’t going to help you solve problems and effectively execute he law:
Kennedy needed on-the-job training, as he later admitted to a friend: "Presumably, I was going to learn these lessons sometime, and maybe better sooner than later." Unfortunately, when a President gets an education, we all pay the tuition.
Increasingly it seems that the current occupant of the White House is getting “on the job training” and we are, indeed, paying the price of tuition. Hilary Clinton was right: it is 3 A.M. and the person answering the phone in the White House is not qualified.
(CCU Student) For the past few years, Americans have heard countless mentions of change and changing America. In 2008, the people voted for a form of change that they thought they wanted. A break from the “old” way of doing things and a transition into a new day of prosperity and wealth for all. And after not even two years, we seem to desire yet another change. The eyes of the voters have been opened to how the Obama administration and other progressives operate within a shroud of secrecy. We were promised transparency and bipartisan efforts but instead have seen intimidation, back room deals, midnight meetings, and political maneuvering. And that was just to get all of the Democrats to fall in line. The opposition on the other hand, was completely shut out of the process of creating legislation. Americans have seen a glimpse of the progressive system and are beginning to realize that it is not what we want.
I spent Thursday afternoon at the Tea Party rally in downtown Denver. I stood amongst hundreds of fellow citizens who are fed up with a government that refuses to listen to the people and instead distorts the Constitution to meet its own desires and needs. Together we stood before the Capital building and spoke out for change.
Later that evening I was back at CCU, listening to David Barton of Wallbuilders speak on the Constitution and how it would in all probability take forty years to roll back the gains in government and policy made by liberals and progressives.
After hearing this, I began to wonder if rolling these changes back is possible in our current social climate. We are in the day and age where everything we need and want is at our fingertips. With the click of a button or the swipe of a card we can obtain almost anything. And it seems to me that this attitude is beginning to permeate into our political beliefs and system. So the question is: do we have the patience and resolve to see this through and win the fight?
It will take an enormous amount of resolve on the part of conservatives if we hope to truly fix the system and return to the government of 1791. We cannot expect to mend over a hundred years of progressive reforms over night. Just as they slowly chipped away at the fabric of our nation, so too must we slowly peel back the layers of their gains. For if we were to simply do away with that much legislation at once, our government and system could possibly collapse and implode.
It will take us time but we can win this fight. We must never be afraid as Americans to defend our rights at any cost. Just as the brave soldiers who are immortalized upon the steps of the Capitol, we must be willing to give it all in order to keep our nation, our culture, and our freedom alive.
President Obama made public a political position of which many are not surprised. What is surprising is the fact that the position was made so publicly. My interest is to whom was the President speaking.
Even President Obama is experienced enough to know that our enemies are unconcerned about our policies or pronouncements. Our enemies are interested in our abilities and they know that Presidents come and Presidents go. If the United States took some unilateral action that dramatically altered military capacity or long term capabilities, then they would take interest. No, Obama was not speaking to them.
And I feel certain President Obama was not addressing our friends, few that there now are. Israel certainly was not in mind when Obama altered the current threat response. Israel is capable of defending itself and has painfully been reminded that this President has no interest in coming to the aid or defense of Israel. Europe and NATO will doubtless make public statements of support for this recent development but they too know that Russia is unimpressed with policies or positions. The Russians do care deeply about supplies of oil and natural gas. Imagine what Russia would do if the U.S. suddenly decided to develop large reserves of natural gas and establish a commercial LNG shipping center designed to deliver large quantities of energy to Europe? No, Obama was not speaking to our friends.
I can easily and quickly determine that the President does not directly communicate to or with Conservatives in the nation. I doubt Rush or Glenn were on the list of recipients for this new world view. So who was in his mind? I fear the answer to that question a lot. For it seems to me only one group remains, the feckless and slobbering surrounding the Oval office. I believe the President was listening to himself speak. The President is very impressed with himself it seems and he thinks his own counsel quite wise. I fear this new nuke, no nuke plan, succeeds in persuading Obama that President Obama is very wise and will lead the world in a more peaceful century. I fear that President Obama will be cheered by those in and around him and they will support even greater "steps toward world peace" than this.
