Don’t Waste Your Crises, Mr. President

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” counseled President Obama’s first Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, in early 2009.

Although many Republicans, still recovering from their losses in the 2008 Election, seized the advice as evidence of the Obama Administration’s secret intention of transforming the United States into an Orwellian nightmare, the quote itself is not unprecedented. Winston Churchill said something similar, and strategists across the ages have noted that when the status quo falls into chaos, the winners are those who seize what they can. Looking back on American history, it seems that the greatest Presidents used great conflagrations to their advantage, and the weakest Presidents bungled them. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. Their presidencies coincided with the two deadliest threats in the country’s history: the Civil War in Lincoln’s case, and the Second World War in Roosevelt’s.

Conversely, the presidents directly before these legends have been remembered as failures. James Buchanan is remembered as the man who thought he would be the last President of the United States and failed to subdue the domestic unrest which ultimately culminated in the Civil War. Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover are remembered for their isolationism in the time of the rise of Fascism, and their inaction when faced with the onset of the Great Depression.

But a Commander-in-Chief need not wait for apocalyptic upheavals to get a chance to prove his leadership. The nature of politics is such that the state is beset by constant crisis, with challenges approaching at all times and from every direction, including from within.

Most people would be hard-pressed to recount the foreign policy of Dwight Eisenhower. Yet the Sputnik controversy, the Korean Armistice, the Suez Crisis, and the U2 Incident all occurred on his watch, and Ike is generally remembered as one of the best – if not the least interesting – Presidents of the Twentieth Century. Perhaps Kennedy best exhibited good crisis management: following the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, he deftly managed the Cuban Missile Crisis and is still one of the most popular Presidents in our history. Truman, Nixon, and Reagan assembled some of the best foreign policy staffs in American history, and are thus remembered for strong foreign policies.

Carter, on the other hand, is remembered as a better person than President precisely because of his crisis management – he bungled the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which was not necessarily a matter which threatened our territorial security the way previous crises had, but nonetheless posed a threat to our overseas interests and national prestige. Lyndon Johnson, another great man, dramatically increased America’s presence in Vietnam, yet failed to solve anything, and for that has been reviled among moralists and strategists alike. Perhaps most notorious has been George W. Bush; it is likely that his management of the War on Terror will leave him remembered as a warmonger and a generally incompetent leader.

We come, now, to the question of President Obama. How will he be remembered? If he continues to pursue a foreign policy akin to his first term, he will likely be remembered in the same harsh light covering Johnson, Carter and Bush.

The international system is entering a period of great change. The ongoing financial crisis is its economic manifestation, but the crisis itself goes beyond economics: class, technology, and the role of government all affect and are affected by the current developments. Meanwhile, new bases of power rise around a world which is politically more complex now than it has been since the late 1960s.

New challenges are on the horizon, and those who handle such situations well will go down as great statesmen. History remembers those who fare poorly as politicians. To his credit, President Obama did not emulate his predecessor’s adventurism, and by scaling back the Afghan and Iraqi wars has freed the American military from its former tied-down state. And the Bin Laden raid was, undoubtedly, the high point of his foreign policy.

But almost all of his administration’s major initiatives, from the Reset Button with Russia to the Asian “Pivot” to the New Beginning with the Muslim world, have been either poorly-informed ideas or only partly-successful policies. And the President’s crisis management, it seems, has been no better. As the Arab Spring toppled dictator after dictator, some of whom were American allies, inconclusive and contradictory statements emerged from the White House. The same pattern is visible now as the Syrian war drags on and an American intervention appears to loom closer. And although the President handled the recent North Korean crisis reasonably well, the unwise Libyan intervention has spawned countless unforeseen consequences, while Russia’s recent granting of asylum to Edward Snowden on the grounds of international law appears to be a diplomatic crisis in the making. It is unclear whether the President will handle the unknown crises awaiting him in the last years of his second term as a politician or a statesman.

President-Elect Rouhani Brings Hope to the Citizens of Iran

Will Iran’s new moderate “Superman” Rouhani be able to withstand the forces of Ayatollah Khamenei and his theocratic kryptonite?

