When the east EuropeansÂ were trying to free themselves from the shackles of Soviet rule two decades ago, PresidentÂ Ronald Reagan minced no words, daring Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in his famous 1987 speech given in West Berlin. Indeed, Reagan and his successors made sure that the United States was unequivocal in its support of pro-democracy advocates in countries all over the world: Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, Myanmar, Venezuela — the list goes on and on.
This historical backdrop offers a stark contrast toÂ Barack Obama’s weak responseÂ to Iran’s fraudulent June 12Â electionÂ – and to Tehran’s subsequent brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. Immediately after the election, when he had a chance to unambiguously set a tone as a defender of free elections, Obama could only bring himself to bleat:
“It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling. I do believe that something has happened in Iran where there is a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures towards the international community. How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something ultimately for the Iranian people to decide.”
It was aÂ weak, wishy-washy statement that only an Ayatollah could love.
The White House followed up by pathetically expressing admiration for the “vigorous debate” that was taking place among Iranians.
Then, when things really started getting ugly, with the Ayatollahs dispatching militias and Revolutionary Guard troopsÂ toÂ deal withÂ dissenters, ObamaÂ strengthened his previousÂ mealy-mouthed remarks, butÂ only slightly:
â€œThe Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.â€
Too little, too late. For fear of offending the Mullahs, Obama had missed his moment to lead, and now was following the lead — of the Europeans.Â Â Unlike Obama,Â they were strong and swift in condemning Ahmadinejad’s “victory” and the Iranian government’s violent response to the subsequent street protests.
On June 16, just four days after the election, French President Nicolas SarkozyÂ stated that “the extent of the fraud is proportional to the violent reaction.” That same day, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Iran’s government thuggery was utterlyÂ ”unacceptable.” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown bluntly condemnedÂ ”the repression and the brutality” in Iran. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Iran’s leaders to “allow peaceful demonstrations, allow free reporting of events, stop the use of violence against demonstrators, and free imprisoned people.”
It is a remarkable spectacle indeed: The people in Iran demonstrating for democracy, holding up their English signs hoping for the leader of the free world to notice them and support them, are stunned to find that a president known for his oratory — albeit as read from a teleprompter — is suddenly at a loss for words.