Politics & Policy

The Obama Effect?

It is far more likely that purely internal factors are at work in Iran.

It’s become almost a parlor game to watch Obamaphiles spin the president’s response to events in Iran. Uninfatuated observers have noticed that the president displayed a tepid and unsatisfying neutrality to events in the streets of Tehran following the sham election — just as he did last summer when the Russians staged an invasion of Georgia. His first instinct was to preserve his bona fides for negotiating with the mullahs — bona fides that he has been at pains to demonstrate over the past several months. Starting last January, President Obama put doubts about the nature of the regime in Tehran to one side and offered blandishments to the leadership of what he was careful to call “the Islamic Republic.” In his Cairo speech, the president begged forgiveness for the U.S. role in a 1953 coup. U.S. embassies worldwide were instructed to invite Iranian diplomats to July 4 parties. By so doing, President Obama granted legitimacy to the mullahs and suggested that the U.S. — under new enlightened leadership — was now a worthy interlocutor. At just that moment, the people of Iran told the world how thoroughly detestable and illegitimate the Islamofascist regime is. This surely must have been one of the worst cases of presidential timing in living memory.

Yet Obama’s ardent supporters stand ready to interpret any world event as evidence of Obama’s messianic effect. Matthew Stannard, in the San Francisco Chronicle, noted that unnamed “analysts suggested that President Obamas rhetoric of extending an open hand to old rivals, culminating in his widely watched speech to the Islamic world from Egypt on June 4, may have pushed reform-minded voters to the polls in Iran.” The New York Times asked, “Could there be something to all the talk of an Obama effect, after all? A stealth effect, perhaps?”

Isn’t this a kind of arrogance? Isn’t it further the kind of arrogance — an overweening emphasis on the importance of the United States — that the Left usually attributes to conservatives?

There is no more evidence that the revolt under way in Iran (if it succeeds, it will be called a revolution) is attributable to the “Obama effect” than there is that it is the result of a George W. Bush effect. How could Bush be involved? Well, you could make an argument that all of those purple fingers in neighboring Iraq aroused a certain longing for democracy among Iranians.

But it is far more likely that purely internal factors are at work. David Frum, at NewMajority.com, catalogues the economic misery Ahmadinejad has delivered. The unemployment rate, already at 10.5 percent four years ago, has shot up to 17 percent. The inflation rate is 25 percent, destroying savings and driving down living standards. Despite Iran’s immense oil wealth and the rise in oil prices in recent years, the standard of living for the typical Iranian is no better now than it was in 1975. Because Iran has not built oil refineries, this oil-rich nation must import 40 percent of its gasoline. Moreover, the corruption of the clerical elite is widespread and universally detested.

Michael Ledeen points to the galvanizing effect the presence of Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, has had on women in Iran. Rahnavard is the half of the couple with all the charisma — and the spirit. While Mousavi is a soft-spoken, even dull, former apparatchik, his wife is a noted artist and university professor known for her reformist views who directly called Ahmadinejad a liar and a disgrace during the presidential campaign. She is personally religious and wears a hijab, but she favors choice in these matters — a profoundly subversive idea in the Islamic Republic. Brave women have been out in force since before the election. They marched carrying pictures of Mousavi and displaying their green colors. When the regime declared Ahmadinejad the winner, young women poured into the streets along with men. CNN covered one young demonstrator explaining how the women collect rocks to give to the men to throw at the basij militia, as the women cannot throw as far. But they are on the front lines, body and soul, defying the basij militia and sometimes, as in the now iconic case of Neda Soltani, paying with their lives. Neda, a 19-year-old clad in blue jeans and sneakers, has become an instant martyr to a very great cause — the cause of freedom.

President Obama needs to fall out of love with the image of himself as the ultimate mediator. Events have overtaken that strategy and revealed its hollowness.

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