WASHINGTON - In what appears increasingly to be an orchestrated campaign,
right-wing Republicans and Israel-centered neo-conservatives are pulling out
all the stops in depicting President Barack Obama as "weak" on national
security and promoting democracy abroad.
While they have been pressing that charge on Obama since even before he
defeated Senator John McCain in last November's elections, the past week's
turmoil in Iran - and Obama's cautious reaction to it - has raised the volume
to fever pitch.
A "parade of Republican lawmakers", as the right-wing Washington Times put it,
appeared on the weekend's public-affairs television programs urging Obama to
speak out more
strongly against repressive actions by Tehran's security forces against
As the violence in Iran has escalated, so has the criticism from Capitol Hill.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that Iranian security forces used tear
gas and live bullets to break up a hundreds-strong group of protesters.
The latest violence came hours after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps
vowed that a "revolutionary confrontation" would be used to crush any further
post-election protests, according to the Associated Press. Iran's government
has conceded that 17 people have been killed in the week of street protests
In turn, the latest edition of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard magazine
devoted its lead editorial and no less than half of its articles this week to
Washington's stance on Iran, with William Kristol, its editor, and Stephen
Hayes, who has often served as a mouthpiece for former vice president Dick
Cheney, accusing Obama of acting as a "de facto ally of [Iranian] President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei".
The neo-conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal also weighed in
Monday with a lead editorial that warned that the current crisis in Iran, as
well as the enforcement of United Nations sanctions against North Korea - the
US Navy is currently tracking a vessel believed to be carrying proscribed cargo
from Nampo to Myanmar - in the wake of its nuclear test last month, marks a
"major test of his presidency".
It suggested that Obama's failure to take a harder line against both "rogues"
would put him in the same category as former president Jimmy Carter.
"We'll soon learn if Mr Obama is made of sterner stuff," the editorial
asserted, warning that any effort to engage Tehran diplomatically in the wake
of the current crackdown "will lend [the government] legitimacy at the expense
of the Iranian people."
The chorus of right-wing criticism came as Obama himself became increasingly
outspoken about the situation in Iran over the weekend, after Friday's
endorsement by Khamenei of the results of the disputed election and subsequent
clashes between demonstrators and security forces that killed at least 10
In a statement released by the White House on Saturday, he called "on the
Iranian government to stop all violence and unjust actions against it own
people" and warned, "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."
Obama is expected to have more to say about the situation in Iran during a
press conference scheduled for midday Tuesday.
Obama and his defenders have argued that more aggressive US support for the
opposition led by former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi could prove
counter-productive, particularly in light of the fraught history between the
two nations, notably the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) role in the
overthrow of the democratically elected government of prime minister Mohammed
Mossadeq and the restoration of Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1953, not to mention US
support for Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq War.
"It's not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as
meddling, the US president meddling in Iranian elections," Obama said late last
"The last thing I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those
forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument
about the United States," he said in an interview released by the White House
Sunday. "We shouldn't be playing into that."
That assessment is shared by much of the foreign policy establishment,
including more moderate Republicans.
"I think the president has handled this well," former secretary of state Henry
Kissinger said last week. "Anything that the United States says that puts us
totally behind one of the contenders, behind Mousavi, would be a handicap for
That assessment was echoed Saturday by retired General Brent Scowcroft, who
served as national security adviser to former presidents Gerald Ford and George
H W Bush. "I think the administration is about right in their reaction," he
told the Journal. "We have to keep our eye on the ball. While it would be
comforting to blast what is happening over there, you have to ask how it would
help matters. A more belligerent tone would not be helpful."
But that has not deterred the critics whose prominent political leader to date
has been McCain, as well as two of his closest associates, Republican Senator
Lindsay Graham and the neo-conservative independent Democrat, Joseph Lieberman.
Graham on Sunday accused Obama of being "timid and passive" in dealing with
In an interview on Monday with Fox News, McCain dismissed the notion that a
stronger stand against the government could backfire, given Washington's past
support for the Shah or other US actions.
"Look, the point is that, all during the Cold War, there was the liberal elites
who said we should not do anything to upset the Russians, whether it be the
Prague Spring or the workers in Poland, in Gdansk," he said.
"And there was Ronald Reagan who, said, 'Take down this wall,' called [the
Soviet Union] an evil empire ... And to say we don't want to - quote -
'meddle', of course, is - is - is not in keeping with that tradition in any
way. In fact, it's a direct contradiction of it."
McCain has also called for the US Navy to stop and board the North Korean
vessel, the Kang Nam, which reportedly is being shadowed, ironically, by the USS
John S McCain, which is named for the senator's father and grandfather,
both of whom were admirals.
The ship is believed to be carrying military cargo proscribed by the UN
Security Council which last month approved a resolution authorizing member
states to search - but only with the crew's permission - suspect vessels.
Pyongyang has said it would consider any interception an "act of war".
"Will the president let [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il make a mockery of UN
condemnations?" the Journal asked Monday.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.