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Obama Takes the Next Step on Iran

President Obama’s tough words on Iran should not have been as surprising as they were to some of his critics, because they reflect a steady trajectory in his rhetoric as the situation unfolded.

Yes, Obama was cautious in his initial rhetoric. Personally, I’d rather have a president be careful than reckless. But the brutality of the Iranian regime’s crackdown demanded that he speak out forcefully, and he did. “The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and the imprisonments of the last few days,” he said today at his news conference. There was no ambivalence there.

He did go out of his way to declare that the United States “respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” underscoring his point by using the country’s official name, and adding that the U.S. is “not interfering with Iran’s affairs.”

But he quickly shifted back to his moral point that “we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.”

Having argued earlier this week that those of us who think of ourselves as progressives and liberals cannot pretend to be indifferent to the outcome of the struggle in Iran, I am happy that Obama took this step. “The bottom line of American policy,” I argued, “must be that no matter how committed we are to negotiation, we are also committed democrats.” That is now clear.

Before Obama spoke, I had intended this post primarily as a reply to Ed Morrissey, a conservative blogger with whom I enjoy disagreeing and even, occasionally, agreeing. Morrissey took me to task for that column, summarizing his point with the headline: “Dionne: Incoherence Works.”

Needless to say, I don’t think that either my argument or Obama’s policy were incoherent, and I especially dispute Ed’s way of characterizing Obama’s position. He wrote:

The idea that keeping quiet while Iranian protestors try to free their nation will convince Khamenei to not only sit down with us openly but give up the nuclear weapons they have spent years developing is beyond naive, especially considering the history of the regime. It crosses over into stupidity.

I don’t understand why Ed believes that the point of Obama’s caution was to coddle Khamenei into negotiating with us and giving up his weapons. That crosses over into -- well, I like Ed, so let’s just say rhetorical overkill.

I spoke with an administration official today after Obama’s news conference, and he offered a summary of the thinking behind the administration’s progression. “From Day One,” he said, “it was clear that the biggest mistake we could have made was to make ourselves the story and to create false excuses on the part of the Iranian government to blame us for events in Iran when, in fact, those events were the result of the government’s actions and a large number of people seeking justice after the elections.”

This official added: “At the same time, we wanted to react appropriately to events as they developed, and when the violence and repression got worse, the language got tougher.”

Of course there were arguments inside the government about how much to say, what options we should keep open, and how much these events will alter our policy in the long-term. But clearly there was deliberate movement in what I, at least, see as the right direction.

The bottom line: Was anything lost because Obama took his time before making his strong statement on Saturday and his even stronger declaration today? I don’t think so. But whether you agree with that or not, I don’t think that you can characterize the administration’s approach as “incoherent.”

By E.J. Dionne  | June 23, 2009; 10:05 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Comments

Great post!

I would like to remind all of our Republican friends of how Pres. Bush reacted to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon not long ago. Chewing on a roll, talking over his shoulder to Tony Blair, and saying "somebody has to get Syria to knock off this s**t."

How "coherent" was that?

Posted by: Manhattanite | June 24, 2009 12:29 AM | Report abuse

I wish someone would ask J. McCain how much credibility he has in Iran and ask him to outline his objectives for Iran and what would be the result; and not just accept his criticism of the President.

Posted by: RevLPLakey | June 24, 2009 1:14 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, E.J.,
It's such a relief to have an administration that doesn't engage in "knee-jerk" reactions to world events. Calm considerations of dangerous situations is critical to the myriad of problems that we are facing, and I'm SO glad we now have a President who is dedicated to appropriate actions.

Posted by: ruthbrock | June 24, 2009 2:10 AM | Report abuse

Obama and the US should mind its own business. When Bush stole the election, noone said a word. the Neda film is FAKE. Google Iraq incubator babies and Iraq WMD's. It is all CIA lies!

Posted by: canazie | June 24, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Of course the talking heads do not refer to the USA effort to undermine the regime. One wonders how the Iranian supposed to react to the empty [of parallel action] speech of Mr. Obama, when his government has overt and covert processes to get a regime change.

Clarification of this issue is important to see the possibillities.

Posted by: yeolds | June 24, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

McCain needs to get some anger managment.

He is so bitter

Posted by: sasha2008 | June 24, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Here is an alternative policy, based on the Republican campaign last year. It consists of two parts, along the lines of:

1. We are all Georgians now
2. Sing 'Bomb Iran' (pick the tune)

Not to mention those other gems from Bush:

1. Axis of evil;
2. We won't talk to you till you agree with me;
3. Invade someone (anyone please).

How about previous policies like encouraging the Hungarians in 1956 or the Kurds and Shia in Iraq in 1991. We then sat idly by hundreds of thousands were slaughtered!

