Understanding Obama on Iran

by Andrew C. McCarthy

Call me thick, but I continue to be baffled by a lot of the commentary, cited by Rich and others, which gives as the rationale for President Obama’s diffidence his purported determination to preserve the opportunity to negotiate with the mullahs on their nuclear program. Obama is resigned to Iran getting nukes (perhaps even having them already) and has no intention of doing anything meaningful about it. 

The fact is that, as a man of the hard Left, Obama is more comfortable with a totalitarian Islamic regime than he would be with a free Iranian society. In this he is no different from his allies like the Congressional Black Caucus and Bill Ayers, who have shown themselves perfectly comfortable with Castro and Chàvez.  Indeed, he is the product of a hard-Left tradition that apologized for Stalin and was more comfortable with the Soviets than the anti-Communists (and that, in Soros parlance, saw George Bush as a bigger terrorist than bin Laden).

Because of obvious divergences (inequality for women and non-Muslims, hatred of homosexuals) radical Islam and radical Leftism are commonly mistaken to be incompatible. In fact, they have much more in common than not, especially when it comes to suppression of freedom, intrusiveness in all aspects of life, notions of “social justice,” and their economic programs. (On this, as in so many other things, Anthony Daniels should be required reading — see his incisive New English Review essay, ”There Is No God but Politics”, comparing Marx and Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb.) The divergences between radical Islam and radical Leftism are much overrated — “equal rights” and “social justice” are always more rally-cry propaganda than real goals for totalitarians, and hatred of certain groups is always a feature of their societies.

The key to understanding Obama, on Iran as on other matters, is that he is a power-politician of the hard Left : He is steeped in Leftist ideology, fueled in anger and resentment over what he chooses to see in America’s history, but a “pragmatist” in the sense that where ideology and power collide (as they are apt to do when your ideology becomes less popular the more people understand it), Obama will always give ground on ideology (as little as circumstances allow) in order to maintain his grip on power.

It would have been political suicide to issue a statement supportive of the mullahs, so Obama’s instinct was to do the next best thing: to say nothing supportive of the freedom fighters. As this position became increasingly untenable politically, and as Democrats became nervous that his silence would become a winning political round for Republicans, he was moved grudgingly to burble a mild censure of the mullah’s “unjust” repression — on the order of describing a maiming as a regrettable “assault,” though enough for the Obamedia to give him cover.  But expect him to remain restrained and to continue grossly understating the Iranian regime’s deadly response. That will change only if, unexpectedly, it appears that the freedom-fighters may win, at which point he’ll scoot over to the right side of history and take all conceivable credit.

I think Victor had this right on Saturday: “Obama is almost more at ease with virulent anti-Westerners, whose grievances Obama has long studied (and perhaps in large part entertained),” (though I’d have omitted the ”almost”). Mark Steyn made the same point in a post last week (about a Robert Kagan column that Pete Wehner also discussed). 

It’s a mistake to perceive this as “weakness” in Obama. It would have been weakness for him to flit over to the freedom fighters’ side the minute it seemed politically expedient. He hasn’t done that, and he won’t. Obama has a preferred outcome here, one that is more in line with his worldview, and it is not victory for the freedom fighters. He is hanging as tough as political pragmatism allows, and by doing so he is making his preferred outcome more likely.  That’s not weakness, it’s strength — and strength of the sort that ought to frighten us.