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Debating Obama’s Iran policy

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By The Staff

By Hannah Hayes

For 30 years Iran has slowly been staging a rebellion. The recent election and demonstrations may be a turning point for those with legitimate grievances against the repressive mullahs. It is unclear to what degree there was voter fraud, yet students, women and the middle class have certainly raised profound issues while risking everything. Unfortunately, there is not yet a sufficient coalition present that unites these groups of revolutionaries with labor, military, ethnic groups and oil producers.

Much as in the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989, Iranian demonstrators have suffered a backlash of repression. In China, the immediate fallout of that event translated into the current economic reform, if not a political one. In Iran, we will have to wait and see what the future brings.

For the U.S., there has been a dramatic shift in policy with President Obama’s leadership. It will continue to be appropriate to question his motives and desired outcomes.

The threats of attack from Bush and Cheney have receded. Their kind of foreign policy may have indeed contributed to votes for a leader like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who would be perceived as someone to handle a threat such as one from the U.S. Some may use the uprising as an excuse for intervention, but those demonstrators aren’t philosophically aligned with the interests of the oil companies and conservative Americans. Their interests are, as always, with the U.S. economy.

Our support must be with the people in the streets. It is appropriate to call for an end to repression and normalizing of relations. The outcome, however, is not up to us.

I don’t believe that the world will suffer the losses in Iran that have occurred in Iraq. Iran is now the regional leader in the Middle East and the only country that is outside of U.S. control about how it uses its oil profits. As an emerging nation with an ancient, rich culture and a sophisticated, cosmopolitan population, it’s a multicultural country that has done rather well compared to the Saudis and Iraqis. While some political parties have been excluded, like here in the States, they have had their elections monitored over the last decade and have many democratic processes in place.

I talked with longtime activist, lecturer and Middle East expert Rob Prince in preparing this column. He expressed optimism for this region because of the unprecedented speech Obama gave in Cairo. That speech changed the tone of our discussions with the Muslim world to one that is much more sober and respectful. The challenges are daunting as Obama attempts to turn his words into action, but the set of problems is refreshingly different. No longer must it be about U.S. global domination. Let’s listen to and support the voices of the people rising up.

By Kelly Weist

During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama sneered at President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, promising that the days of “regime change” were over. Instead, highly enlightened people who know how to practice diplomacy would “engage” countries like Iran and North Korea. Dictators like Chavez, Putin and Ahmadinejad would feel appreciated and be inspired to come to the negotiating table. Peace would reign.

This was obviously juvenile and full of hubris, but, apparently, America bought it. And now we see how this plays out. The Obama administration is crafting an Iran policy that encompasses some very obsolete concepts from previous administrations. It is based on the idea that the crazy mullahs of Iran and their lead thug, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are pursuing nuclear ambitions in order to get a seat at the table of nations. Obama sees himself as the grand negotiator who can banish the threat of nuclear war forever.

Obama is proceeding from the idea that America must give up superpower status, becoming one of the family of nations, all seated around a table, with none having precedence. He seems to need to create a world in which he can step to the microphone and declare peace for all mankind. It is a messianic vision, but unfortunately even the Messiah couldn’t bring it about.

The reason for that is that Iran, and several other countries, do not have the same values that America does. When we have a president who seems to actively reject American values of promoting democracy and freedom, we get a situation like Iran.

Obama’s lukewarm and passive response to the protests regarding Iran’s ridiculous election, and the murderous response of the regime, makes it clear that promoting democracy is not a goal of his administration. Rather, he needs someone to negotiate with, to have a long table covered by a red cloth, and a nuclear treaty to sign. No rogue regime with nukes, no photo op.

So elections don’t matter. The rule of law doesn’t matter (hence his response to the situation in Honduras). American national interests don’t really seem to matter, given his ignoring Iran’s nuclear ties to North Korea and Russia in order to sign some sort of treaty (any sort!) with Russia on his second day there. Our allies don’t matter, given the almost complete selling out of Israel. The only thing that seems to matter is a standing ovation at the U.N.

America can pursue its own national security and the interest of promoting democracy around the world. We can support internal challenges to rogue regimes, make it clear that the West will not tolerate nuclear ambitions and support our allies. These actions actually bring peace, as has been shown by Reagan’s Soviet Union policies and Bush II’s Iraq policy. Playing a messiah on TV should come way below these goals in the list of priorities.

Hayes Rebuttal

Halting nuclear proliferation is an excellent goal, and President Obama’s recent agreement with Russia to reduce stockpiling must now get Senate ratification. Our two countries hold 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. The focus on Iran is not about nuclear power — it’s about punishment for independent oil policies.

Why would any American not be happy to have their president receive a standing ovation at the U.N.? This president also received one in Cairo. “The speech was nothing short of spectacular,” says Alan Pinkas, the former consul general of the Israeli mission to the United Nations in New York, and director of the Rabin Center for Tolerance at Bar Ilan University. “Coherent, lucid, balanced and smart.” Israel is not being sold out. Kelly is stoking the fire as usual.

Reagan and Bush did not bring peace. Their strategies were some of the worst excesses in U.S. foreign policy history. Be glad that we now have a president who seems to be walking softly — negotiating and practicing diplomacy. This is what will make the world a safer place.

You catch more flies with honey.

Weist Rebuttal

In supporting the voices rising up in Iran, you need to actually listen to them. They are demanding an end to oppression and tyranny. This isn’t about hanging chads or voter identification. This is about a rigged system, one in which votes don’t matter at all because everyone running is a tool of the tyranny. The Iranian people deserve freedom, just as their neighbors in Iraq have begun to enjoy, thanks to the U.S. Is it too much to suppose that the example of real democracy and freedom in Iraq has inspired those on the ground in Iran?

It is for the left. America’s “global domination” must be opposed at all costs, even the cost of freedom and prosperity for Third World countries. Iranians did not elect Ahmadinejad the first time around in any real process, and they certainly didn’t choose him because he could stand up to President Bush.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are contrary to American, and world, interests. Obama’s speech in Cairo changes nothing about that, except for Ahmadinejad’s determination that our new president will not utilize a military option to oppose it.

Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women. She is an adjunct professor of political science at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Hannah B. Hayes is a small-business owner and activist with Evergreen Peace. Hayes, who has a master’s degree in education, has remained active in the community through her writing and organizing for 35 years.