Somehow the current policy makes more sense to me.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | June 24, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I am so OVER this republican talking point. It reminds me of Mccain stopping his campaign to handle the economy last fall. what disengenuous chumps.

Posted by: tmcproductions2004 | June 24, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Wanna piss off reactionaries? Learn something from those working in retail or any type of customer service. Dealing with irrate customers is a daily occurance. Reacting too quickly often leads to escalation of anger and other negativities on all sides. The same can be said of dealing with politicians, news pundits, and partisans of either party.

Two tricks that Mr. Obama uses, effectively, is listening and patience; ignoring harsh words and rhetoric until the person has effectively worn themself out and is subject to reason. The irrate person wants/expects you to react...so they can further justify their actions (or include it in their columns, or 6:00 news, or at the poduim). Yeah, they may have a legitimate complaint, but eventually, simple listening skills brings people around to less emotion and subject to reason and finding a solution.

Thank you, Mr. President. For listening, reasoning and be willing to take on these kinds of problems. Patience is often lost on those that desire instant gratification.

Posted by: pv2bdrco | June 24, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

VERY IMPRESSIVE POST MR. DIONNE! I THINK PRESIDENT OBAMA WAS RIGHT ON THE MARK! THESE ARE VERY DELICATE MATTERS. AND HE WAS PATIENT AND HIS TEMPERMENT WAS IMPECCABLE!!THAT IS A VERY GOOD LEADER! IF IT WERE MCCAIN WHO JUMPS TO THE WRONG CONCLUSIONS OFTEN AN REACTS WITHOUT THINKING, WELL LETS JUST SAY THANK GOD HE'S NOT THE PRESIDENT! I THINK ITS TIME TO CLEAN THE "HOUSE OF REPS" IT JUST SEEMS THE LONGER THEY ARE IN THERE THAT " YOU CANT TEACH AN OLD DOG A NEW TRICK!!"

Posted by: GJSGINA | June 24, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

CAUTIOUS?? That got 3000 people kill on 9/11.

Your peacenik routine is exhausting and wrong!! If the next pentagon attack is with WMD you are dead too E.J.

Posted by: hotdad14 | June 24, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

AVENGE NEDA!!!!

Posted by: patriot76 | June 24, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Kent State, Jackson State, FLA 2000, Ohio 2004: Who the heck is the US to be lecturing anyone on elections or the brutal suppression of mass movements?

And Oh Yeah, Nixon started the War on Drugs as a way to stigmatize those opposed to his militarism and the Republican dream of a society based on close personal control of the citizenry. Today we have a greater percentage of people locked up than any other country and an out-of-control army of federal thugs whose entire employment is ruining people's lives and locking them up--almost a million a year arrested. If we want freedom in the world, we should start in the US.

Posted by: scientist1 | June 24, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

With Obama as President we seem to have entered a new era of diplomatic responsibility and credibility. AMviennaVA points out the best analogy for this situation: Iraq in 1991. The Bush admin actively encouraged a revolution and then the world watched while Saddam slaughtered the poor saps who took the cue and went to fight. The chickenhawks have to answer the question: who is going to do the fighting this time?

Posted by: gposner | June 24, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Patrick Henry said: "Give me liberty or give me death" speaking forcefully and bravely against the King of England. Reagan said, tear down that wall and open those gates. Truman said unconditional surrender and nothing less. Washington fought and won against all odds. JFK told the Soviets he would sent our nukes to them if a missile came in from Cuba and he set up a blockage of Soviet ships. So many Presidents have spoken out against oppression but Obama's puny response was pathetic. He knows it and the whole world knows it. He now speaks out, but only because he looked like what he is: an appeaser of the Neville Chamberlain class who speaks out against our best ally Israel but not even against the cruelty to women in Iran. July 4th is a day that Obama should take off and think about who he is and what this country stands for. It is not appeasement of dictators and genocidal maniacs like Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: WHEN THE PRESIDENT SMOKES HIS CIGARETTES IN THE TOILET ON AIR FORCE ONE DOES THAT VIOLATE FEDERAL LAW?

Posted by: mharwick | June 24, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

U.S. Is Said to Expand Covert Operations in Iran
Plan Allows Up to $400 Million for Activities Aimed at Destabilizing Government
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 30, 2008; Page A02

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/29/AR2008062901881.html?nav=emailpage

there is a narrative on this story... you could step away and not even take off your shoes or throw them. Just consider what destabilization means in terms of elections and the geopolitics of our interests. Yes, it is in our interest to discredit this election. What's next. Negotiations? Or a crude bunker buster nuke in the most earth quake prone area on the planet. SOMEBODY better start asking some questions because Netanyahoo is not going quietly into the night.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | June 25, 2009 2:53 AM | Report abuse

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