I know that many of you are not nearly old enough to remember Carole King's early 60's hit lyrics for The Crystals--no, not those Kristols--called "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss"), arranged by Phil Spector who has just received 19 years to life in a California penitentiary for murdering his girlfriend. The lyrics are still oddly and ironically relevant. Certainly against the abuse of women which is what the punch was about ... and, for that matter, also the kiss.
But, frankly, it came to mind with reference to the president's stubborn sense that his foreign policy, despite its near collapse, is a great success. And so successful, in fact, that raw and brutal facts don't cause him to pause, let alone rethink. Despite his preaching at Cairo University, almost every Muslim country has been punching him in the face, and not just on the tiresome matter of the Palestinian quarrel with history. Yet Obama still seems to feel that he is being kissed, and so he is going back for more.
One day the administration announces that it is dispatching for the first time in four years an American ambassador to Damascus. On the very morrow, the Assad regime responds during a ceremony at Quneitra, adjoining the Golan Heights and restored to the Syrians by Henry Kissinger's shrewd diplomacy, that it is ready to go to war to regain the rest of the territory captured by Israel in the truly defensive 1973 war. See a Jerusalem Post article, headlined "Syria Again Threatens War Over Golan."
Now, the fact is that the kleptocratic Ba'athist tyranny of the Assad family is reeling from the present calamitous events in Iran. The regime is built around the country's small minority of Alawites (a heretical offshoot of the Shi'a) and tightly, actually brutally, controlled by the Kalbiyaa clan and the Rasian tribe. This tells you a lot about the Syrian nation, more apparently than our oh, so clever journalists care to know. Still, who among the Arabs, except Egypt, can make a stronger case for their peoplehood.
Why in Allah's name would the president give the Assads the gift of American representation in their capitol exactly at the moment when their patron is being challenged by literally millions of Persians who have a wholly different view of themselves and of their country than as God's battle line against the heathens?
It is true that almost nobody in power in the West anticipated this self-disciplined popular rising all over Iran. This was a rising against a cruel despotism that didn't need to fix the election it actually did fix. And I, for one, don't really care whether Ahmadinejad had 2/3 of the vote or 51% of the vote or, for that matter, 49%. A rising against a terrorist clerisy like Ahmadinejad and Khameinei's deserves our support whatever its numbers among a public that had been manipulated--with the backing of American leftists, by the way, including "human rights activists" like Richard Falk for fully three decades.
This is an exhilarating moment in contemporary history. As exhilarating as Budapest in 1956, Prague Spring in 1968, and the utter collapse of the Communist system in eastern Europe in 1989-1990. It is exhilarating even where, as in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the first instances, the regimes survived. An old Stalinist, the poet-playwright Berthold Brecht, wrote only one anti-communist poem of which I know, "The Solution." And it goes like this:
After the rising of the 17th June
the Secretary of the Writer's Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts.
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
By beating down the students and the middle class in the streets the ruling inquisitors (and that is just what they are) are actually attempting to dissolve the Persian people and Persian history in one fell swoop.
We don't yet know just how desperate is the situation of the great mass of Iranian dissenters. But this is a moment about which presidents and prime ministers, ordinary people and the so very savvy foreign policy elites will be held to account: "which side are you on?"
Let's face it. The American president has not exactly been on the wrong side. No, he has not said what Hugo Chavez has said: "Chavez Reaffirms His Support for Ahmadinejad." But he has certainly not been on the right side. Not with his mincing and parsimoniously petty escalations of do-nothing rhetoric. Day after day a tiny bit more, perhaps what his handlers tell him he needs to say not to lag behind his public.
In behalf of what cause is this oratorical master so reserved? It is actually his doomed conceit that he will entice the ayatollahs to give up their nukes.
So the American people must learn this lesson from the winning "yes, we can" candidate. And this lessson is that we won't even try when the stakes are as obvious as other people's decent freedoms. We won't even cut off trade with Tehran. The smug and cool Brent Scowcroft is now enthroned as the foreign affairs sage of Washington, D.C. Here is what he had to say late last week: U.S. government support for those Iranians who are protesting against electoral results would provoke a more intense crackdown by the government in Tehran. I think he gave the good news to the mullahs over Al Jazeera.
There has been much written about Iran while I was away in a hotel that didn't have wi-fi. One piece I commend to you is Fouad Ajami's op-ed in the June 22 Wall Street Journal, "Obama's Personal Tutorial: The president has to choose between the regime and the people in the streets."
And that is really the choice. The president and his desperate nochloifers like, as Ajami points out, poor Madame Albright have apologetically evoked the ghost of America's role in the 1953 overthrow of prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh somehow to clear the ethical decks. This is prehistoric nonsense. In the coming years the people in the streets and in classrooms across west Asia will not remember the United States as their friends. That will be a much heavier burden than what Ike and John Foster Dulles did to Mossadegh 56 years ago.
The new issue of TNR is just out. If you had a subscription to the hard copy it would already be in hands. If you don't you'll have to wait until the rich little essays on the Iranian revolt go on-line. They are all informative, really each and every one of them. Let me especially commend one. It is by Nader Mousavizadeh, a former student, a good friend and past assistant editor of this magazine. Oh, yes, he is also a senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies in London. Nader really knows what he is talking about, unlike many of those whose attitudes are drawn from their always cool and detached temperaments . I've learned much from his disciplined yet morally engaged mind, from this piece perhaps more than any other.