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Powerline links to The Washington Times for the story.

Vietnam's "hidden" war on Christianity just rumbles along, and on March 13, the communist authorities demolished one of the first Christian churches built in Vietnam's Central Highlands. While religious persecution is nothing new to Vietnam, the significance of this demolition is particularly symbolic because the church was more than a historical landmark. The large stone Church at Buon Ma Thuot for the last 34 years had been deliberately closed by Vietnam's security police, and yet, all those years, the church remained a powerful symbol to the local indigenous Christians. Unfortunately, the church was also an unwelcome reminder for the communists who had murdered a number of Christian missionaries near the grounds in 1968, and a reminder of the very movement the government is trying to eliminate. This movement, so hated by Hanoi, is nothing other than "independent" Christian house churches.

The story also reminds us that our abandonmnt of South Vietnam meant abandonment of our Montagnard allies to the tender mercies of the victorious North Vietnamese.
Quoting the President of the United States, Barack Obama. from his press briefing today:

"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days."

"I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost."

"In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests of justice. Despite the Iranian government's efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers. And so we've watched what the Iranian people are doing."

"We've seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence. We've seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard.

"Above all, we've seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we've experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history."

"If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion. That's what Iran's own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government."


While I have not had time to go through the entirety of the press conference, in my mind, there is no question that this is a strong condemnation of the Iranian government from the President of the United States. It is much more in line with what I was craving over the past few days. In fact, it is a wonderfully penetrating critique. I would be a hypocritical ingrate not to acknowledge and appreciate this gesture.

Having said that, I have a few admittedly impertinent questions:

1. Does the President still entertain delusions that we can negotiate with these people?

2. I first READ online those first few graphs concerning Iran--and I punched my fist in the air a couple of times. YEAH BABY! SOLIDARITY! Then I caught the video and watched him deliver those lines. LACKLUSTER. Will the President ever register a similar contempt in his voice for the brutal and oppressive Iranian regime that he regularly musters for the Republican opposition and the previous administration? The words were adequate--but where was the emotion? The outrage? Was his heart really in this?

Blasting an anti-U.S. power just seems to go against his basic wiring. The closest he gets to real pique is when he chastises the Iranians for employing the "tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries." My hunch is that this staple of Obama speak proved close enough to his regular stump speech against the GOP that it activated some muscle memory impulse of manifested ire. Otherwise, he never really gets up a full head of steam until he starts talking about the impending showdown over health care and mendacious insurance companies who have erroneously charged that government has a history of inefficiency. Now there's some real dastardly behavior that the President can sink his teeth into.
The invitation to Iranian diplomats to celebrate the 4th of July with us is still on. From the State Department transcript of today's press conference. Full transcript.

QUESTION: This isn’t a frivolous question, really. Do you think it’s still appropriate to have Iranians come to these July 4th parties under the circumstances? I mean, is there any thought being given to like, rescinding invitations?

MR. KELLY: No, there’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats.

QUESTION: It’s appropriate to have a social dialogue with them if they come?

MR. KELLY: Well, we have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran, and we tried many years of isolation and we’re pursuing a different path now.

The Obama Adminstration is absolutely flat on its feet in responding to the ongoing crisis in Iran. The regime is openly crushing its own people, and we are inviting tyrants to watch fireworks on the 4th.

Reaction has started around the conservative blogosphere.
1. I am not convinced that the recent election in Iran was "stolen." First of all, Iranian elections are NOT "free" elections (as we generally understand that notion). As a result of the unorthodox nature of an Iranian canvass, it is nearly impossible to obtain much perspective on what exactly happened there. Moreover, there was some polling prior to voting that indicated incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad really was the overwhelming choice of the electorate. Evidently, there is a very large constituency of hardliners in the Iranian electorate who are just as nutty as their fearless leader. Maybe he really won. Maybe he cheated. Who knows? Does it matter? Not Really. Why?

2. Whether the election was stolen is beside the point for at least two reasons.

--The president of the Islamic Republic of Iran is a position of very limited authority. Under the Iranian constitution, the Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has final authority over all internal and foreign policies (including the judicial system), control of all of the armed forces (internal and external), and control of all state media. Khamenei has served as Supreme Leader since 1989, when he replaced the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (remember him?), whose term commenced with the Revolution he orchestrated (1979), and lasted until his death in 1989. There are no popular elections or term limits for the Supreme Leader. Get the picture?

--Just as there is very little significance to the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is very little difference between the incumbent and the chief challenger. Mir Hossein Mousavi is not the Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel of Iran (at least not until this election).

So, who cares if an election for an office that has little meaning--between two Mullah-approved candidates who do not differ in any significant way--was stolen?

What is important?

3. The West is seeing the real Iran. George Bush and his 2002 "Axis of Evil" declaration seems much less kooky this summer. It will be exceedingly hard to refer to Iran as the "Islamic Republic" without irony ever again.

