THE OBAMA EFFECT? IRAN'S ELECTION RESULT PROVES
THE U.S. FORMULA IN THE MIDDLE EAST IS NOT WORKING
By Dr. Michael Rubin
After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection in Iran, we can now say with confidence: There is an Obama Effect, but it has less to do with reform and more to do with American arrogance and the triumph of advocacy over analysis.
Look carefully at how things unfolded in Tehran. Outreach to the Islamic Republic is Obama's signature foreign policy issue. A week into his Presidency, Obama extended an olive branch to Tehran, asking the regime to unclench its fist. Two months later, Obama broadcast a message to Iran, for the first time recognizing the ayatollahs as the legitimate representatives of the Iranian people. Last month, Obama acknowledged the Islamic Republic's right to enrich uranium and, in Cairo, he acknowledged CIA involvement in the overthrow of an Iranian government more than a half-century ago.
Rhetoric, concession and apology, however, are not enough to alter reality. On Friday, June 11, millions of Iranians cast votes in hotly contested presidential elections, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying Iranian President who defies nuclear safeguards and mocks U.S. weakness, won a second term.
Many journalists and diplomats believe the election was fixed. Perhaps it was. But this is Iran, where the word of the Supreme Leader trumps everything.
Obama, embracing what might be called born again diplomacy, believes he can reset all bilateral relations with the press of a button. But the failure of engagement with rogue regimes has less to do with his predecessors and more to do with the nature of the enemy. If the Islamic Republic of Iran blatantly throws an election, why should the White House believe they will honor diplomatic commitments?
Obama's partisans misunderstand Lebanon as well. The victorious coalition coalesced in anger to the Syria-sponsored assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister. George W. Bush responded by isolating Damascus diplomatically to force Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. Rather than maintain pressure on the Syrian regime, Obama has reversed Syria's isolation. Recognizing that it will not be held to account, Syria will simply accelerate its provision of weaponry to Hezbollah so it can achieve through guns what it has not at the ballot box.
Both Iranians and Lebanese deserve praise for engaging enthusiastically in the democratic process. Both peoples are courageous in the face of oppression. But Obama has no magic wand. The more his policy rests on rhetoric alone and ignores reality, the greater the ultimate risk of conflict.
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Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University, 1999) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the New York Daily News, June 14, 2009, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/2161/iran-election-obama- effect)
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