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MONDAY, JUNE 22, 2009
END OF AN ERA - AT 9:08 P.M. ET: For photo buffs, the story is sad, and filled with nostalgia. Eastman Kodak today announced the end of Kodachrome. Story is here. Treasure those old slides.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING - AT 7:58 P.M. ET: We've been lucky at different times in our history to have the right man in the White House during a crisis. At other time, like the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80, we had exactly the wrong man.
Peggy Noonan once said of Ronald Reagan that he know how to be president, and we knew exactly what Noonan meant. He had a style and a sense of timing that matched our expectations of what a president should do and say under difficult circumstances. His "expert" advisers, including Colin Powell, opposed his declaring, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" when the president spoke in Berlin in 1987. But Reagan sensed the moment, and, fortunately for us, seized it.
Now President Obama faces an international crisis over Iran. Does he know how to be president? If his meek performance over the last five days is any example, the answer is clear.
Many Republicans criticized John McCain during last year's election fight, and sometimes for good reason. But the one thing we knew about McCain is that, in a crisis, he'd know how to be president. That instinct of knowing what is called for has been on display in the Senate this week, where McCain has spoken out like a president, whereas Obama has spoken out like a senator. Andrew Malcolm of the L.A. Times's Top of the Ticket, links a McCain Senate statement here. Well worth watching and listening.
IRAN UPDATE - AT 7:32 P.M. ET: Here is what we know about events in Iran today. As we're constantly told, it is very difficult to get accurate information out of the country, as journalistic channels are being blocked.
We know there were some demonstrations, but much, much smaller than the ones over the weekend. They were suppressed violently by the security forces.
We know that a call for a general strike for tomorrow is still on, but we have no way to measure how effective that call will be.
We know that the administration is still sticking to its restrained approach. A presidential news conference is scheduled for tomorrow, and there's a chance that a tough question or two will be asked about the president's stance.
So tomorrow is a critical day. If no general strike comes off, we might be able to say, tentatively, that the uprising has been contained through intimidation. That doesn't mean it's over. The uprising of 1979, which led, tragically, to the mullah regime, took months to develop.
RASMUSSEN - AT 10:23 A.M. ET: For the second day in a row, Rasmussen's presidential approval index - measuring the gap between those who strongly approve of Obama's performance and those who strongly disapprove, is in minus territory, with Obama down one point. Again, a poll is a snapshot in time, but there's been a clear trend over the last ten days, and it hasn't been favorable to the president. A resistance is building.
BUT IF ONLY WE COULD NEGOTIATE WITH THEM - AT 9:40 A.M. ET: Al Qaeda has a unique way of reminding us, when we need reminding, of what we're up against:
DUBAI (Reuters) - If it were in a position to do so, Al Qaeda would use Pakistan's nuclear weapons in its fight against the United States, a top leader of the group said in remarks aired on Sunday.
Pakistan has been battling al Qaeda's Taliban allies in the Swat Valley since April after their thrust into a district 100 km (60 miles) northwest of the capital raised fears the nuclear-armed country could slowly slip into militant hands.
"God willing, the nuclear weapons will not fall into the hands of the Americans and the mujahideen would take them and use them against the Americans," Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the leader of al Qaeda's in Afghanistan, said in an interview with Al Jazeera television.
COMMENT: No one can say that they didn't warn us. They warned us. Of course, the usual suspects will now come out of the woodwork to say that this is all just bluster. I hope it is. But I'm not willing to stake my children's future on the audacity of hope.
AJAMI ON OBAMA - AT 8:52 A.M. ET: The great Fouad Ajami, in another stellar piece in The Wall Street Journal, gets to the heart of the American response to the Iranian convulsion - the mentality and inexperience of the man who said "Yes we can," but is now saying, "Well, maybe we can."
President Barack Obama did not "lose" Iran. This is not a Jimmy Carter moment. But the foreign-policy education of America's 44th president has just begun. Hitherto, he had been cavalier about other lands, he had trusted in his own biography as a bridge to distant peoples, he had believed he could talk rogues and ideologues out of deeply held beliefs. His predecessor had drawn lines in the sand. He would look past them.
We see how far that's gotten us.
But in truth Iran had never wanted an opening to the U.S. For the length of three decades, the custodians of the theocracy have had precisely the level of enmity toward the U.S. they have wanted -- just enough to be an ideological glue for the regime but not enough to be a threat to their power.