4. Even More Important: Right now, the election is NOT the thing. Right now, the Revolution is the thing. Regardless of whether the election was legitimate or fraudulent, the Islamic Republic of Iran is at a crossroads. Ironically, it does not take a majority to have a democratic revolution. You will recall the famous observation from John Adams in which he estimated that 1/3 of the colonists were for revolution, 1/3 were loyal to the Crown, and 1/3 were waiting to see which way the wind blew.

Revolutions are often accomplished with an inspired or infuriated coterie of believers, while the vast majority of citizens stand on the sidelines agape. There is almost certainly a city-country divide here (conservatives versus moderns). This may be much more of a "Tehranian" Revolt than a greater Iranian Revolution. However, that may not be so important. Something may be happening here that has very little to do with the late election or the will of the majority—but that does not mean that this massive action might not be the beginning of transformation.

What Should Obama Do?

5. To an extent, I am NOT completely disgusted with the President's response (or lack of response). In fact, I am glad he did not stake American prestige on an assertion that the election was rigged. As I say, I am not sure anybody knows that right now—or will ever know.

The silence on the unrest is more problematic. On one hand, the traditional saber-rattling and gnashing of teeth on the part of the United States in these situations is never determinative. We huff and puff--but we never blow anybody's house down. In a way, the President's decision NOT to employ that set piece of American foreign policy is somewhat refreshing. It is something of a relief to admit that we are merely bystanders in this internal Iranian drama.

On the other hand, it feels a bit un-American not to cheer on a people's revolution in the heart of an oppressive regime hostile to the United States. We love this kind of thing. We have rhetorically supported the fight for liberty in places all over the globe for more than two-hundred years. We should also note that we have myriad evidence that statements of support provide much appreciated comfort to the lonely dissident.

It really says something about the President that his heart does not override his rigorous New Left intellectual training. Once again, Barack Obama Americanism is almost the polar opposite of the flag-waving Reaganesque patriotism conservatives like me love so much.
Both Farmer and I have posted on Obama's Cairo speech.

As I read it, I was jarred by some of the historical assertions, but had other fish to fry and did not pursue all of them. For example, Obama credited Islamic civilization for printing and for the compass. My memory said that China usually is credited. Someone has now done the checking and Gateway Pundit has the story. The comments also contain much good information.

Bottom line: Obama's speechwriters need a better researcher. Many of these historical assertions are wrong, others are dubious. I wonder what CNN's reaction would have been had GWB given this speech?
A Tale of Two Speeches

I watched President Obama this morning at Colleville-Sur-Mer (and I have read the text of his remarks once through). It was an adequate speech. The President appeared stately and properly reverent behind his teleprompters. He hit the requisite notes in praise of bravery and sacrifice.

Having said that, it is safe to predict that no one will ever place this address on a "Barack Obama's Greatest Hits" ipod collection. For me , the remarks were not especially resonant. He did not "hook" me--as he so often does when operating at full power.

But, then, of course, there is a gold standard by which all D-Day remembrances should and will be judged--and, through the magic of the internet, that shining moment in presidential oratory is everywhere you look this morning: Ronald Reagan's outstanding 40th Anniversary commemoration to "the Boys of Pointe du Hoc" and the fight for democracy.

If you have not seen it lately (watch it here via RCP and courtesy of the Reagan Library). Watch it. Seriously.

It is easy to forget the majesty of Reagan. It is easy to forget the dignity of the man. It is easy to forget that he did not work off a teleprompter. Rather, he carried the text of his speeches on 3X5 cards, which he would transport in the front pocket of his suit coat. It is easy to forget the passion with which he delivered a speech about the United States of America and the larger fight for human freedom.

Along with individual bravery and collective sacrifice from the democratic nations of the world, Ronald Reagan suggested strongly that the hand of Providence affected the outcome of the Longest Day. He unabashedly seemed to believe that God was on our side. Without apology or equivocation, he boldly asserted that the United States was on the side of the angels in 1944 and 1984.

It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

Barack Obama also emphasized individuals coming together to stand up to EVIL embodied in an "ideology sought to subjugate, humiliate, and exterminate...and perpetrate murder on a massive scale, fueled by a hatred of those who were deemed different and therefore inferior."

But he stopped short of drawing too many grand conclusions. The meaning of D-Day?

For you remind us that in the end, human destiny is not determined by forces beyond our control. You remind us that our future is not shaped by mere chance or circumstance. Our history has always been the sum total of the choices made and the actions taken by each individual man or woman. It has always been up to us.

Yes we can?

In the end, RR placed the great challenge of his time, the Cold War, in the context of a long and righteous struggle for freedom. BHO, on the other hand, alludes to but fails to identify the "hardships and struggles of our time," and he consciously avoids any macro value judgments about righteousness.

