Some conservative media figures defend Obama's response to events in Iran

››› ››› HANNAH DREIER

Several conservative commentators have publically criticized conservative media figures and Republican politicians for deeming President Obama's reaction to unfolding events in Iran to be overly cautious, including The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, who called such criticisms, "Aggressive Political Solipsism at work."

In recent days, several conservative commentators have publically criticized conservative media figures and Republican politicians for deeming President Obama's reaction to unfolding events in Iran to be overly cautious. For example, as Think Progress noted, The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan wrote on June 20 that "John McCain and others went quite crazy insisting President Obama declare whose side America was on," and that their criticisms were an example of "Aggressive Political Solipsism at work: Always exploit events to show you love freedom more than the other guy, always make someone else's delicate drama your excuse for a thumping curtain speech."

  • In her June 20 Wall Street Journal column, Noonan wrote: "To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous. The ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week. John McCain and others went quite crazy insisting President Obama declare whose side America was on, as if the world doesn't know whose side America is on. 'In the cause of freedom, America cannot be neutral,' said Rep. Mike Pence. Who says it's neutral?" Noonan continued: "This was Aggressive Political Solipsism at work: Always exploit events to show you love freedom more than the other guy, always make someone else's delicate drama your excuse for a thumping curtain speech."
  • On the June 20 edition of MSNBC Live, Pat Buchanan said of the unfolding situation in Iran: "My view is that it was very, very irresponsible for John McCain to say some of the things he said so early. It was very hot-headed in my judgment. It was impulsive. Can you imagine if the crowds in the streets suddenly were told, 'Look, the Americans are with us. They're behind us 100 percent. Let's try to overthrow the regime,' and then they were cut down by these Revolutionary Guard and their thugs? I think we would bear moral responsibility for having done that, and it would be a disaster. ... I think they've done the right thing."
  • As Think Progress noted, on the June 21 edition of ABC's This Week, Washington Post columnist George Will said, "The president is being roundly criticized for insufficient, rhetorical support for what's going on over there. It seems to me foolish criticism. The people in the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is, and they don't need that reinforced." Will added: "Furthermore, there is an American memory of encouraging things like the Hungarian revolution in 1956 with rhetoric about rolling back communism -- we had balloons float in and drop medals with the Statue of Liberty on it, and leaflets. Came the crunch, there was nothing we could do about it."
  • On the June 21 broadcast of Fox News' America's News HQ, referring to Obama's response to the situation in Iran, Republican strategist Karen Hanretty said: "I'm one of the Republicans who does not agree with John McCain on this. I think the president is taking a very nuanced approach to this. I think that that is a very wise thing for him to do. Look, this is the Iranians' revolution. America, like it or not, is not very popular in the Middle East." Hanretty continued: "I agree with those -- you know, and there are some on the right, but mostly on the left, I think, you know, and I think [Democratic strategist] Josh [Gottheimer] is one of them -- who's going to say, you know, 'We don't want to be the foil for, you know, the opposition in Iran.' " She later added: "So, they say, you know, we need to have a strong statement that says, 'We're behind you.' OK, but then what? What happens next week if this turns far more violent? What is that -- are we behind you in name only? In just -- through a resolution? Are we prepared to go into Iran and help fight for -- what's the follow-up to that? I feel like this isn't very well-thought through, and there's a lot on the line for these people. This is their freedom. This is their country. This is everything we hold dear, and turning it into a partisan debate, I think really devalues what's happening."

As Media Matters for America documented, numerous conservative media figures criticizing Obama's reaction to events in Iran have a record of discredited claims, predictions, and analysis about foreign policy issues, particularly the Iraq war.

From Noonan's June 20 Wall Street Journal column:

To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous. The ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week. John McCain and others went quite crazy insisting President Obama declare whose side America was on, as if the world doesn't know whose side America is on. "In the cause of freedom, America cannot be neutral," said Rep. Mike Pence. Who says it's neutral?

This was Aggressive Political Solipsism at work: Always exploit events to show you love freedom more than the other guy, always make someone else's delicate drama your excuse for a thumping curtain speech.

Mr. Obama was restrained, balanced and helpful in the crucial first days, keeping the government out of it but having his State Department ask a primary conduit of information, Twitter, to delay planned maintenance and keep reports from the streets coming. Then he made a mistake, telling the New York Times in terms of our national security there is little difference between Mr. Ahmadinejad and his foe, Mir Hossein Mousavi, which may or may not in the long run be true but was undercutting of the opposition.

What now? Americans, and the West, should be who they are, friends of freedom. Iranians on the street made sure they got their Twitter reports and videos here. They trust us to spread the word through our technology. A lot of the signs they held were in English. They trust us to be for change and to advance their cause, and they're right to trust us.

