The Note, 6/12/2009: Bombshells in Iran–Will Election Deliver Verdict on Obama?

By Gorman Gorman

Jun 12, 2009 8:23am

ABC News’ RICK KLEIN reports: With all due respect to Virginia, New Jersey, Minnesota, and those House specials President Obama keeps creating . . . The most important election of 2009 is happening Friday — in Iran. The Iranian elections — through a confluence of external factors, internal forces, and calendar quirks — has the potential to offer an early verdict on the impact of Obama’s new approach to foreign policy and the Middle East. Just a week after the president offered his new beginning to the Muslim world, the voters of Iran have a chance to offer a response — and perhaps quiet critics of the president’s words, at least for now. First came Lebanon, where voters rejected the coalition with ties to Hezbollah. In Iran, the stakes are higher, with a cagey president with nuclear ambitions running against a man some are calling the Iranian Barack Obama. This vote has consequences for Israel policy, Iraq policy, Middle East policy, nuclear policy, and oil politics. It also could have wide repercussions for Obama himself. It’s likely to either quiet or rejuvenate the emerging critiques of the new face the president is offering to the world. “In a strange way, the messianic radicalism of Bush sustained the messianic radicalism of Ahmadinejad. Obama’s election, as many of us hoped, broke that cycle and allowed for Iran’s opposition to re-emerge without looking like a pawn of the US,” Andrew Sullivan blogs for The Atlantic.  ”A vast opposition movement has arisen, flooding the streets of Iran’s major cities with cheering, green-clad supporters of Mr. Moussavi,” Robert F. Worth reports in The New York Times. “Some Iranians believe that the unruly democratic energies unleashed over the past few weeks could affect this country’s politics no matter who wins.” “There’s a real sense among many Iranians we spoke with that this time, their vote may make a difference,” ABC’s Jim Sciutto reported for “Good Morning America” Friday, from Tehran. “For the US, who wins could decide whether the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program is resolved peacefully, or with more threats.” If Ahmadinejad loses, “It would certainly be good news for President Obama,” ABC’s Martha Raddatz reported on “GMA.” “He could build on this adrenaline of change and really try to make a difference.” Can someone say, change? “The result is a confrontation not just between Iran’s haves and have-nots, but between the old revolutionaries who seized power from the shah and a new cadre of radicals seeking to dislodge them,” Thomas Erdbrink reports in The Washington Post. The Los Angeles Times editorial: “A victory by Mousavi would send a powerful signal to the clerics that the people want a change in direction, and his more diplomatic approach to the West could help ease tensions across the Middle East. Conversely, a win by Ahmadinejad would show that the Obama administration faces an uphill struggle in improving relations with Tehran and reducing Iran’s destabilizing influence on the region.” “The election results could have a significant impact on relations with the United States and on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to Tehran’s influences in Iraq and Afghanistan,” NPR’s Corey Flintoff reports. Building an argument: “The verdict is in: Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim world last week has already had an impact, specifically in the surprise victory Sunday of a pro-Western coalition in legislative elections in Lebanon,” Howard LaFranchi writes in the Christian Science Monitor. “With the unexpected defeat of Lebanon’s Hizbullah-led coalition, some regional analysts are wondering if Mr. Obama’s approach — a respectful stance towards Islam, coupled with a firm rejection of the kind of violent extremism that has attracted some Muslims — might also have an impact in Friday’s presidential elections in Iran.” (If Iran follows Lebanon, both of which followed Cairo, what happens to the Republican argument that Obama is offering an ineffectual foreign policy? If Ahmadinejad wins, on the other hand, how long before Republicans remind him that he promised direct negotiations, without preconditions?) “Secretary of State Clinton made it clear to me last Sunday that any new moves from the U.S. would not come until after the election is over (which may require a runoff between Friday’s two top finishers),” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reports. “Just a guess, but one man who may be secretly rooting for Ahmadinejad is Bibi Netanyahu.  