The Limits of Obama's Rhetoric

As a high school teacher, I’m always mildly surprised to discover that my students have no real idea that foreign cultures -- other peoples -- are so different as to be virtually different species. They’re amazed to learn that untold millions of human beings have never seen a roll of toilet paper, and are dumbstruck to discover that in many nations, women and girls may be killed by their relatives for real or imagined offenses against family honor. Over the years I’ve learned that most American adults know, intellectually, that the peoples of other lands are not like Americans, but their practical understanding of these differences is, like their younger countrymen, weak. Unfortunately, the president of the United States is no better off. Arguably, he is worse.

Hillary Clinton was more prophetic than we imagined. That 3 a.m. phone call has happened again. Perhaps the administration's first 3 a.m. call came in June of 2009, when the Iranian people rose against their theocratic oppressors. Mr. Obama took bold, decisive action, just as he has done with the crisis in Egypt.  Here, from the White House website, is what Mr. Obama said on June 20, 2009:

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

Martin Luther King once said "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.

It takes but a moment’s comparison of this rhetoric with that which Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are currently employing on Egypt to understand that it is virtually identical. Mr. Obama is forthright and mighty in “watching,” mourning the loss of innocent lives, decrying violence and injustice, and supporting the “universal rights to assembly and free speech.” He is even more intimidating in “bearing witness.” And bear witness he did, as many were imprisoned, tortured and murdered, and the uprising that might have transformed Iran in favor of greater liberty and democracy was crushed.

There are, without question, differences in the Iranian and Egyptian uprisings. The Iranians are the youngest, most educated, and most pro-American people in the region. Overwhelmingly, they are anxious to depose the inhuman Muslim theocrats who have tortured and murdered them for decades.  Almost certainly their success would have been America’s success, an enormous stride toward all of the high values touted in Mr. Obama’s rhetoric. It would have helped to establish real, as opposed to rhetorical, peace in the region. Mr. Obama, like the Palestinians he reflexively supports, seems to miss no opportunity to miss an opportunity -- or to insult an ally, or support an enemy.

Egypt, on the other hand, is far more complicated. Hosni Mubarak, while generally supportive of America and American interests, was clearly a dictator, though not nearly as despotic as Saddam Hussein, and a ruler who kept one of the most virulent strains of Islam, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, under control. Because the CIA has never fully recovered from the Clintonian purge of human assets and capabilities, we were blindsided by the uprising and President Mubarak's swift resignation. CIA Director Leon Panetta admitted that the information he provided at the House Intelligence Committee was not a product of professional skulduggery and analysis but of the lamestream media. Mr. Panetta served merely as a relay or conduit between the media and Congress. Is it any surprise that the CIA has no real idea who is behind the uprising or what their ultimate goals are?

With the Egyptian army in control, Egypt is momentarily stable, but few of the likely outcomes look promising -- for America, for Israel, for peace, or for regional stability and Western civilization.