Last month, some salvation was finally delivered to the tense and oppressed citizens of Iran with the victory of newly elected president Hassan Rouhani. Under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians were subjected to his abusive policies, most notably demonstrated by the harsh crackdown of the 2009 Green Movement.

Although Rouhani, who will officially replace the current hotheaded president in August, has been termed a relative moderate in comparison to Gung-ho fundamentalist Ahmadinejad, the Iranian people have already received him as an angel on earth. The so perceived “savior” has verbalized his intentions to improve the country’s international reputation. And this may even be the first time since the onset of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that we may see a resurrection of limited aspects of western society within the country, as Rouhani has expressed his desire to restore basic human rights beginning with the improvement of women’s rights and the gradual deregulation of the strict national dress code.

 

But don’t tear your headscarves yet, ladies –– while I am sure that you are more than eager to sport your fashionable new hairdos, there is still something dodgy going on here. Despite Rouhani expressing his personal wishes for reform, he remains at best merely another puppet of Supreme Leader and master puppeteer Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although the voting process within Iran may bear a democratic façade, it is simply a hollow disguise masking a deviously controlled and complex method of strategically inducting figureheads who will ultimately serve to carry out the wishes of the Ayatollah. Here’s a quick breakdown of how candidates are selected for participation in the presidential race:

The Guardian Council is fully responsible for filtering potential candidates and selecting those who they feel fit to run. The Council is composed of six clergymen, who are selected by the Ayatollah himself, and six jurists, selected by the head of the judiciary (also appointed by the Ayatollah). The entire Council is thus essentially appointed by the Supreme Leader and reflects the same fundamental ideals as him: all candidates bear complete loyalty to the Islamic Republic and all of its fundamental assets. Following a three-week campaign period after candidates are announced, voting takes place. If a single candidate does not take a simple majority, then the top two candidates will face off in a runoff election.

Doesn’t seem so egalitarian anymore, does it? With the Supreme Leader virtually controlling all aspects of the elections, up to the voter’s free choice of casting a ballot, the citizens of Iran are no more than spectators trapped in the “Ayatollah Khamenei Show,” starring Khamenei and Khamenei, and featuring Khamenei.

The understanding of the Supreme Leader being the central power holder and final arbiter of Iranian governmental policies is essential to understanding Iranian politics. There has been some jubilance over the fact that Rouhani has promised to give transparency to Iran’s hotly-disputed nuclear program, which will hopefully serve to ease tensions between the country and the rest of the world as well as break Iran free of its international isolation. In February, incumbent Ahmadinejad suggested the national nuclear program may see changes as evidenced by his statement that he would be willing to discuss the program in detail with the United States so as long as the West stopped pressuring the regime. However, the acidic rain of truth pierces umbrella shields of optimism once the realization is made that these statements of hope are emptier than outer space itself. As long as Khamenei remains the final authority on major state decisions, he remains the supreme ringleader of the chaotic circus that is Iranian politics; no vital information regarding the country’s nuclear program will be spilled to the West, and that is final. In terms of Rouhani’s plans to restore basic liberties to the country, being that the current Supreme Leader was the one responsible for the 1979 Islamic Revolution, replacing an autocratic monarchy with largely western ideals with a stringent Islamic theocracy, it seems highly doubtful that the new president elect will be met with success in his quest for social and political reform.

To the Iranian citizenry, I say celebrate now, for it is still too early to tell whether the Angel Rouhani and his plans for reform will fall prisoner to the devilish iron fist of Khamenei. Only time will tell how the new Rouhani-Khamenei dynamic will play out. While the Iranian citizenry initially will almost certainly be met with a minimal degree of improved autonomy and treatment under the new president, as long as Khamenei remains, the streets will continue to be lined with revolutionary guards executing the will of their Supreme Leader. So sit tight, Iran, because things aren’t going to change while Khamenei is still around, and await instead the day the tyrannical leader is succeeded, for only this holds the dawn of a new beginning for the country plagued by an era of dark and oppressive theocratic rule.