Obama can watch from sideline or stand up for Iranians’ freedom

It’s dismaying that President Barack Obama has been so tepid, so feeble, so flaccid (as Charles Krauthammer put it) in his support of Iran’s brave dissidents. It’s upsetting because it’s not the way an American president should be. But it’s not so surprising, really, considering the source.

Obama has many fine qualities, no doubt, but in foreign policy he seems to lack instinct. His default setting is not freedom and its expansion, but caution and politics.

In June, tens of thousands of men and women surged into the streets of Iran’s cities. They denounced the theft of a national election that put Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into power for a second four-year term. They called for political reforms and deplored corruption among the ruling mullahs.

And what did Obama think of it all? Well, he didn’t say. For six days, he was muted and circumspect.

Iranians being shot dead by masked government goons were offered the scant comfort of knowing that we were watching it happen.

Now even more intensely, the struggle rages across Iran. On Sunday, eight people died in street battles, and police have been arresting and detaining well-known dissidents and their families.

Does Obama have an opinion about this? Hard to tell, really. It’s true that finally the administration is preparing “targeted sanctions.”

It’s also true that on Monday, at last, the president deplored the regime’s “iron fist of brutality,” though he quickly subsided back into that meager assurance that “we will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are
taking place.”

This is no surprise. Obama’s passivity on foreign policy was revealed during the presidential campaign.

Back then, as now, something violent happened in a far-away corner of the world that observers with well-developed guts, as it were, had no difficulty judging. In August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia.

Then-candidate Sen. John McCain spoke out immediately against Russia’s aggression, just as an American president could be expected to do.

Yet with Georgia, as now with Iran, Obama was curiously neutral. He condemned “the outbreak of violence in Georgia,” as if the armed invasion was a spontaneous organic happening rather than belligerence by one side.

Since June, Obama’s defenders have suggested that it’s actually his masterly diplomacy that keeps him subdued while Iranian women are picked off in the streets by sharpshooters, anti-government protesters are executed, rioters are beaten and shot in daylight, and the relatives of opposition figures are kidnapped and murdered.

This is clever, it’s said, because Iran won’t be able to claim that America and its allies are fomenting the rebellion.

Tonight we will all be making our resolutions for 2010. Here’s one for Obama: Even if you have little instinct for it, speak up for those who seek liberty. You may give tyrants like Ahmadinejad rhetorical ammunition, but what of it?

Choose sides. Choose freedom. It is the American way.

Examiner columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon is a former foreign correspondent and a regular contributor to the books pages of The Wall Street Journal.

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