Obama, Liberty, and Iran

Joshua Muravchik, writing in Commentary:

The most surprising thing about the first half-year of Barack Obama’s presidency, at least in the realm of foreign policy, has been its indifference to the issues of human rights and democracy. No administration has ever made these its primary, much less its exclusive, goals overseas. But ever since Jimmy Carter spoke about human rights in his 1977 inaugural address and created a new infrastructure to give bureaucratic meaning to his words, the advancement of human rights has been one of the consistent objectives of America’s diplomats and an occasional one of its soldiers.

This tradition has been ruptured by the Obama administration. The new president signaled his intent on the eve of his inauguration, when he told editors of the Washington Post that democracy was less important than “freedom from want and freedom from fear. If people aren’t secure, if people are starving, then elections may or may not address those issues, but they are not a perfect overlay.”

There is, of course, some truth in Obama’s point. If people are starving, they are likely to care more about their next meal than about what may seem to them as the relatively abstract rights to voting, free speech, etc. But what Obama is missing here is that the cause-and-effect flows in both directions. Societies that have economic and political freedom are far more likely to develop economically–up to a point where people can think about things other than basic survival–than those that do not.

Many people justified Soviet totalitarianism on the grounds that it would at least save people from the grinding povery in which so many of them lived during the era of the czars. Actually, it condemned many generations to unnecessary poverty–millions, in the case of the Ukranian famines, to actual starvation.

Many Germans supported the Nazi party because it promised, among other things, economic dynamism. After the economic pain of the 1920s and early 1930s, the sacrifice of their political rights appeared to these individuals as a small thing in comparison to the prosperity for which they longed. What they actually got, of course, was the destruction of their country.

When a government operates with no democratic process and with no guarantee of the rights of free speech and of the press, it operates with no feedback loop. Sooner or later…probably sooner…it will do things which are enormously destructive of economic productivity.

But there is more to life than economics. Many if not most people really do have a strong desire for reasonable autonomy in the way they run their lives and for the right to speak their minds. I don’t get the impression that these aspects of life–which have been absolutely essential to the common American belief system–are viewed by President Obama as being of very high priority.

We can debate, on a tactical level, how much direct support it would be wise for an American President to show for the Iranian dissidents. But I think the issue here goes far beyond tactics. I just don’t get the impression that Obama feels much visceral sympathy for those who are trying to free themselves from a repressive government. He does not appear to feel the same level of negative emotions toward the Iranian dictators that he does toward, say, American bankers and utility company executives.

Unbelievably, Iranian diplomats have been invited to 4th of July celebrations at U.S. embassies around the world. Here’s an interview with a State Department official:

QUESTION: Do you think it’s still appropriate to have Iranians come to these July 4th parties under the circumstances? I mean, is there any thought being given to like, rescinding invitations?

MR. KELLY: No, there’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats.

QUESTION: It’s appropriate to have a social dialogue with them if they come?

MR. KELLY: Well, we have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran, and we tried many years of isolation and we’re pursuing a different path now.

Seems to me that a President who truly valued democracy and human rights would have ordered this invitation withdrawn several days ago…indeed, such a President would probably not have allowed the invitation to be issued in the first place.

Bookworm quotes Max Boot:

It’s bad enough that the president is deliberately refraining from being too outspoken in favor of the freedom fighters who are being beaten, shot, and tear-gassed in the streets of Tehran. But that he’s still prepared to have America’s diplomats break bread with representatives of the very regime which is responsible for this terrible oppression, and to do it on the holiday that celebrates our own struggle for freedom–that’s too nauseating for words.

It essentially confirms the analysis of those who have suggested that Obama is not going to deviate one iota from his previous course of “engagement” with Iran, no matter how absurd and immoral that course now appears to be. For a candidate who mocked the previous president for his supposed adherence to ideology over reality, Obama is displaying that very tendency–only, of course, his ideology is not the advancement of freedom but the advancement of negotiations in the vain hope that somehow we can find common ground with the world’s vilest regimes.

…and she says:

This engagement is especially sickening when one considers July 4th’s meaning. It’s not just any old day with burgers and buns. This is is special, since it’s a celebration of the great victory of liberty over tyranny. Having the mullah’s blood-stained compadres be the ones celebrating this holiday with official US representatives is not just an ordinary political engagement. Symbolically, it’s like having the mullahs dance on their victims’ graves.

Also see Andy McCarthy on some of the factors motivating Obama’s thinking on Iran. It’s pretty harsh, and I hope it overstates the case…but I’m not sure it does.

20 thoughts on “Obama, Liberty, and Iran”

  1. Carter was a failure. Obama is right. As Milton Friedman asserted years ago, personal and political freedom will follow from economic freedom, but not necessarily vice versa.

    This is has happened in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, and is now underway in India and China.

  2. Neither India nor China fit into that pattern; India because, with some short breaks under Mrs Gandhi, there has been a reasonable amount of personal and political freedom since independence and China because the very very limited economic freedom has not led and is not, at this stage, leading to any kind of political or, for that matter, personal freedom. What may or may not happen in the future is irrelevant. We cannot predict that.