The Israeli Prime Minister focused first and foremost on eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat knows that it will be more difficult to make his case if Ahmadinejad is out of power.” The Jerusalem Post editorial: “What if Obama’s softer tone encourages Iranian voters to walk away from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the grounds that his braying has become superfluous and the American ‘threat’ has diminished? And wouldn’t our region be a better place if the demagogic Ahmadinejad was replaced by the reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi? Perhaps. But likely not.” “Even if Ahmadinejad loses the poll, a sudden thaw in ties with the United States after three decades of mutual hostility is unlikely, partly because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on foreign policy and nuclear issues,” per Reuters’ Parisa Hafezi. The arguments will continue. The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss: “The neoconservatives argue that, whoever wins, the ruling powers-that-be will remain — and that’s true, as far as it goes. But there’s no denying that two vastly different, competing social movements have been mobilized for this election, and that very real social forces are at work.” They’ve got their own versions of Al Gore, John Kerry, Sarah Palin, and even — maybe — recounts: “Given the depth of polarization in Iran, the final results will likely be hotly contested by the losing side. Florida in 2000 could be most instructive,” Karim Sadjadpour writes for Foreign Policy. “But while in America the memory of unelected elders in robes deciding the country’s outlook was an historical anomaly, for Iranians it has been, and will likely continue to be, a way of life.” Or maybe don’t read too much: “Elections matter, but how much they matter depends entirely on how free, open and fair they are,” former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams writes in a New York Times op-ed. “The Lebanese had a chance to vote against Hezbollah, and took the opportunity. Iranians, unfortunately, are being given no similar chance to decide who they really want to govern them.” This happens for areas foreign and domestic: “At a certain point, a new president assumes ownership of the problems and finds himself answering for his own actions. For Mr. Obama, even some advisers say that moment may be coming soon,” Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. “Mr. Obama got a taste of that in recent days as he and his White House were put on the defensive trying to explain why the unemployment rate had risen to 9.4 percent when his staff had predicted it would peak at 8 percent as long as Congress passed his stimulus plan, which lawmakers dutifully did. Mr. Obama obviously did not create the recession passed to him, but it was his administration that set the expectation that his policy would keep it from deepening as far as it has.” Why he can use some support about now: “The Obama administration has all but abandoned plans to allow Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release to live in the United States, administration officials said yesterday, a decision that reflects bipartisan congressional opposition to admitting such prisoners but complicates efforts to persuade European allies to accept them,” Peter Finn and Sandhya Somashekhar report in The Washington Post. It’s “a recognition that the task had become politically impossible because of congressional opposition,” Julian E. Barnes and Janet Hook report in the Los Angeles Times. “The shift came even as the administration announced Thursday that it had transferred six detainees from the prison, including four Chinese Muslims sent to Bermuda, as it tries to meet a one-year deadline for shutting down the controversial facility.” It gets thornier: “A Pentagon decision to not advise Guantanamo Bay prisoners of their rights during questioning that began in 2006 could prove a legal stumbling block in trials,” Evan Perez writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Whether Miranda warnings — in which prisoners are advised of rights such as remaining silent — are essential to trying Guantanamo detainees is disputed.” Does this make it easier or harder? “The Obama administration announced this week that some detainees captured and held abroad have been read Miranda rights to preserve evidence for a potential prosecution,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “Administration officials say the Bush administration did this as well in some instances relating to certain criminal cases.” Getting war funding passed — the hard way: “A nearly $106 billion war supplemental appeared to be headed for votes in the House and Senate after moves by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Obama,” per The Hill’s Mike Soraghan, Walter Alarkon and J. Taylor Rushing. “Pelosi appeared to patch together a barebones majority for the bill in the House by playing chicken with two senators over the release of detainee-abuse photos.” “The deal was concluded after Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, went to the Capitol to assure Senate Democrats that President Obama would use all administrative and legal means to prevent the photos’ release. At the same time, a federal court issued a ruling effectively ensuring that the photos would not be released for months, if ever,” Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn write in The New York Times. “This sets up a potential filibuster of the war funding bill by Republicans and Lieberman if they deem Obama’s promise to be lacking,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports. Some other mischief from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: McCain tells Air America’s Ana Marie Cox that if he had won the presidency, he would have had the Joint Chiefs of Staff investigating whether “don’t ask, don’t tell” works — a step further than President