2509US4 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.

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  1. jls June 20, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Whether Obama’s approach is “wise and cautious” or “appeasement and nonsense,” I honestly don’t know. Time will tell. Whether I agree with his world view or not, he needs to adopt a rhetorical stance that is consistent with what he is actually prepared to do or not do later if the internal strife within Iran escalates. After the first invasion of Iraq, Bush 41 arguably sent misleading signals of support to the Kurds and Shiites within Iraq. They rose up against Saddam Hussein, believing that the U.S. would support them. The U.S. did nothing, and they were slaughtered by the thousands.

  2. ColtsFan June 21, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I agree that there are some merits to this JA post, especially the cautious tone. But some of Obama’s behavior is bizarre. Why in the world does the Prez decide to go for a public ice-cream trip at the same time when Tehran is literally on fire? Could you imagine Bush doing that, and the media not calling him on it?
    Our president dithers while Tehran burns.

  3. ColtsFan June 21, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Underlying the “cautious, wait-and-see” foreign policy approach of Obama is his long-range desire to secure an agreement or some sort of treaty to end the nuclear weapons issue on the table.
    This approach is first dependent on Obama’s and the State Department’s fervent belief in the legitimacy of Iranian government as both a viable political institution and a faithful, trustworthy partner to make a nuclear deal with in the future.
    But the week’s events threaten to blow up this charade.
    We have Iranian secret police conducting home invasions at night. We have Iranian government thugs shooting unarmed protestors.
    How long and after how many more deaths can Obama consider Iranian government to be “legitimate”?
    How many more protestors need to be shot before Obama ponders, “maybe Iran can’t be trusted in a future treaty?”
    Would you shake hands and make a deal with someone who ordains killing of innocent, unarmed people?
    Would you make a treaty with a leader who authorizes home invasions and the accompanying deaths?
    Just go to You Tube and see what I am talking about.

  4. John H. Armstrong June 21, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I have watched this news with real concern that the president’s actions look more and more like those of President Carter in the same country 34 years ago. If he allows this present situation to go unchallenged then his whole stance will be deeply challenged for very good reasons. How can he negotiate when the facts are now becoming more clear than they were a few days ago? I do wonder.
    I had my doubts about his approach, and expressed them. I wrote this blog piece partly to see how others responded. Events in the last 72 hours, for which we can be thankful the Internet is making this plain to the world, are clearly dramatic. We have more reason to protect innocent people in Iran than it seems we had in Iraq. I wonder how much the American media will defend the president now?

  5. Ted June 23, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    I like Obama’s approach on this issue. The people who would be most pleased to see the POTUS come out forcefully on the side of the opposition are the Ayatolla Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Then they could easily paint the protesters as mere tools of the Great Satan. Obama saying, “This is not about the United States and the West. This is about the people of Iran,” strikes exactly the right tone.
    I read a commentary from an Iranian scholar (living in Britain) in which he said he thought this movement had more in common with the U.S. civil rights movement than with the 1979 Islamic Revolution. An interesting observation. The opposition is NOT advocating throwing out the existing form of government, they are agitating for a true election and more personal freedom.

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