To put it mildly, these two leaders perceive their respective historical moments in fundamentally different ways.
Here is the full text of Obama's Cairo speech. I want to look at a few falsehoods in this speech, and ask the question if perhaps they may be useful.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

"Mutual respect." Islam (meaning here the Q'uran and the sayings of Mohammad) does not teach mutual respect between Muslims and non-Muslims. Instead, Muslims are to make no friends from among those on the outside, and are to view those on the outside as being in the Realm of War, adversaries to be converted or conquered.

"progress" Islam, by its nature tends to be backward looking. The life of Mohammad, and the first Muslim society created during Mohammad's lifetime, are regarded as the exemplars of human life for all time. Historically, Islamic societies have not been at the forefront of modern science and technology.

"tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." No, Islam does not teach this. Muslims and Muslim society is held to be superior. Christians and Jews are "People of the Book," but within Islamic society are to have a circumscribed existence as dhimmis--second-class citizens with fewer privileges and a special tax. Others, pagans or Hindus, have roles as either converts or slaves (or dead). Although during Islamic rule in India Hindus were given a dhimmi status. Also, Islam, from the Q'uran forward, stresses male-superiority and female inferiority.

Are these useful falsehoods? Maybe. But only to Muslim audiences, if and only if, they can be persuasive to Muslims who wish to remake their religion. For Westeners these falsehoods are dangerous since they confuse our view of the historical reality.

"As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam - at places like Al-Azhar University - that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality."

"The light of learning" was taken over from the Greeks as Islamic forces conquered the Greek and Christian Byzantine Empire, not generated by Muslims. We also should give credit to the refugee scholars from conquered areas who migrated to the West, especially after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

"Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality." No it has not. See above on the relation taught, and practiced between Muslims and non-Muslims. Regarding race, Muslim societies normally have looked to black Africa for their slaves. Arabs today tend to look down upon blacks.

"I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers - Thomas Jefferson - kept in his personal library."

"Treaty of Tripoli in 1796" was negotiated after the siezures of American ships in the Mediterranean by the Barbary States. The treaty was broken by these states which led to the armed conflict between the U.S. and these piratical regimes. When John Adams wrote, the U.S. had no hostile designes on any powers in the Old World that would leave us alone.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

See above. Indonesia in the days Obama was there was a different sort of place. The Islam of Indonesia was fairly tolerant not because it was true to its Islamic roots, but because it ignored them. Syncretism and coexistence are a departure from traditional Islam, and the Islamic revival today in Indonesia in returning to the roots of Islam is resulting in far less syncretism and tolerance.

I second Farmer in noting that there is much in this speech that is very good. But, I also believe that truth is the only way forward.
Off the top of my head:

When Texas A&M plays my beloved Baylor Bears, I am completely comfortable demonstrating my frothing hatred for the dreadful Aggies. When A&M plays Missouri or Nebraska, I almost always root for the Aggies. When A&M plays Ohio State, I love the Aggies.

When a sitting President of the United States travels to a foreign land and delivers a speech on behalf of US, regardless of party affiliation, I am totally "USA! USA! USA!" I just can't help myself.

AND THIS PRESIDENT CAN DELIVER A SPEECH!!! Hot damn, son, you really did sell your soul to the Devil.

Of course, not everyone agrees. When GMA asked conservative commentator Sean Hannity for his immediate reaction this morning following the speech, Hannity recited the same criticism he delivered on his radio show yesterday afternoon in advance of the speech (virtually word for word). Suffice it say that the President's address did not change Hannity's mind.

Some thoughts:

1. I have said similar things before, but thus far this president is absolutely stellar at representing the United States of America. He is suave and articulate. He exudes confidence and style. He fully comprehends the potent symbolism of a President of the United States traveling abroad. On a purely superficial level, he is Reagan-like in his capacity to command the world stage.

2. The content of this speech was almost identical to the policies of the last administration. Nothing new here. Aside from the perhaps gratuitous admission of "torture," followed by a quasi justification-slash-apology for the practice, George Bush or Condi Rice could have given this speech.

An Aside: having said that, I have no doubt that Barack Obama forever will be known in popular history as the president who first suggested a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. So it goes.

3. It is good for American presidents to go through the motions of articulating a rational case for peace and goodwill in front of audiences traditionally hostile to those public virtues. Based on past performance, it seems unlikely that his eloquence will transform the hearts and minds of the Middle East. Time will tell. But anything is possible. Stranger things have happened. There are other forces at work (some of them set in motion by the previous administration) that may combine to form a "complicated web of contingency" that moves history.

4. Good Cop; Bad Cop. With a few exceptions, American foreign policy since World War II has remained essentially consistent over time regardless of presidential elections. In terms of goals and interests, very little has changed since January 20th. However, this president has the advantage of being a very popular and charismatic president following a president who lacked those assets. We will have to wait and see how President Obama makes use of these slightly improved circumstances.

One thing worth noting: his adoring audience in Cairo went wild when he told them what they wanted to hear (America and Israel were not without faults)--but there was a deafening silence in the auditorium when he explained how they could be the "change they sought." This president has his work cut out for him. But I wish him well.

BOTTOM LINE: big political triumph for the President (at least in the short term).