Should there at this point, more than a week into the story, be a formal declaration of support from the U.S. government? Certainly it's time for an indignant statement on the abuses, including killings and beatings, perpetrated by the government and against the opposition. It's never wrong to be on the side of civilization. Beyond that, what would be efficacious? It must be asked if a formal statement of support for the rebels would help them. And they'd have a better sense of it than we.

If the American president, for reasons of prudence, does not make a public statement of the government's stand, he could certainly refer, as if it is an obvious fact because it is an obvious fact, to whom the American people are for. And that is the protesters on the street. If he were particularly striking in his comments about how Americans cannot help but love their brothers and sisters who stand for greater freedom and democracy in the world, all the better. The American people, after all, are not their government. Our sentiments are not controlled by the government, and this may be a timely moment to point that out, and remind the young of Iran, who are the future of Iran, that Americans are a future-siding people.

From the June 21 edition of ABC's The Week with George Stephanopoulos:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): And George, let's start with that question suggested by those clips right there. Is this the tipping point in Iran?

WILL: It'll never be the same there, and the legitimacy of the regime such as it was is much diminished -- whether or not that's a good thing is another matter. The president is being roundly criticized for insufficient, rhetorical support for what's going on over there. It seems to me foolish criticism. The people in the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is, and they don't need that reinforced.

Furthermore, there is an American memory of encouraging things like the Hungarian revolution in 1956 with rhetoric about rolling back communism -- we had balloons float in and drop medals with the Statue of Liberty on it, and leaflets. Came the crunch, there was nothing we could do about it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Bill, you, as I said, spent much of the last week in Iran, could you get a sense from the people you were able to talk to how much they wanted the United States involved?

From the noon ET hour of the June 21 broadcast of Fox News' America's News HQ:

SHANNON BREAM (Fox News Supreme Court reporter): There has been some very vocal criticism from some on the right saying that we need the president to take a harder line. Karen, do you think that's appropriate in the middle of this situation?

HANRETTY: You know, I'm one of the Republicans who does not agree with John McCain on this. I think the president is taking a very nuanced approach to this. I think that that is a very wise thing for him to do. Look, this is the Iranians' revolution. America, like it or not, is not very popular in the Middle East. And I agree with those -- you know, and there are some on the right, but mostly on the left, I think, you know, and I think Josh is one of them -- who's going to say, you know, "We don't want to be the foil for, you know, the opposition in Iran."

GOTTHEIMER: Exactly.

HANRETTY: And I think that that's the right thing.

BREAM: And, Josh, we're seeing, though, at least on the streets here in Washington -- we've seen it in L.A., New York, London, Paris -- we're seeing support that is very vocal for the Iranian people. Many of these folks who have families there --

GOTTHEIMER: Of course.

BREAM: -- and loved ones there. And yet, as they call on the president to take a tougher stand, he's been very careful, and it's delicate for him. How can he juggle this any better than he already is?

GOTTHEIMER: I think he's taking it day by day is what you're seeing. And he's made very clear statements about human rights, about violence. That's where America should be stepping forward and saying something. I think overall, though, as Karen was saying, he has to be incredibly careful. We can't get sucked in, so that we are an excuse for the government there to stand up against the protesters, and say, look, "America is getting in the way; here's another reason we should come down even harder on you."

So I think that we need to let this play out. He's handling this. He's getting briefings constantly, I'm sure. And I think we have to -- he has to be very measured. The Republicans, I think, have to be careful not to overplay their hand here, and let the president be commander in chief. And I think that's what you're seeing.

BREAM: And, Karen, do they risk making this turn into a bipartisan-type looking event if they get any more vocal about pushing him?

HANRETTY: Well, they risk making it look, yeah, very partisan, which is not good. And yet, I guess, my question, you know, what's the follow-up question? So, they say, you know, we need to have a strong statement that says, "We're behind you." OK, but then what? What happens next week if this turns far more violent? What is that -- are we behind you in name only? In just -- through a resolution?

Are we prepared to go into Iran and help fight for -- what's the follow-up to that? I feel like this isn't very well-thought through, and there's a lot on the line for these people. This is their freedom. This is their country. This is everything we hold dear, and turning it into a partisan debate, I think really devalues what's happening.

[...]

BREAM: Now, Karen, you say -- we know this region is very volatile in a lot of respects, but you say they're united outside of Iran in one thing: Nobody wants them to have a nuke.

HANRETTY: No, no one does want them to have a nuclear weapon. And I think that, you know, goes back to why it's so important that the administration exercise a very cautious approach to all of this. A nuclear weapon in the hands of Ahmadinejad and the sitting supreme leader is much different than -- you know, you're seeing a dynamic take place right now among the mullahs who, you know, some of them are more hardline than others.

And how this shapes up is really going to affect their capacity for nuclear technology. There's a lot on the line right now. I say take the cautious approach. Saudi Arabia doesn't want them to have it. No one in the Middle East does.

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