I am reminded of the counsel offered by Grima Wormtongue to King Theoden of Rohan. Alas there are evils in the world and we are missing Frodo. To understand how the deception of Obama continues, just read the biography of Grima and know where the Chief of Staff really plans on going.
So President Nobomba has decided he can avoid war by playing nice with our enemies. Now all he needs is Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella to complete the picture. But reliable Leftist Robert Sheer is rejoicing. The president finally is earning his Nobel Prize and “at last, a believable sighting of that peace president many of us thought we had elected," writes Sheer.
Sheer’s applause is not surprising but his reasoning is. The president is right to back away from the use of nuclear weapons in order to repudiate President Truman’s use of the bomb which was, to Sheer, “the most atrocious act of terrorism in world history.” Goodness. The most atrocious? Really, Robert, that honor surely goes to one of your Leftist heroes. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragically killed two hundred thousand civilians. Stalin killed thirty million, Mao sixty million, and Pol Pot’s killing fields annihilated Cambodia’s middle class—about two million more. Surely these would get some mention in Sheer’s “Most Atrocious” category.
But back to Truman. Leftists countenance no use of the military—unless they are murdering the bourgeoisie. Truman’s “act of terrorism” is precisely the kind of life-saving act the military is designed to produce. Consider:
**Truman wasted no time on whether or not to use the bomb. It was tested on July 21 and dropped August 6.
**The death toll for both cities was lower than the number killed in the “Rape of Nanking” by the Japanese military in 1937. (300,000—another candidate for worst atrocity.)
**The U.S. military calculated it would lose at least 500,000 men if they were forced to take the Japanese main islands by conventional means. That would have doubled our World War II death toll. Maybe Sheer would like to go to every one of those families and explain the deaths of their sons in order to avoid the “worst atrocity in world history.”
**The U.S. also calculated that the Japanese civilian death toll would have been upwards of 15,000,000 in a conventional siege. More deaths that Sheer is apparently OK with.
**The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave the crazed Japanese military a face-saving device and allowed the Emperor to capitulate.
**The bombs, tragic as they were, showed us how bad nuclear weapons could be and none have been dropped since. That’s why David Drehle of Time Magazine said the real winner of the Nobel Peace prize should be should go to the nukes.
Sheer is a typical Leftist. He has absolutely no sense of perspective. And the American military he despises have allowed him to live comfortably at peace and given him the freedom to spew forth his nonsense.
The bad news is that Nobomba’s foreign policy is based on “sheer” fantasy and has no correlation with the real world. The good news is he has never kept a single promise he has made. I hope he doesn’t keep this one.
(Centennial Fellow) Fred Barnes's wrote in today's Wall Street Journal that the health-care plan, if passed, will be "a paramount issue in the 2012 presidential race, regardless of whether Mr. Obama is on the ballot." (See full quote and link at the end of this post.)
