The Blog

Iran Responds: "Death to America"

3:00 PM, Mar 21, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In a speech on Saturday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded directly to Barack Obama's video mash note from late last week. According to the Associated Press: "Khamenei, wearing a black turban and dark robes, said America was hated around the world for its arrogance, as the crowd chanted 'Death to America.'"

Hmmm, so much for Obama's commitment to a showing of "mutual respect" between his administration and the terror-sponsoring mullahs.

Khamenei: "Have you released Iranian assets? Have you lifted oppressive sanctions? Have you given up mudslinging and making accusations against the great Iranian nation and its officials? Have you given up your unconditional support for the Zionist regime? Even the language remains unchanged."

The story reports that Khamenei "enumerated a long list of Iranian grievances against the United States over the past 30 years and said the U.S. was still interfering in Iranian affairs."

Khamenei complains that Obama used his speech to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear technology and supporting terrorism. But Obama's speech was notable precisely because it did not include any such direct accusation.

Obama strongest rhetoric noted only that Iran must understand that the path to its "rightful place in the community of nations...cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions."

As Bill Kristol points out:

So there's no reiteration of the demand--heretofore the position not just of the United States but of its European allies--that Iran stop its program for developing nuclear weapons in return for such constructive ties. After all, to demand a stop to the program is implicitly to threaten that there might be consequences if the program isn't stopped--and Obama doesn't believe in threats. He believes that we should speak nicely to our enemies, and carry no stick.

TNR's Michael Crowley has a different view, calling Obama's speech "shrewd."

In a post from yesterday morning, before Khamenei's speech, he wrote: "If and when the time comes when he finds himself seeking harsh new sanctions--and conceivably even support for military action--against Iran to halt its nuclear program, America will have far more leverage if Obama can say that he made good-faith efforts at dialogue and was rebuffed."

That may be true, but it's leverage the US will almost certainly never use. For all of Obama's talk about a nuclear Iran being unacceptable, he has shown little enthusiasm for doing much of anything (other than renewing already existing sanctions) to prevent it. It is virtually inconceivable that he would feel the need to rally support for a preemptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Crowley concludes: "Thus, every gesture like today's gives the U.S. more credibility around the world, and puts the Iranians on the defensive if they don't reciprocate. Which may be why Tehran is responding in such a muddled and uncertain fashion."

Khamenei's speech takes Tehran's response from "muddled and uncertain" to defiant and hostile. It suggests that Khamenei, far from being put on the defensive, sees the U.S. in a position of weakness. And why shouldn't he after Obama's ingratiatory message.