The heart of it:
That ambivalence at the heart of the Obama diplomacy about freedom has not served American policy well in this crisis. We had tried to "cheat" -- an opening to the regime with an obligatory wink to those who took to the streets appalled by their rulers' cynicism and utter disregard for their people's intelligence and common sense -- and we were caught at it.
Ajami, unlike Obama, actually knows history, and doesn't depend on speechwriters to give him his facts.
Days into his presidency, it should be recalled, Mr. Obama had spoken of his desire to restore to America's relation with the Muslim world the respect and mutual interest that had existed 30 or 20 years earlier. It so happened that he was speaking, almost to the day, on the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution -- and that the time span he was referring to, his golden age, covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the American standoff with Libya, the fall of Beirut to the forces of terror, and the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Liberal opinion would have howled had this history been offered by George W. Bush, but Barack Obama was granted a waiver.
Ajami hits on something that's a sore point with many of us - the acceptance by the mainstream media of the notion that Obama is somehow this very deep intellectual sent to us by Heaven to enlighten our ignorant souls. I concede that Obama is bright, but that's the extent of it. He's not an intellectual man, nor is he a well-read man. He knows little of the past, and it's clear that his ideas, to the extent he has any, are undeveloped and untested. In many respects, he's a classic example of the notion that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. (Reader Bruce Goldman remarks, "Here in Richmond, there's a colorful expression for that: He knows just enough to be dangerous.")
Little more than three decades ago, Jimmy Carter, another American president convinced that what had come before him could be annulled and wished away, called on the nation to shed its "inordinate fear of communism," and to put aside its concern with "traditional issues of war and peace" in favor of "new global issues of justice, equity and human rights." We had betrayed our principles in the course of the Cold War, he said, "fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is quenched with water." The Soviet answer to that brave, new world was the invasion of Afghanistan in December of 1979.
Mr. Carter would try an atonement in the last year of his presidency. He would pose as a born-again hawk. It was too late in the hour for such redemption. It would take another standard-bearer, Ronald Reagan, to see that great struggle to victory.
Iran's ordeal and its ways shattered the Carter presidency. President Obama's Persian tutorial has just begun.
COMMENT: This is one of the best pieces on the Obama presidency that I've read. Ajami is on the mark. The tragedy here is that, while Obama's Persian tutorial has just began, this is not a man who learns easily, and he seems to have no great moral core.
Say what you wish about George W. Bush, and there's good and bad, but the man had fundamental principles. True, he wavered in those ideals during his second term, under the false tutelage of his father's advisers, but those principles guided his original foreign policy. I suspect his stock will begin to rise, even over the objections of The New York Times and NBC News.
But now we have Obama, a man who has faced his initial crises in foreign policy with his usual self-confidence, and his usual narrowness. Like Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, he's a man of elegant words and shallow thoughts. He must do better. There will come a point where even Chris Matthews cannot save him.
WORDS, BUT NO STRATEGY FOR IRANIAN DISSIDENTS - AT 7:33 A.M. ET: We'll soon know whether this phase of Iranian resistance can be sustained, or will peter out. From AP:
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and a popular reformist former president are boldly defying the country's supreme leader by supporting continued protests of a disputed presidential election, but it was unclear Monday whether protesters would dare to continue massive demonstrations after a bloody crackdown.
"The country belongs to you ... protesting lies and fraud is your right," Mousavi, who claims hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election through fraud, said in a statement on his Web site.
The statement flies in the face of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran and who last week said the claimed landslide victory of Ahmadinejad was valid.
But aside from the bold words, the opposition on Monday appeared to be scrambling for a strategy to continue the momentum of the protests that have riveted world attention without putting its supporters in peril. At least 10 people were killed in clashes Saturday between demonstrators and police and the feared Basij militia. Police said Monday that 457 people were arrested that day alone, without saying how many have been arrested throughout the week of turmoil.
COMMENT: Most analysts I've read believe that the protests will falter. The issue will involve the stability and character of the regime after that. The irony is that the Obama administration's obsession - and that's what it is - with "engaging" Iran may give credibility to a dying, unstable regime, while getting nothing in return.
President Obama has clearly disappointed many in this crisis, and even his supporters are lukewarm in their support for his lukewarminess. He may be called "no drama Obama," but great leaders know the value of drama, and the value of the great moment. The president, I fear, is still in the classroom.
