Neocons Paint Obama as Weak on ‘Rogues’

In what appears increasingly to be an orchestrated campaign, right-wing Republicans and Israel-centered neoconservatives 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 Sen. John McCain in last November’s elections, the past week’s turmoil in Iran – and Obama’s thus-far 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 opposition demonstrators.

Similarly, the latest edition of the neoconservative Weekly Standard magazine devoted its lead editorial and no less than half of its articles this week to the same theme, 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 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei."

The neoconservative 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 UN sanctions against North Korea – the U.S. 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 people Saturday.

In a statement released by the White House Saturday afternoon, 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 U.S. support for the opposition led by former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi could prove counterproductive, 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 Mossadegh and the restoration of Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1953, not to mention U.S. support for Iraq during the bloody Iran-Iraq War.

"It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections," Obama said late last week.

"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 person."

That assessment was echoed Saturday by retired Gen. 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 none other than McCain himself, as well as two of his closest associates, Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham and the neoconservative independent Joseph Lieberman. Graham Sunday accused Obama of being "timid and passive" in dealing with Iran.

In an interview 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.