Foreign Policy Coordination

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 1, 2009

Is anyone really supposed to feel good after reading about the way in which the President and the Secretary of State sought to coordinate their language concerning the unrest in Iran?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged President Obama for two days to toughen his language on Iran before he did so, and then was surprised when he condemned Iran’s crackdown on demonstrators last week, administration officials say.

At his June 23 news conference, Mr. Obama said he was “appalled and outraged” by Iranian behavior and “strongly condemned” the violence against anti-government demonstrators. Up until then, Mr. Obama and other administration officials had taken a softer line, expressing “deep concern” about the situation and calling on Iran to “respect the dignity of its own people.”

Behind the scenes, the officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they were discussing internal deliberations, said Mrs. Clinton had been advocating the stronger U.S. response, but the president resisted. When he finally took her advice, the aides said, he did so without informing her first.

This was the first known example of awkwardness between the two former rivals for the Democratic nomination for president since they made up following Mr. Obama’s election. The disagreement also gave some insight into the Obama administration’s foreign policy decision-making process five months into its term.

Events in Iran are on a knife’s edge, and in the Obama Administration, the right hand (such as one exists) does not appear to have any idea what the left hand is doing. I’ve been an advocate of a more forceful response from the Administration concerning the violations of human and political rights in Iran, but if this is the way the Administration is going to address the crisis in Iran, it actually lends credence to the argument that the United States ought not to get involved.

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