Obama's delay in supporting Iran's protesters is par for the course. It isn't exactly like dancing on Neda's grave, but it's close enough to make decent people uncomfortable.
Neda is -- or rather was -- Neda Agha Soltan, 26, the beautiful young student whose apparently random murder on the streets of Tehran by a regime thug was captured on video and transmitted around the world. Neda's become as much the symbol of the resistance in Iran as the young man who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989 was of the democracy movement in China.
At a news conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama condemned the "threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days," but stopped short of criticizing the stolen election that sent more than a million protesters into the streets or expressing support for the demonstrators.
The president's limited criticism of the Iranian regime took place a week after the leaders of Canada, France and Germany issued stronger ones. Andrew Malcolm of the Los Angeles Times was not the only commentator who thought it was prompted by Sen. John McCain's "angry Senate Neda speech Monday" which made it politically difficult for Mr. Obama to continue to sit on the fence.
But in the question session which followed his prepared remarks, the president indicated there is no amount of blood the regime can shed that will dissuade him from negotiating with it.
This reached macabre proportions when Mr. Obama indicated his invitation to Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July parties was still open. There are arguments for negotiating with brutal regimes. But to socialize with the butchers while they are killing their own people is obscene. (After a day of criticism, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday, "Those invitations no longer will be extended.")
At least some protesters in Iran think Mr. Obama's equivocation is a tacit endorsement of the regime. "The people of Iran will not forgive Barack Obama for siding with the evil regime," Kianoosh Sanjari, an exiled student protest leader, said in an interview last week.
So White House aides compounded the obscenity when they told the Washington Post the protesters were inspired by the president's speech to Muslims from Cairo June 4.
"This is very obviously an attempt at damage control," said blogger Ed Morrissey at HotAir.com. "Obama has gotten hammered for staying behind the curve of Western leaders in the defense of liberty, freedom and human rights. ... Now, suddenly, he wants to claim credit for getting there first with his Cairo speech -- which had nothing to do with overthrowing mullahs, and in fact had only a passing mention of democracy as an official U.S. policy in the Middle East."
The president knows he's been a day late and a dollar short since the Iranian crisis began and is defensive about it. He grew testy when Major Garrett of Fox News asked him what took him so long to condemn the regime's violence against protesters. Mr. Obama said his remarks have been consistent.
"Even the most egregious toady in the White House press corps knew that wasn't true," said Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard.
For President Obama to be following events rather than leading them is part of a pattern, said columnist Michael Barone, who recalled Mr. Obama was "flummoxed" last year by the Russian invasion of Georgia. It took candidate Obama three days to issue a statement criticizing the Russians.
"Obama likes to execute long-range strategies but suffers from cognitive dissonance when new facts render them inappropriate," Mr. Barone said.
Another clue to the president's timid and tepid response to the turmoil in Iran is the number 129. That's the number of times Mr. Obama voted "present" in the Illinois Senate. This is not a guy who is comfortable taking clear positions on controversial issues.
Another clue is in the structure of a typical Obama speech. In his speech in Philadelphia last year on race relations, in his speech at Notre Dame in May on abortion and in his speech in Cairo to Muslims in early June, Mr. Obama described clashing points of view and set himself up as a referee between them. This is a guy who sees himself more as the analyst in the booth than as the man in the arena.
Comedian Greg Gutfield described Mr. Obama as "the bystander-in-chief." That may be his inclination, but it is hard to vote "present" in the Oval Office
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