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Anne Bayefsky

Obama & Iran: Human Rights on the Backburner

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Obama has accepted the Iranian government's smothering of democratic dreams.

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in National Review Online.

Just as the thugs on Iran's Guardian Council were confirming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, Barack Obama and his top officials were unveiling the administration's Iran policy. From a news conference and a series of Sunday-talk-show appearances we have learned that the Obama plan is this: Speak loudly and don't carry any stick.

It began on Friday at Obama's joint press conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel. First came the hot air: "The violence perpetrated against [the Iranian people] is outrageous. . . . We see it and we condemn it. . . . What's happened in Iran is unacceptable . . . and we call on the Iranian government to uphold . . . international principles."

The obvious follow-up question was this: Given that the Iranian government never had any interest in upholding the "international principles" you mention - such as "universal rights to assemble, speak freely, and have their voices heard" - what impact will that government's actions have on your administration's Iran policy?

From President Obama: "I would suggest Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people. And he might want to consider looking at the families of those who have been beaten or shot or detained." Most of us are aware of the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has thought carefully about it (for three decades) and then decided both that the Iranian people have no rights to assemble or speak freely and that the Iranian government has a right to order that they be beaten, shot, and detained at will.

So came the next question. Don't the events of the past few weeks undermine your hopes for meaningful dialogue, and aren't you just losing precious time? To which Obama responded: "On the Iranian issue, I think that we are still waiting to see how the situation in Iran plays out. . . . We don't yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what's happened inside of Iran."

Refusing to be sidetracked, reporters pressed on, and finally the president 'fessed up. He told the world that events in Iran will have no effect whatsoever on his policy to engage in dialogue with Iran. In April the State Department had announced that "the U.S. will join P5-plus-1 [Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany] discussions with Iran from now on." Evidently, nothing that has occurred since the Iranian election will make the slightest difference to this course of action. In the president's words: "My expectation would be that you're going to continue to see some multilateral discussions with Iran . . . the P-5 plus 1 . . . there are going to be discussions that continue."

In short, the "unacceptable" smothering of democratic dreams in Iran turns out to have been quickly accepted after all, with President Obama fixated on moving on. Why?

With Merkel by his side, the two leaders filled in the mysterious gaps. Obama moved from the Iranian bloodshed to Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons and then quickly to Israel and the Palestinian conflict. Likewise, Merkel went from current events in Iran to this: "We would like to have a diplomatic solution to preventing Iran from gaining possession of a nuclear weapon. So I completely agree with the president here. . . . I think we can be successful in the Middle East [peace] process, and then be successful in our talks with Iran."

In other words, the explanation of the "do nothing in response to the Iranian uprising" policy is that breaking Israel comes first. Obama's top priority is to create a Palestinian state now (regardless of its anti-Semitic policies and terrorist intentions); then, and only then, will dialoguing with Iran allegedly bear fruit.

To recap, take a Holocaust-denying president who has advocated genocide and the elimination of the Jewish state, a government hell-bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, said government's brutal repression of its own people, and the subsequent "re-election" of the aforementioned maniac, and what do you get? A call from Obama to isolate this regime? An urgent campaign to impose harsh sanctions? Immediate support for the destruction of their nuclear sites before it's too late? No. Obama's focus is delivering Israel to the same Islamic audience he stroked in Cairo.

Obama's emissaries confirmed the administration's shocking priorities over the weekend. CBS's Bob Schieffer asked Obama's U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, if we consider Iran's government legitimate and whether we will still sit down with them. Rice answered: "Obviously the government's legitimacy has been called into question by the protests. . . . But that's not the critical issue in terms of our dealings with Iran."

Rice's hypocrisy is staggering. The same woman who, at the U.N., casts herself as a leading human-rights ambassador claims that the legitimacy of a government clinging to power as a result of murder and repression is not the issue. On the contrary, she took this moment to tell the butchers themselves that nothing had changed: "We will continue to pursue the offer [of] the P-5. . . . We have not rescinded that prospect. . . . We've left the door open to bilateral diplomacy."

Obama's top adviser, David Axelrod, read from the same script in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. Stephanopoulos: "If the Iranians want to come to Paris and sit down with the United States and the Europeans . . . that invitation is still open?" Axelrod: "Well, yes." And by the way, he added: "We are not looking to reward Iran." Reward would be too kind. There is another description for a Parisian invitation to the handlers of the man who blew a hole through 27-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan's heart for attending a demonstration just a week ago: obscenity.

President Obama, the human-rights paragon, turns out to be the human-rights victim's worst nightmare. The fašade says he cares. But as soon as defending human rights proves inconvenient to his larger goal of rapprochement with Muslim dictators and "engagement" with fascists in Tehran, Gaza, Ramallah, and Damascus, he cuts and runs.