If Obama is on the ballot? I have said that there is a reasonable chance Barrack Obama will not get the nomination of his party. Why? First, the progressive wing will spin off a candidate or even rend the Democratic party. History is against me as no sitting president has ever been ‘evicted’ by his party; think Gerald Ford, who came close. Second, Hillary is in the wings. Does anyone think she is not plotting to get the big chair? If I were in charge of her campaign for the White House I would show clips of her 2008 campaign when she was attacking Obama, e.g., 'his need for on the job training,' etc. the fact is that Hillary had it exactly correct in 2008, Obama was not ready. Lastly, Obama might not even run. I don't think he likes, enjoys being president. Why wouldn't he enjoy being president? Obama is the product of far too may wine and cheese parties with the intellectuals, elites and academics of the left. As a grad student at NYU in the 1980s a fellow student, a reporter, snuck me into two of these parties held on the Upper East Side of the city. These were the most insular people I had ever met; not one had ever mown their own lawn. I was reminded of the, possibly apocryphal, comment of New York Times movie critic Pauline Kael upon the election of Richard Nixon. “I don’t think Nixon was really elected” she supposedly said, “I don’t know a single person who voted for him.” The one thing I do remember was walking by two women who didn’t believe there were any women who were against abortion. If I am correct and this was Obama’s preparation for the presidency, it would make sense that he truly believes he and his friends have solved all the problems and they only need to implement their brilliant policies and opposition would melt away. But he went to Harvard Law, you might say. This is the most puzzling thing to me. He has taught constitution law and was a U.S. Senator for two years. Yet, when asked in one of the first press conferences, “what has surprised you the most...” his response was how long it takes to get things done. If you understand the Madisonian system of government, the constitution, this is the essence of our system. The assumption is we are a liberal people who have differing opinions, ideas, etc. Thus, there are no ideal policies. For one faction to ‘win’ would be cause political violence. Thus, the main aim of the constitution is to avoid factional violence, not create the best policy. Factional or political violence is avoided by forcing compromise through checks and balances. The end result is that everyone comes away from government equally unhappy but not thinking the other guys got more than me. My limited imagination can come up with only two possibilities: Obama was never exposed to the Madisonian system of government or, the Constitution is merely an auxiliary precaution which must take a back seat to the enlightened statesmen.
Fred Barnes in WSJ 3/18/10... "Assuming it passes, ObamaCare wouldn't go into effect fully until 2013. This fact alone would make the health-care plan a paramount issue in the 2012 presidential race, regardless of whether Mr. Obama is on the ballot. As long as he's president, Mr. Obama would surely veto legislation to repeal or gut ObamaCare. With a Republican in the White House things would be different. Republicans might be successful in dismantling the program."
When praising his own “accomplishments” Barack Obama has an unusual fondness for the word “unprecedented” though invariably his assertions lack any historical validity. In contrast the voters of Massachusetts can now claim an accomplishment that entirely justifies the use of that word. To find an event in American history reasonably comparable in character and impact to the Massachusetts Earthquake we must go all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 attempt to “pack” the Supreme Court. That is the last-perhaps the only- time in our history that a President commanding huge congressional majorities sought with breathtaking arrogance to redesign the constitutional, social and economic foundations of the country and was stunningly defeated by the very people who long had been his party’s staunchest supporters. With a righteousness and sense of invincibility engendered by three consecutive triumphal election cycles that had given him and his party an extraordinary dominance Roosevelt sought to demonize the “nine old men” of the Supreme Court who had the temerity to strike down key elements of the New Deal as unconstitutional. With little consultation outside his inner circle and apparent indifference to how such a radical move would be received in the country Roosevelt advanced sweeping legislation that would increase the membership of the Supreme Court from nine to fifteen and replace lifetime appointment with mandatory retirement ages, moves which would enable him to swiftly “pack” the Court with hand-picked minions. It was at this point that ordinary Americans and several key Democratic leaders like Montana’s Senator Burton K. Wheeler decided that Roosevelt’s radical power grab was going too far and actively threatened the nation’s hallowed Constitutional traditions. The Court “packing” scheme was decisively defeated in the Congress and the final political result was the Democratic Party losing seven Senate and 80 House seats in the 1938 mid-term elections. That was America’s last peacetime election before World War II restored the country’s economy, ended the Great Depression, and redeemed the political fortunes and historical reputation of Franklin Roosevelt. Nonetheless 1937 remains a decisive turning point in American history when the overarching ambition of a well-intended but tone deaf President were dramatically rebuffed by a most unlikely combination of opponents who read the national mood far better than he. The week that saw the unbelievably improbable election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts also witnessed the startling collapse of the recently “inevitable” Obamacare legislation, and the absolute implosion of the Democratic Party in a tawdry spectacle of shock, fear, anger, finger-pointing, pseudo-contrition, confusion, chaos, and general cluelessness. Not in living memory has a dominant political party been so devastated, so quickly by a single wildly unpredictable event. It is easier to search the past for perspective on this American melodrama, than to divine its future conclusion. Much will turn on the choices made by the Democratic Party. Will there be a Clintonesque dash to the center, (“the end of big government and welfare as we know it”) by a President in hot pursuit of re-election?
