Friday, January 17, 2014

What Happens in the Middle East Stays in the Middle East

    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked this week about the Obama administration's reaction to Iran's foreign minister laying a wreath at the tomb of an infamous Hezbollah terrorist in Beruit, Lebanon.  In response, Carney quoted the statement issued by National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden:
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’d say a couple things.  On the matter of the Iranian foreign minister honoring Imad Mugniyah, the United States condemns the decision taken by the Iranian foreign minister to place a wreath at the grave of a former leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah responsible for heinous acts of terrorism that killed hundreds of innocent people, including Americans.  The inhumane violence that Mugniyah perpetrated and that Lebanese Hezbollah continues to perpetrate in a region with Iran’s financial and materiel support has had profoundly destabilizing and deadly effects for Lebanon and the region.
The decision to commemorate an individual who has participated in such vicious acts and whose organization continues to actively support terrorism worldwide sends the wrong message and will only exacerbate tensions in the region....
    But then Carney went further to put the incident in the context of the administration's current diplomatic engagement with Iran:
So our disposition has not changed on these matters.  And that's why it’s so important to be clear that the actions that Iran takes, the steps it takes to either comply with or not comply with commitments it makes are what we judge Iran by -- not by statements meant for a domestic audience or by promises rather than action.  So we’re going to press forward. 
    Notice two things in Carney's response.
    First, there is the odd wording of Hayden which Carney quoted: "the United States condemns the decision taken ... to place a wreath..."  Why "condemn the decision" as opposed to condemning the action itself?  The administration is finding fault with Iran's decision-making process first and foremost that "sends the wrong message" rather than its commemoration of a dead terrorist responsible for the deaths of scores of Americans and others.
    Second is Carney's assertion that the United States does not judge Iran "by statements meant for a domestic audience."  Carney seems to be implying that the wreath laying was meant for domestic consumption in Iran and the broader Arab Middle East, and that the Obama administration is not going to judge Iran on such things, but only on actions specifically related to the recently announced nuclear deal.
    The unconscionable action of the Iranian foreign minister demanded unequivocal condemnation by the United States and perhaps even that the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism be made to pay a price for pouring salt in decades-old wounds.  Instead, Iran was criticized for bad PR.  For years, the enemies of Israel and the U.S. have had one message (in English) for the West, and another (in Arabic) for domestic audiences.  The Obama administration essentially reminded Iran to stick to the script.

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