    I do not get the feeling that Obama is advocating economic freedom. Actually, what he is saying reminds me of Macheath’s comment in The Threepenny Opera: “But until you feed us, right and wrong can wait.” The thing is, Brecht was a committed Communist and, in practice, a Stalinist. Not a man to admire.

  3. I think that Obama values democracy less than others of less leftists ideology because he ultimately views the vast majority of humanity as cattle or sheep who need to be herded and protected by a benevolent shepherd.

    You only value freedom if you respect the decision making ability of yourself and others. Obama does not respect the decision making ability of most people so he places little emphasis on their freedom. He views freedom as nothing but an environment in which the foolish majority can hurt themselves.

  4. David Gergin, highly respected to presidents of both parties has said (just today) that Obama is right not to involve us (esp given our history of messsiong in Iran) with their elections. We can condemn what is going on, but more to the point: where is the United Nations in all this?
    We need a world voice, not a one-nation voice. Seems to me lots of folks simply looking for a way to badmouth Obama becAuse, well, their people did not win the last election.

    Now Obama can say he will not talk to this or that one from Iran, but then how does that differe from what Bush had been doing for the past 8 years, and what exactly has that achieved?

  5. US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday he does not believe that one single Iranian diplomat has accepted invitations to July 4 events at US embassies worldwide.

  6. We can condemn what is going on, but more to the point: where is the United Nations in all this?

    One, nobody asked Obama to invade Iran. We wanted a more forceful statement early when it might, just might, have given the regime pause. I doubt it would have helped but it is embarrassing to be represented by such a moral nothing.

    Two, the UN does what it always does; it distributes the contributions of the economically free members to those that are corrupt and tyrannical. Does anyone truly believe the UN accomplishes anything except as a symbol of moral virtue by those who support it ? It is a kleptocracy whose chief economic activity is illegal parking in New York City.

    Moral preening is acceptable with ones’ own money.

  7. Where is the arab street? Where are the protesters in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and around the world? Why are these zealous defenders of human rights and democracy silent? Is it because they, like Obama’s election, are funded by the Mullahs of Iran?

    Say it isn’t so, Hussein!

  8. “No, there’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats.”

    Obama does not understand that you invite friends to your July 4th barbeque, and you invite adversaries to your business office for discussions.

  9. Hasn’t the mass invite been rescinded?

    Shannon Love: “You only value freedom if you respect the decision making ability of yourself and others.”

    Does this mean that you respect the decision making ability of Obama? (Doesn’t quite seem that way.) Or otoh do you not value freedom? You are confusing me.

  10. Curtis Gale Weeks,

    Does this mean that you respect the decision making ability of Obama?

    I respect Obama’s decision-making capabilities quite highly. I think he is quite capable of running his own life quite well. After all, he made himself a millionaire by writing two books about himself so he must be quite an expert on the subject. I would never hazard to substitute my own decisions for Obama in his life and I ask the same courtesy of him.

    I find it revealing that you misinterpreted my comment to mean that I have to believe that Obama can run my life and the lives of everyone else in order to respect him. Weird.

  11. I know this may sound simplistic, but so is Obama. He’s always interviewing for the next job. He’s always running for the next office. He’s voting “present” on Iran because he doesn’t want anything on his record that could hurt him in his next run.

    While it may be true that Obama has been nurtured by people who hate America since the day he was born and he therefore does not comprehend or understand that this hatred is revolting to all but his tiny elite circle, his anti-American-western ideology is like his adopted identity as a member of the black community, simply a patch over his father-rejected, mother-dominated, dumped on grandparents narcissistic wound.

    Obama cannot care about anything (whether he knows it or not) but his own psyche’s survival. The quote

    “freedom from want and freedom from fear. If people aren’t secure, if people are starving, then elections may or may not address those issues,”

    comes from his own deep-seated fears.

  12. let us not just pick on our president.it is amazing how many in the world leap to the defense of a wicked regime (O.K.evil)(wicked,evil let us split some hairs while others are splitting heads)It has always been thus;but hearing those who defend tyranny and terror leaves that bad taste in the back of ones mouth.the comparison has been made to the 2000 election. one would like to think that if the manbearpig had called his crazies to the street GWB would have said “ok, you run this gorewad and see how it turns out,FOR YOU”
    the US govt has perhaps been remiss in actually smacking down wickkedness but it can usually come up with a “statement”that it does not really want to admit to wanting to taste the member.except maybe for armitage

  13. Are there still people around who think the UN will do something? The idea of a “world voice” is a little odd. What will the “world voice” say? After all Ahmadinejad is part of that voice as are many other evil tyrants still around and still sitting in the UN>

  14. Obama has been able to consistently equivocate when initially faced with the need to differentiate between victim and aggressor. Either he is unwilling or unable to make this distinction. The first possibility is worrisome but correctable. The second is downright frightening.

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