President Obama likes to preen himself on his supposed moral superiority to his predecessor. He announced the closing of Guantanamo in his first week on the job (though 10 months on, it remains open) to advertise the new administration's disdain for George Bush's war-fighting tactics. And at every opportunity since, he has stressed that his policies -- on taxes, on the Middle East, on health care, on "man-caused disasters," and on "climate change" -- reflect a more refined and elevated morality than has ever before held sway in Washington, DC.
So you have to wonder how the president slept last Wednesday night.
He has known that critics in the United States regarded his posture toward the Iranian regime as weak. But on Wednesday, he heard this critique from a different quarter -- one that will be more difficult to dismiss.
Every year, on Nov. 4, the anniversary of the day in 1979 when Iranian thugs took American diplomats hostage in Tehran, the government has organized a street demonstration outside the former American embassy. In the early days, the rallies may have engaged a certain number of spontaneous participants, but they have long since become utterly stage-managed government shows. The only people the regime could muster this year to chant "Death to America! Death to Israel!" were non-Iranian members of Hezbollah and students bused in from the provinces for the purpose.
But that wasn't the only demonstration in Tehran that day. Displaying awe-inspiring courage in light of the brutal tactics (including murder) the regime has used to quell opposition, tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets again. Instead of "Death to America," they shouted "Death to the Dictator" referring to Ahmadinejad. And they trampled on photos of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Michael Ledeen, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, reports that demonstrations also erupted in Shiraz, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Zahedan, Arak, Mazandaran, Tabriz, and Rasht. As before, the regime used paramilitary goons on motorcycles to beat, teargas, and bludgeon protestors. And again the regime disrupted cell phone service, text messaging, and the Internet to prevent demonstrators from coordinating their activities.
But this is what should awaken Obama's conscience: The protestors chanted something new this time. As they dodged the blows of the militia, they chorused: "Obama! Obama! Either you're with them or you're with us."