And, by the way, speaking of the classroom, please note the enormity of support for the freedom fighters of Iran by the "intellectual" communities of the United States. They show their true character once again.
CHICAGO IN TEHRAN, TRA-LA, TRA-LA - AT 7:16 A.M.: This should make President Obama feel right at home with the Iranian mullahs. From The Times of London:
In 50 Iranian cities the number of votes cast in this month presidential election exceeded the number of eligible voters, the state's election watchdog admitted today.
The surprising admission by the Guardian Council was, however, designed to undermine the claims of the defeated candidates that the vote was rigged.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's main rival in the hotly-disputed election, and the other two losing candidates have claimed that the vote exceeded eligible voters in as many as 170 districts.
Abbasali Kadkhodai, a spokesman for the council of senior clerics, told the state television channel IRIB: "Our investigation shows that the number of districts they announced is not correct. Based on our preliminary report, 50 districts face this issue."
And these leading apostles of democracy argue that the corruption wasn't enough to swing the election. It is heartening to see the degree that they've learned Chicago politics. So some departed loved ones voted? What's wrong with a little respect for the ancestors?
Of course, the so-called Supreme Leader has already announced that the election result would stand, so all this "investigation" is meaningless. The real issue is how the Iranian people will continue to react, and how the "international community" will treat a clearly illegitimate government.
IRAN UPDATE - AT 10:31 P.M. ET: There weren't any definitive developments in the Iran crisis today. There were some demonstrations in the country, but they were smaller and less violent than Saturday's. Some analysts have pointed out that the revolution of 1979 took months to develop.
They key, of course, is whether the demonstrations will continue this week, and whether the general strike that has been called by dissidents will actually occur on Tuesday. The protesters are getting no great help from the outside.
The administration issued no new statements. The Sunday talk shows were filled with Democrats defending Obama's cautious stand, and Republicans criticizing it for being too soft.
We await the new week. Will the uprising deepen, or disappear? If it deepens, will the U.S. feel compelled to step up its rhetoric? If it disappears, how will Obama sit down, with any self-respect, with the people who put down the resistance?
THE OTHER CRISIS - AT 9:19 P.M. ET: With our attention focused on Iran, there's a tendency to forget the other crisis underway at sea, as The New York Times reminds us:
SEOUL — A North Korean cargo ship shadowed by a United States Navy destroyer was reportedly steaming toward Myanmar on Sunday, posing what could be the first test of how far the United States and its allies will go under a new United Nations resolution to stop the North’s military shipments.
The United States began tracking the 2,000-ton freighter Kang Nam after it left Nampo, a port near Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday. Pentagon officials have said they suspect the ship of carrying prohibited materials, but have declined to say where it may be headed.
The problem, of course, is that UN resolution. It has a loophole large enough to sail a freighter through:
The resolution bans North Korean trafficking in a wide range of nuclear and conventional weaponry, and calls upon United Nations members to search North Korean ships, with their consent, if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that banned cargo is aboard. If the crew does not accept inspection on high seas, North Korea is required to direct the vessel to a port for inspection by local authorities there.
Another resolution with teeth. You can see North Korean knees starting to quake. They don't have to accept boarding at sea, and can direct the ship to the friendliest of ports. We're certainly making progress.
STUNNING, ABSOLUTELY STUNNING - AT 10:48 A.M. ET: Maybe it had to happen, but Rasmussen reports this morning that President Obama has gone into the minus zone in Ras's presidential approval index for the first time since inauguration. This index measures the gap between those who strongly approve and those who strongly disapprove of the president's performance. This morning it stands at 32% strongly approve, 34% strongly disapprove. This may be reflecting Obama's performance during the current Iran crisis.
We always stress that polls are snapshots in time, vary from day to day, and have a margin of error. But the negative turn does reflect a downward trend for the president over the past week. At the same time, Mr. Obama's overall approval ratings in the Rasmussen poll remain positive, 53% to 46%.
This administration is running into headwinds...from Tehran.
LATEST - AT 10:06 A.M. ET: From my Iranian dissident friend, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, who really knows Iran:
The Moussavi/Karroubi coalition has called for a general strike throughout Iran for Tuesday, June 23rd. They have called upon all civil servants and government employees, all non-governmental employees and white collar workers, nurses & hospital workers, emergency medical services and fire department, students, teachers and everyone across Iran to participate in a nationwide protest.
