Throughout the Arab Spring, just like Carter during the hostage crisis, Obama has reiterated his and America's respect for Muslims' beliefs instead of focusing on the strategic threats posed by the rise of Islamism. And just as Carter advocated a largely passive and reactive approach to the hostage crisis, so has the Obama administration toward the Middle East. One of Iran's leading strategists recently noted the "current passive climate in the US". This passivity also underlies Obama's policy of "leading from behind" on the Arab Spring. For example, Obama finally took a position on the revolution in Tunisia on the day that the country's president was ousted.
The second critical parallel between the Iranian hostage crisis and the Arab Spring is a failure to understand what the revolutions are about. Despite protestations from such figures as the renowned Orientalist Bernard Lewis, Carter wanted to trust Khomeini, and failed to understand what the hostages eventually did: that tough talk, not appeasement, was more helpful in resolving the crisis. Above all, the Carter administration stubbornly believed that it was the Shah's presence in the US that was angering the Iranians, and hoped that his death in mid-1980 would bring an end to the crisis. It didn't. The hostages remained in captivity.
Obama has demonstrated comparable ignorance and wishful thinking. His administration has failed to recognise that terms such as "democracy" and "oppression" mean very different things to the Arab protesters who utilise them. As the National Review's Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, the demonstrations are against the secular regimes' repression not of the people, but of Islam. And yet, even as the Arab Spring began to look, as Blum puts it, more like the Iranian revolution than the American one, National Intelligence director James Clapper still considered the Muslim Brotherhood to be "largely secular" and, hoping to cooperate with the group, American diplomats, as well as Senator John Kerry, met Brotherhood officials. Carter himself travelled to revolutionary Egypt and welcomed the news that Obama would recognise the Brotherhood's impending electoral victory, in contrast to President Bush's refusal to recognise Hamas when it won the 2006 Palestinian Authority election.
During the recent demonstrations, ostensibly provoked by a video of a film on the Prophet Muhammad posted on the internet, the Obama administration went as far as to spend $70,000 on advertisements in Pakistan to repudiate the film. But just as the American embassy in Iran had been attacked on the 15th anniversary of the exile of Ayatollah Khomeini by the Shah, so the recent attack on the American embassy in Egypt and the terrorist attack on the consulate in Libya fell on the anniversary of 9/11. The video was merely the pretext, and apologies are as counter-productive now as they were in the past.
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