Obama has gone to date. Paul Krugman makes a linkage: “Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment,” Krugman writes in his New York Times column. “And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.” On healthcare — the contours of compromise? “A coalition of more than 100 moderate House Democrats is hoping to unify as they attempt to limit the size and scope of a government-sponsored health insurance option — a key sticking point as health reform enters a delicate phase of negotiations,” Patrick O’Connor and Carrie Budoff Brown write for Politico. “Members of the New Democrat Coalition have organized a meeting with their counterparts in the Blue Dog Coalition on Friday morning in a bid to show some strength in numbers as they haggle with party leaders and the three chairmen drafting the bill.” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, doesn’t like the Schumer plan: “I think he’s putting some ingredients in there that are going to make it just as obnoxious to people in my party as they whole concept of a public option,” Grassley said on’s “Top Line” Thursday. Can Obama take this hit? “If Congress moves ahead, Obama will have to swallow some of his 2008 rhetoric,” Ron Brownstein writes for National Journal. “But critics are exaggerating the convergence between the emerging Democratic proposal and McCain’s; limiting the tax break would have very different, and less disruptive, effects than eliminating it. It’s the difference between trimming a tree and cutting it down.” Coming up on “This Week” Sunday: It’s health-care reform, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass. Could this be the biggest determinative event? “Senate Democrats are bracing for what they expect will be a huge price tag connected with revamping the nation’s healthcare system,” The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports. “The soon-to-be-delivered estimate on Democratic healthcare reform proposals is expected to be so expensive that lawmakers are talking about changing the chamber’s normal accounting procedures.” “The big elephant in this room is health care. In the eyes of most Obama aides, the most important deficit-fighting measure of the next few months is the effort to pass a health-care overhaul that expands coverage without costing more federal dollars, and that makes systemic changes that hold down overall health costs,” Gerald Seib writes in his Capital Journal column. Could this be an even bigger determinative event? “The House ethics committee is investigating the PMA Group and its ties to lawmakers, the panel confirmed Thursday,” Roll Call’s Tory Newmyer reports. “The announcement comes eight days after the House called on the committee to disclose within 45 days whether it is probing the now-defunct lobbying firm’s dealings with senior Democratic appropriators.” The AP’s Larry Margasak: “The revelation that Democratic appropriations kingpins may face a House ethics investigation of their campaign receipts from lobbyists for recipients of government grants and contracts moves Republicans closer to gaining a corruption issue in 2010.Republicans know well how lapses in ethical standards can sink a political party.” Enough to feed some hope? “We’re digging ourselves out of a deep hole,” House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Per Stephanopoulos: “Boehner also acknowledged that the GOP hasn’t done a good enough to job shaking the ‘party of no’ label. But he believes, with some justification, that President Obama is more popular than his policies, and he outlined a comeback strategy.” On the subject of taking responsibility . . . Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren asked Karl Rove whether he would “take some responsibility” for budget deficits: “No,” Rove said, twice. From the annals of rebuilding: Grover Norquist tells US News & World Report’s Dan Gilgoff that it’s time for some tough love for religious conservatives: “Some religious right leaders… act as if everybody of their faith persuasion votes on their command, which is insulting, not true, and ridiculous,” Norquist said. “When people say, ‘We can’t let the state change a sacrament by allowing same-sex marriage,’ I go, ‘Where were you 300 years ago, when you handed the state control of this issue?’ ” Tea leaves in Delaware: “Delaware Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle ‘s decision to forego consideration for a top-ranking position on a key committee is the latest sign he’s seriously considering retirement or a run for the Senate in lieu of seeking re-election to the House,” CQ’s Greg Giroux reports. The Kicker  ”Let me say like Hillary, I misspoke. Let me just say: Zionists. . . . I’m not talking about all Jews, all people of the Jewish faith, I’m talking about Zionists.” — Rev. Jeremiah Wright, explaining why he thinks it’s “the Jews” who are keeping him from speaking with President Obama. “It would be wise to keep Willow away from David Letterman.” — Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton, declining Letterman’s invitation for Sarah and Todd Palin to appear on his program. Today on “Top Line,”’s daily political Webcast: Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News and The Week. Noon ET.
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