While Iran is rocked by the biggest public protests since the revolution of 1979, President Obama is pursuing a policy called “wait and see.” His priority, as with most concerned world leaders, is to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring a nuclear bomb. His method of choice is to negotiate directly with Iran’s leaders. Until he knows who these leaders will be he is biding his time.
While Senator McCain, and leading Republicans are calling the Iranian election a sham, President Obama displays his characteristically cool personality. He seemed to measure his words when he said this week that he was “deeply troubled” by the violence he had seen on television. He added that he could “not state definitively” what had happened in Iran since there were no international observers there to give him real information. And the president stressed that “it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be.” It is safe to say that this is a cautious policy that could easily fail if the Iranian government violently reacts against the protest movement.
The president’s critics suggest he is not supporting democracy but theocracy and a madman. A few years ago I would have been inclined to agree. I now want to give the president the benefit of the doubt and see what this “new” approach actually accomplishes for peace.
Consider the following. What if the president were to support the protest movement in Iran openly? The regime, and its radical Muslim backers, would be able to portray America as the tool of the Great Satan. Brian Katulis, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, a think-tank with close links to the White House, says the president will wait and see. His cool approach is to take steps that can not be used to inflame passions. There is something to be said for this kind of coolness so long as vigilance is not sacrificed. The debate over the proper balance will not be resolved in the short run but only as we see how this president actually responds to both crisis and challenge.
The Economist noted this week that “Obama is gambling that he can reshape global opinion. A first step is to persuade Muslims that America is not their enemy. In a speech in Cairo this month he quoted the Koran, praised Islamic culture and promised a ‘new beginning’ based on ‘mutual interest and mutual respect.’ In a speech to mark the Iranian new year back in March, he praised Iran’s ‘great civilization,’ saying he wants it ‘to take its rightful place in the community of nations.’
To conservatives this all seems like appeasement and nonsense. To moderates and liberals it seems wise and cautious. Many conservatives will argue that rogue states, and Muslim mullahs, can never be accepted at face value given the reality of sin and evil. In this view it is America, with its ideals and openness, against the world and the world is both dangerous and wrong. President Obama seems to believe America is a great nation but we should curtail our policy of recent efforts to shape the world by our values. I admit that I must agree with him, at least until I see how this approach will work out. I think the new global context requires a different approach to the world than what has traditionally been the American position. We must have a defense policy that is both carefully thought out and aimed at our own protection; cf. Romans 13:1–7. At the same time we must not seek to make nations conform to our view of the world and our self-interests.
The president was also made acutely aware this week of the problems associated with North Korea. At a joint press conference with the president of South Korea the president confirmed the main thrust of a recent report and said the details are still being discussed with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. He added, “There’s been a pattern in the past where North Korea behaves in a belligerent fashion, and if it waits long enough [it] is then rewarded. We are going to break that pattern.” I pray that he does. It seems he is a critical realist about evil while at the same time he is trying to forge a new perspective on the world. Will it work? Not if militants strike the United States during his first term. The public would likely turn against him in a heartbeat if this happened.
What I ask myself is simple: “How do I promote peace in a world that is filled with evil?” Simple answers to this uncomplicated question are a dime a dozen. I am not suggesting the president has it right but he ought to be afforded the opportunity to work out a new approach. In the end the safety of the United States is important but as a Christian I want more. I want to see our international policy reflect a desire for peace, not peace at any price, but peace through strength, a stance that is less belligerent toward the modern world. If you say this is idealism then I answer that such idealism is what America is all about. We need more of this idealism, not less. May God give wisdom to those who lead us and may we all be given the patience to see how things develop in an already tense and troubled world. Peacemaking is still the goal, not the stance of compromise and cowardice.