The third issue on which Obama will need to choose is Iran. Earlier this year he set a deadline of September for the beginning of talks with Iran. Presumably he thought the mullahs would become convinced of his good will by now and that the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York would be a venue for talks.
But the popular opposition to the rigged Iranian elections in June and the internal turmoil within the mullah regime make it unlikely that Obama will have any reliable negotiating partner. And as George Perkovich of the dovish Carnegie Endowment says, "The Iranians show no sign that they're going to be genuinely prepared to negotiate." They're more interested in getting nukes than in getting to yes, even with a president with an Arabic middle name.
A failure to engage the Iranians will probably not enrage the American left, which tends to see the United States as a bad actor in need of behavior adjustment, rather than a rogue regime like Iran's. But it does raise the awful question, which George W. Bush passed on to Obama, of how to prevent this murderous regime from obtaining and using nuclear weapons.
Septembers often present difficult challenges for leaders. Sept. 11, 2001, transformed and defined George W. Bush's presidency. September 2008 gave us the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the near-collapse of the financial system and the beginning of a deep economic recession. Obama met that challenge better than his rival candidate John McCain by remaining calm, sounding reasonable and cooperating as a minor player with those who were making the difficult decisions.
That won't be enough this September. "To govern is to choose," John Kennedy said, and Barack Obama is going to have to make some tough choices this month -- choices that could antagonize his left-wing base.
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