“No plan survives first contact with the enemy” – Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
A few years ago when I was younger, I used to get together with some guys from work and church to play pickup football on Saturday mornings. The games weren’t any great spectacle of athletic prowess, and we often had to scrape to get enough to play four-on-four. But, we had fun.
One Saturday though, everything fell in line and we had the numbers to make a big game of it. We must’ve had 18 guys, and some of the better athletes we were ever going to hope to have. In a tongue-in-cheek reference, I sent out an email to the guys calling it “the game of the century.”
The game did not go well. On the second play, one of the guys twisted his ankle fairly seriously. A few plays later, another guy broke a finger. It’s here that things got awful. Not with the game, it was fine. What was awful was the fact that I didn’t offer to take the guy with the broken finger to the hospital. I really wanted to play the game – we finally had a good set of players. He walked home (it was about 1/4 mile) and then had his wife take him to the hospital. It still bothers me.
Sometimes we work things out in our heads well in advance of events. When they go other-than-planned we have a tough time changing course. Don’t get me wrong, having a plan, or call it a “vision” even, is a good thing. But being beholden to it in the face of doing “the right thing” is untennable. To do so is putting our hopes, dreams, desires, or goals above truth, justice, and compassion – and places our will above God’s.
For the last few posts we’ve offered some mild commentary on the tensions between North and South Korea, and our hope that the North will soon see freedom. North Korea is one of President Bush’s three-member axis of evil. The first, Iraq, has fallen. It is the other one, Iran, where I conjecture that my football tale has relevance.
In June of 2009, Iran held presidential “elections.” We use the ubiquitous “scare quotes” to indicate that Iran is really ruled by a theocracy that can invalidate election results any time it wants to and chooses the nominees itself; and the position of Supreme Leader is never up for public election. The electoral process in Iran is apparently not beyond reproach, and the results showing a victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were quickly challenged and protested.
The protests raged for days and then weeks. It seemed as though the resistance was gaining steam and the broad public dissatisfaction with theocratic rule was about to boil over. It is at this point that the part of the US came into play. We could have made bold and clear statements such as “we stand with the protesters and against tyranny.” Such a statement from the world’s lone remaining superpower may just have carried the day. We didn’t do that, of course. Instead President Obama said that we didn’t want “to be seen as meddling.” He said that US involvement would not be “productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations.” And finally, he offered that Iran’s electoral process “is something ultimately for the Iranian people to decide.” (Let me translate all of these: “If you’re in the resistance – you’re on your own.”)
Since that time, conservative commentators have made a number of arguments as to why President Obama responded this way – a few of which I will recapture here and then I will offer my own plausible explanation. The crackpot radical theory is that Obama is a closet Muslim and wants a nuclear Iran so the Arab world can throw off US-Israeli dominance. (I don’t buy this.) The “elitist-progressives are all alike” theory is that Obama actually wants a nuclear Iran not to demolish Israel, but rather to serve as a counterbalance. That somehow this is all a massive realpolitik play. (Plausible, but I’m still not buying.) The “Oliver Twist” theory is that China didn’t want any destabilization in Iran, its major supplier of oil, and the US cannot stand up to Chinese pressure on such issues. Also very plausible. Then there is the “Obama is Jimmy Carter II” theory that Obama, like Carter, has never met a despot he didn’t like and gladly rushed to Ahmadenijad’s defense.
To these I’ll add another theory, called “Obama can’t get past himself.” When Barack Obama came into office he began a massive push to reach out to the Muslim and Arab world. On June 4 of 2009, 12 days prior to the Iranian election, he had made a speech at Cairo university in which he made great overtures as a new-kind-of-president that would deal “fairly” with the Arab world. In his head, I think he probably had the whole thing scoped out. First we will give a “let’s be friends” speech – coupled with some “George Bush sucks” comments thrown in for humor. Next we’ll continue to befriend these Arab and Muslim dictatorships to show them that America isn’t just an Israeli puppet. Once we’ve got the goodwill firmly ensconced, they’ll change. Ahmadenijad will stop being hostile, as will the Saudis, Syrians, and many others. After that, a peace treaty will be easy enough to procure between Israel and the Palestinians, and Obama will be the president that finally brought mideast peace. An uprising in Iran to overthrow the “mad mullahs” before they’ve had a chance to realize what a good guy Obama is does not fit into this plan. So, we distanced ourselves from the protesters and gave Ahmadenijad what he needed to stay in power. When a prime target-of-opportunity presented itself, we were not able to go for it because we already had a plan and wanted it to work.
Now, I don’t know what the President’s pipe dreams for dealing with North Korea entail. I would imagine they don’t have anything to do with convincing Kim Jong-Il that we’re OK and he can lay down his arms. I would certainly hope though that if an opportunity were to present itself, we would not shy away as we did in Iran.