Or is this just part of their message of "everything Obama does is wrong?"
I'm coming more and more to the conclusion that the latter is a big part of it, but not all of it. The reason I say that it's a big part is because, for all their criticism, they consistently fail to make a logical argument, instead falling back on vague statements designed to make Obama look "soft on Iran." They continue to refuse to offer answers to two questions; what exactly should the President say and what are they saying will happen in Iran after he says it? If they've got some magical incantation that'll help here, it seems a little irresponsible to keep it to themselves.
Instead of offering something concrete, they stick with vague answers like "stronger statements" or "more forceful rhetoric." That's really not helpful. Obama has spoken out against the violence against peaceful protesters, the importance of democracy, and the need to respect human rights. That ought to about cover it. Do they want him to start swearing or what?
And, as I've asked again and again and again, what are they saying will happen if Barack Obama somehow deciphers their secret code and says what they consider exactly the right thing? What is the positive outcome? See, the thing about having a plan is having a predictable outcome. What is that outcome or is that some big secret too?
The emptiness of GOP rhetoric on these points suggests that this is all part of the "everything Obama does is wrong" strategy to make gains in 2010 and 2012. They're playing politics with the lives of millions of people and the future of international relations for at least a generation to win an election or two. Given the almost complete lack of any real argument on their part, it's hard to come to any other conclusion. If they have a plan, they have an end game. If they can't explain what their end game is -- and they either can't or won't -- then they don't have a plan. That's simple logic.
But there isn't even agreement on the right about this non-plan. In his regular talking head gig on ABC’s This Week, conservative columnist George Will said, "The president is being roundly criticized for insufficient, rhetorical support for what’s going on over there. It seems to me foolish criticism. The people on the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is. And they don’t need that reinforced." Other conservatives agree.
"To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous," wrote Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. "[T]he ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week"
Representing the nutjob majority, however, was Sen. Lindsey Graham. "He’s certainly moving in the right direction, but our point is that there is a monumental event going on in Iran, and you know, the President of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it," Graham said, also on This Week. "Other nations have been more outspoken, so I hope that we’ll hear more of this, because the young men and women taking the streets in Tehran need our support. The signs are in English. They are basically asking for us to speak up on their behalf."
Apparently, he thinks Iran is a nation of passive-aggressive jerks who won't come right out and say what they want, preferring to drop hints. Otherwise, if Iranian protesters were "basically asking for us to speak up on their behalf," the signs would say "HEY AMERICA, SPEAK UP ON OUR BEHALF!" They're being shot and beaten for defying their government -- why would they feel the need to send subtle messages? Is Lindsey arguing that they're afraid they'll get in trouble?
"[S]eeing Will and Graham on opposite sides of this reminds me of a point that often goes overlooked: we're not dealing with a dynamic that pits the left vs. the right, or Dems against Republicans," writes Steve Benen. "Rather, this is a situation featuring neocons vs. everyone else." It's just that most of the Republicans left in office -- or, at least, in leadership -- are neocons. And neocons default to war, because they have no patience for diplomacy. They hate the UN, they don't want to have talks with North Korea or Iran, they see diplomacy as a waste of time.
But this shows a deliberate ignorance of history. Almost all wars go the same way; there's a failure of diplomacy, a period of irrational and unconstructive belligerence (often involving human sacrifice), then a diplomatic solution. Diplomacy isn't the superfluous step here, war is. Whether it's a war of bullets or a war of words, it's almost always the same. You start with negotiations and end with negotiations. Believing the war part in the middle is anything other than an interruption is to completely misread reality. But no one who's been paying attention would accuse neocons of being realists. If they can't have a war with blood, then they can have a war of words. Diplomacy must be avoided at all costs.
And people who do crazy things like ask Iranian protesters what they want come to different conclusions than Graham has with his search for clues in the languages on signs. "Our Iranian-dissident contacts want a certain degree of moral support, but from a significant distance," Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post. He says anything more agressive "will be used to discredit them."
"Some people are saying 'bearing witness' is a passive stance, but I'm not sure what an active stance would be," Malinowski said. "What else could he do? The more the demands of the opposition become associated with the United States, the harder it will be for a spontaneous opposition movement in Iran to make progress."
What Iranians want is pretty clear; they want their votes to count. That's the message on those signs in English -- the logical choice of an internet-powered movement. To say they want anything else is either idiocy or a lie -- and it doesn't make much difference which you believe it is. Either is just as wrong.
It's not what Iranians want that's the big mystery here, but what Republicans want. Whatever it is, it's not good for the either the people of Iran or the people of America. It's just good for Republicans.
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