Iran Election Is Obama's First Foreign Policy Test—And He's Failing

So far, not so good.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Though it is difficult to be certain, the popular reaction to the results of Friday's Iranian presidential election clearly suggests some monkey business was afoot. The latest reports indicate thousands of people, at the very least, have taken to the streets to protest the announced victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian security forces are cracking down—and hard.

The few reports coming out of the country Sunday night said at least 1,000 demonstrators had been arrested in Tehran and that security forces now occupying the universities were beating anti-regime students. Cell phones are cut off and security forces are doing their best to cut off access to the Internet. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are being blocked. And the two reform candidates in Friday's elections, Mehdi Karrubi and Mir Hoseyn Mousavi, along with dozens of their followers, are under house arrest.

The foreign policy test that vice presidential candidate Joe Biden said Barack Obama would confront in his first months as president has arrived, and he's failing.

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies' Michael Ledeen, who has been following the latest events in Iran closely, writes on his blog that the president's response to the unfolding crisis has been, to be kind, a disappointment—starting with Obama's much hailed speech in Cairo shortly before the election.

I've read the Cairo Sermon, and I can't find a single word calling for freedom for the Iranian people. Au contraire, Obama's words about Iran were penitent, apologizing for the American role, back in 1953, in removing what the president called an elected government (Mossadeq that is. Except that he was appointed by the Shah not elected at all.)

Obama's response to the results and the Ahmadinezhad victory was equally bad.

As concluded Sunday in a summary of responses to the unfolding events:

The dominant view among Obama administration officials is that the regime will look so bad as a result of whipping up Iranian hopes for democracy and then squelching them that the regime may feel compelled to show some conciliatory response to Obama's gestures of engagement.

Ledeen and others are being too kind. Having traveled to the Muslim world and advanced the idea that the United States is in some way at fault for our poor relations with countries in the region, Obama must now face up to the very real consequences of his actions. To wit, that the leaders of the Iranian police state no longer fear the United States because the talkers and the negotiators have replaced the doers where it counts. As a result, they feel free to act pretty much as they please against their own people.

It is not too late for Obama to reverse course, or even alter it. It is probably too much to hope he will do so—but if he does give another speech, writes Stephen Hayes online for The Weekly Standard, the president "could tap into the enthusiasm and frustration of the protestors with a few well-chosen words about democracy, the rule of law, the will of the people, consent of the governed and legitimacy. He could choose a compelling story or two from inside Iran to make his points most dramatically, perhaps an anecdote about sacrifices some Iranians made to vote or an example of post-election intimidation."

This would be a far cry from the silence heard thus far from the White House, the State Department and the other citadels of the foreign policy establishment. To the everlasting shame of many of us, in 1956 the United States failed to come to the aid of thousands of brave Hungarians who, hearing the message of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, rose up against the Communist police state depriving them of freedom. Are we seeing history repeat itself? Mr. President, are you up to this challenge?

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