Or, will the Party in certain knowledge that it will never again enjoy such Congressional dominance heed the frenzied howls of its far left and “double-down” on the strategies of bigger government, redistributionist legislation, and intolerable taxation that have so alienated the public? Rational calculation would seem to demand the former direction, but in critical degree today’s Democratic Party is far more radical than the Party that was dethroned in 1994. The dominant Furies that energize and fund the Democrats are of an ideologically obsessed mindset unlike anything that ever before captured control of a major American political party. President Obama’s utterances since the upheaval are suggestive of self-pity and delusion. Excusing his inattentiveness because he was “so busy getting stuff done” and then claiming that both he and Scott Brown were elected by the same anger at George Bush bespeaks a man quite out of touch with reality. His lame attempt at populism-Let’s punish those greedy bankers- is nothing but the class warfare and general assault on capitalism that has been the thinly disguised agenda of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Axis from the beginning. What’s new is that now the American people know it and are determined with their votes to decisively defeat it.Centennial Fellow William Moloney was Colorado Education Commissioner, 1997-2007. His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Rocky Mountain News.
(Denver Post, Jan. 24)) Why did Gov. Bill Ritter fold his reelection campaign? Why is Sen. Michael Bennet so far behind in the polls? Why did Scott Brown win in Massachusetts? Why is Barack Obama struggling to save his presidency, one year after taking office in triumph?
Because Americans have completely lost patience with irresponsibility. For years this column has talked of the need for a responsibility movement to challenge both political parties. “We’ll call it Element R and launch it today, right here in Colorado,” I wrote in 2007. What the country has seen in recent months is Element R, in fact if not in name, starting to take charge.
Surveys foretold what elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts have confirmed: sharp declines in Democratic support, benefiting Republican candidates but not greatly boosting Republican registration. It’s the independent voters whose ranks are growing. Citizens are less inclined to ally with either the donkey or the elephant. Both have forfeited confidence.
People’s aroused insistence for responsibility instead of irresponsibility, on the part of those we entrust with power, best explains the new political landscape. To start with definitions, responsibility means keeping a trust, doing your duty, facing the music. Whereas irresponsibility means shirking, acting in disregard of consequences, behaving as if 2 and 2 don’t make 4. Examples abound.
Ritter’s fatal wound, absent-father guilt aside, seems to have been either fiscal and executive recklessness or an impending legal-ethical scandal. He might have brazened it out, whatever the case, if years of gubernatorial irresponsibility by the likes of Davis in California, Blagojevich in Illinois, and Sanford in South Carolina hadn’t inflamed public disgust. But in 2010 the odds have become prohibitive, so he’s quitting.
The responsibility deficit for Bennet as an interim senator from Colorado matches that of Martha Coakley in her failure to become an interim senator from Massachusetts. Neither grasped that the country’s tolerance for unserious political palaver-as-usual is exhausted. The national BS detector is pegged. Bennet’s phony indignation over corrupt deals in the health care bill, and then over secret negotiations for same, backed up in neither case by his vote, simply spelled game over.
As for our glib young president, Mr. Obama set a trap for himself on inauguration day. After calling for a “new era of responsibility,” he has proved epically irresponsible ever since – weakening us against our enemies, selling out our allies, ballooning the deficit, expanding government, worsening the recession by bullying business, and obsessing over socialized medicine like Ahab with the whale. No wonder his numbers are at record lows.
The irresponsibility epidemic, a contagion long carried by Democrats but often caught by Republicans as well, finally triggered public fury in last year’s tea parties and townhalls. This is the uprising I’ve called Element R. But is it a movement – perhaps even a force capable of remaking the GOP? Or is it merely an electoral mood?
The responsibility backlash will continue taking its healthy toll. Whether it’s durable enough to take charge, time will tell. Though unaffiliated voters hold the balance of power, the coherence of their views is doubtful. Here in Colorado, it would be interesting to see Element R gel and assert itself to the point of asking questions that the established parties shrink from. These might include:
Does the initiative process make government so responsive as to be irresponsible? Is marijuana prohibition working any better than alcohol prohibition did? In legislating away both pregnancy and parenthood, have we signed a demographic suicide pact? Is Muslim sharia law compatible with liberty?