By the way, Banafsheh will be on Fox News today at 3:35 p.m. ET. She'll also be on John Batchelor's excellent radio show tonight on ABC. You can hear it on the internet at http://www.wabcradio.com/. Ban is posting late bulletins on her Facebook page here.
A LITTLE REHABILITATION - AT 9:46 A.M. ET: Those who read The Angel's Corner at Urgent Agenda know that Roger Cohen of The New York Times has twice won our Pompous Fool Award, in part for serving as an apologist for the Iranian regime. Now, incredibly, Cohen is in Tehran, and has gotten reports out. They are actually quite good, and maybe some personal rehabilitation is under way. Here is a bit:
Just off Revolution Street, I walked into a pall of tear gas. I’d lit a cigarette minutes before — not a habit but a need — and a young man collapsed into me shouting, “Blow smoke in my face.” Smoke dispels the effects of the gas to some degree.
I did what I could and he said, “We are with you” in English and with my colleague we tumbled into a dead end — Tehran is full of them — running from the searing gas and police. I gasped and fell through a door into an apartment building where somebody had lit a small fire in a dish to relieve the stinging.
Well, Roger, it would have been nice had you been with them a little earlier, but we'll take what we can get. By the way, Cohen also reports:
I also know that Iran’s women stand in the vanguard. For days now, I’ve seen them urging less courageous men on. I’ve seen them get beaten and return to the fray. “Why are you sitting there?” one shouted at a couple of men perched on the sidewalk on Saturday. “Get up! Get up!”
Which makes the silence of American "feminist" groups all the more revolting. I guess they think Clarence Thomas is the real enemy. They should pay a price for their cynicism and corruption, and that price should be extracted by American women.
IRAN - AT 9:33 A.M. ET: Early reports say there are more demonstrations in Iran today. It's actually dusk in Iran, but there's a time lag in getting information. Remember, there are essentially no reporters left in the country who are permitted to do their jobs.
We didn't get the full picture of the violence yesterday until late afternoon, or early evening, Eastern time.
At the same time, the Democratic spin machine is revving up. Now there's the claim, laughable by any standard, that President Obama is really the inspiration behind freedom movements in the Middle East. No, I'm not making that up. From the BBC:
"In offering negotiation and conciliation, [President Obama] has put the region's extremists on the defensive," wrote Senator John Kerry in the New York Times on Thursday.
Mr Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and former presidential candidate, now chairs the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.
While events unfolded slowly, Mr Kerry cautioned the administration against voicing strong support for the demonstrators or tougher condemnation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Returning to harsh criticism now would only erase this progress, empower hardliners in Iran who want to see negotiations fail and undercut those who have risen up in support of a better relationship," added Mr Kerry.
That is complete nonsense. These are the same people, the Kerry crowd, that have told us over the years that we must not be harsh on the Iranians because most of the people are pro-Western. Those are the people out in the streets, and I think we can logically conclude that they'd love more support from the beacon of freedom.
Those arguing for Obama's soft line say that if he made stronger statements, he'd be playing into the hands of the regime by making the revolt look American-inspired. Oh, please. Does anyone believe this revolt was American-inspired, especially by this admnistration? Why, these guys make Jimmy Carter look like the man of steel.
In fact, no matter what we do, the mullahs will blame us. Consider this, from Fox News:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned the United States and Britain Sunday to stop meddling in Iran's internal affairs, the ISNA news agency reported.
"Definitely by hasty remarks you will not be placed in the circle of friendship with the Iranian nation. Therefore I advise you to correct your interfering stances," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
"They (Western countries) want to portray as small the great and powerful position that has been created for the Iranian nation inside and outside after the recent election, by which of course they made a mistake and they showed they still do not know the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said.
COMMENT: So, if we made a stronger statement, what would the esteemed president of Iran say? Will he hint that the hidden Imam will come and beat us up?
The president has a choice between Reagan and Carter here. Guess which one we prefer?
"What you see is news. What you know is background. What you feel is opinion."
- Lester Markel, late Sunday editor
of The New York Times.
THE ANGEL'S CORNER
Part I of this week's Angel's Corner was sent late Wednesday night.
Part II was sent late Friday night.
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