Large numbers of people in Iran are taking huge risks in an attempt to free themselves from a despicable regime. There are many horrifying reports and images available on the web demonstrating clearly the levels of brutality that the regime is willing to use in suppressing dissident voices: see for example here and here.
Barack Obama’s expressions of condemnation for the regime and support for the dissidents have consistently been a day late and a dollar short. He eventually says what he thinks he is expected to say, but there’s not much fire in it. He comes across like an IRS official reciting some section of the tax code for the 495th time, or, at best, like a student giving a report on some long-ago historical event that he really didn’t want to study study but which was important for his grade. His genuine passion has been reserved for domestic issues.
As Joshua Muravchik has pointed out, the current administration has been much less focused on international issues of human rights and democracy than has any other administration in decades. Why?
A recent New York Post article (cited here) described Obama as “embittered” over the difficulties he has encountered in getting his healthcare bill through Congress. From the article:
In an interview on the eve of yesterday’s health-care ram-through, Obama expressed his deep frustration over the legislative process.
The president accused Republicans of abuse for employing the very rules that make the Senate the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”
“If this pattern continues, you’re going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us,” Obama warned.
What he is saying is that other governments around the world — those tyrannical states that do not share our respect for the minority — are better forms of government, better equipped to compete in this modern world.
This meme–that countries which are run in a top-down authoritarian manner are more effective/efficient–seems to be an increasingly common one: Tom Friedman, for example, in comparing the U.S. and China:
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.
I’m not sure how much Obama and Friedman know about world history…but if they have seriously studied it, they should have observed that the vaunted “efficiency” of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes is a myth. Yeah, if leaders had perfect wisdom and were always benignly motivated, they could impose “the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward,” but in the world that actually exists, neither of these conditions is true. Consider the effect on Soviet science and agriculture of Stalin’s imposition of Lamarckian versus Mendelian genetrics, or the dreadful economic and human waste of the Danube-Black Sea canal project and the White Sea-Baltic canal project.
In addition to overrating the efficiency/effectiveness benefits of top-down central control, I’m afraid that Obama fails to understand the emotional pull that many if not most people feel toward individual freedom. As a man who has devoted his own life to the pursuit of political power, he fails to grasp that there are billions of people who may never achieve great power over others, and indeed may not care about achieving such power, but who care a great deal about achieving a reasonable degree of personal autonomy. I’m reminded of the Civil War song “Battle Cry of Freedom,” which includes the line “Although he may be poor, there’s no man shall be a slave.”
I don’t think Obama is a cruel man, and I have no doubt that he feels distaste for the brutality of the Iranian regime…BUT, I’m afraid that his lack of understanding of the importance of individual freedom has made him much less outspoken and effective in dealing with that regime than most American Presidents–and most ordinary Americans–would have been.