Dems and GOP alike have done none too well with our sacred responsibility for “keeping the republic,” in Franklin’s words. May they both feel the righteous wrath of Element R.
(Centennial Fellow) WASHINGTON, JAN. 17 - When judgment is rendered on the success or failure of U.S. foreign policy in 2010 the verdict will depend more than anything on the outcome of our confrontation with Iran. The threat to U.S. global interests from Iran is immense, but so too is the opportunity for a historic and transformational advancement of those interests. Converging circumstances in both Washington and Teheran strongly suggest that a decisive turning point is at hand. The sudden leap of Yemen onto the front pages of U.S. newspapers has underlined how far reaching are the dangers Iran poses for the United States and its allies. Both the Bush and Obama administrations chose to narrow the focus on Iran to that country’s nuclear ambitions correctly seeing that issue as the most critical and most likely to rally international support.
The fact that Iran by supplying sophisticated weaponry to its proxies in both Iraq and Afghanistan is killing American soldiers has been downplayed by both administrations. The fact that murderous violence aimed at Israel and the United States in Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza, and Yemen has been powerfully fueled by Teheran’s money and fanatical ideology has similarly been acknowledged but in a very low key.
Both Bush and Obama repeatedly denounced the wickedness of al-Qaeda but failed to connect the dots regarding the obvious implications of the religious zealotry and violent strategies that are common to Bin-Laden and the Iranian mullahs e.g. pathological hatred of Israel, predilection for blowing people up, and determination to take the battle to the heartland of the Great Satan America.
Bush’s Iran strategy was to isolate and not talk to them. Obama reversed field and opted for engagement. Both approaches utterly failed to modify Iranian objectives; Teheran’s response to both isolation and engagement has been a mix of arrogance, insult, and continued bad behavior culminating most recently in Ahmadinejad’s bombastic demand that Israel and America give up their own nuclear weapons as a precondition for any Iranian response.
Obama’s oft declared end of year deadline for positive Iranian response has come and gone. He now must be prepared to implement those “serious consequences” he has long spoken of. This will not be easy, particularly in light of China’s recent declared intention of using its veto to block sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.
Given the U.N’s almost limitless capacity for procrastination Obama’s best hope for support lies with the European Union, but despite encouraging rhetoric from Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy, action from that multi-lateral body is far from certain.
In the end Obama must consider an approach he has long decried: unilateral United States action.
So, amidst these growing threats, where is the grand opportunity?
It principally lies in the very realistic chance of achieving “regime change” in Iran by boldly siding with the growing opposition in that country. Once they merely sought honest elections. Now clearly their goal is the overthrow of the dictatorship. The Iranian people- now chanting in street demonstrations “Obama, are you with us or them?” – are the most educated and sophisticated populace between Israel and India and as they showed in 1979 they have the capacity to bring down an intolerable regime.
In his Nobel Address President Obama eloquently stated some realities that much of the world sometimes forgets. He said that evil exists, and that peaceful means would not have stopped Hitler and will not stop al- Qaeda. He reminded his audience that American power had for half a century been the principal guarantor of their freedom, and while collective security is always preferred, sometimes one nation i.e. the United Stated must act alone.
Many saw President Obama’s speech as a justification of his Afghan escalation, but he was also laying down a marker for Iran and clearly signaling that he was ready for a major course correction is his own approach to world affairs.
Absent a pathologically hostile regime in Iran, U.S. foreign policy challenges from Pakistan to Israel dramatically shift in our favor, the entire Middle East is transformed, and U.S. global influence, and the cause of freedom reaches a pinnacle unmatched since the Second World War.
Heady stuff. Not easy, not certain, but once again History offers America an opportunity to be the great catalyst for human progress.
Centennial Fellow Bill Moloney was Colorado Education Commissioner, 1997-2007. His columns have appeared in the Wall St Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post.