Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Voices on the left and right are calling for a more muscular response on Iran from the White House, The Washington Post quotes grumbles even on the White House's Facebook fan page ... and then there's this poll, taken before the Iranian election:

Most Americans -- including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents -- say President Obama has not been tough enough on North Korea and Iran.

A FOX News poll released Monday finds more than two-thirds of Americans say Obama has not been tough enough on North Korea (69 percent), while some 15 percent think his actions have been "about right" and 3 percent think he has been too tough.

Sizable majorities of Democrats (65 percent), Republicans (78 percent) and independents (61 percent) agree Obama should be tougher on North Korea. Among those voters who backed Obama in the 2008 presidential election, 59 percent say he has not been tough enough.

I've mocked Fox polls before, but primarily for end-of-poll questions that echo right-wing memes. Typically, on big issues, Fox polls have tracked polls elsewhere in the non-Rasmussen world: Obama popular and backed on most issues, Republicans mostly discredited. It's possible that, like the rulers in Iran, the Fox pollsters are just now starting to fake their numbers brazenly. But I'm not sure. (It should be noted that a few weeks ago Gallup had very good numbers for Obama on foreign policy, and the Middle East and Korea specifically.)

With Obama, whenever there's breaking news I expect a window of a few days when hyped-up, ADD America demands a quick response and he's just ... weighing his options. It's his style. It was his style in the campaign and it's been his style as president. In due time, he weighs in.

But in this case, an effective lack of response is the response. And at least some of the public clearly wants more.

He needs to make an aggressive defense of his lack of aggression -- in other words, he needs argue that the stirring words some people (across the political spectrum) want him to utter could turn out to be Bushian bluster, with Bushian results. He shouldn's say all of this explicitly:

"The calculation here is this: We don't want to become the story in Iranian politics," said Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution analyst who led a White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. "The Ahmadinejad forces would love to turn this into the United States against the Islamic Republic and to make the opposition portrayed as the cat's paw of American imperialism."

"At the end of the day, we can condemn it all we like," Riedel said. "That isn't going to help one person on the streets of Tehran. That may make us feel better; it's not going to make the Iranians feel much better."

But if he favors caution, he should make a forceful case for it, and identify feel-good cheerleading with what's led to grief in the recent past.

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