Does it really matter that much what Obama says about Iran?

I'm beginning to think that the real Obama effect is the process by which any issue, international or domestic, comes to be discussed primarily in terms of how it relates to the president.

I'm glad Obama publicly stated his support for the protesters in Iran today. It was the right thing to do. But I don't really anticipate either action significantly changing the dynamic of the situation in Iran. It's not as if the demonstrators were waiting for Obama to tell them they are "on the right side of history.” And the Iranian government obviously doesn't really care much about winning Obama's approval.

When Fox News's Major Garett asked Obama "What took you so long?", I had to wonder what he (or John McCain) thinks would have transpired differently if Obama had made a similarly strong-worded statement a week ago. 

I haven't yet seen any indication that the Iranian opposition really wants Obama to say more. Mousavi's international spokesman may have criticized Obama in an interview with FP last week for comparing Mousavi to Ahmadinejad, but he never said that more vigorous support would be welcome, despite how some others have characterized the statement.

The heads of a number of states, including France, Germany, and Canada, have already publicly questioned the elections results and voiced support for the protesters, but I haven't seen any examples of opposition leaders or protesters mentioning this support. 

On the other hand, the argument of Obama's defenders that stronger support would imperil the protesters seems a little unconvincing as well. Iran's leaders have never lacked for pretexts under which to blame foreign meddling for internal dissent. The government was blaming the U.S. for interfering in this election before Obama had said a word. I'm not sure I understand why they're any more or less likely to crack down or make concessions based on what the U.S. president says. 

The fact of the matter is that the United States doesn't have a whole lot of diplomatic leverage or ability to influence what's going on in Iraq right now. The Obama administration still has to face the question of whether the likely fraudulence of Ahmadinejad's victory should change the approach to nuclear negotiations, but that seems like a question that can be addressed down the road. This latest round of the engagement vs. confrontation debate is becoming becomign increasingly tiresome and less pertinent to events outside the beltway. 

(For the record, inviting Iranian diplomats to a White House Fourth of July party is a terrible idea. The White House might not be able to talk the regime out of abusing their own people, but that doesn't mean they should have them over for barbecue.) 


Leaders' Wives Urged to Boycott Berlusconi

The recent hubbub surrounding Silvio Berlusconi is not the first time he has been accused of sexist behavior. The Italian Prime Minister has claimed the opposition "has no taste, not even when it comes to women," appointed several, er, striking, yet politically inexperienced women to ministerial posts, and been caught staring at the legs of the new Miss Italy. Life Magazine captured his reputation well with a gallery entitled "Future Berlusconi Appointees" and filled entirely with Miss Italy winners and Italian Miss World representatives. 

Now, a trio of female academics have called on the wives of G8 leaders to send a message to Berlusconi:

Wives of the world leaders due to attend next month’s G8 summit in Italy should boycott the meeting because of Silvio Berlusconi’s “sexist” and “offensive” attitude to women, a group of Italian female academics has said.

A number of wives, including Sarah Brown and Michelle Obama, are to join their husbands at the summit, although the wife of the Italian Prime Minister will not be hosting as she is seeking a divorce[...]

In the first sign of a public reaction against the stories of scores of young models attending parties thrown by the Prime Minister, 72, three social sciences academics have written an “Appeal to the First Ladies” and claim to have garnered “hundreds of signatures” in support of the letter.

“We are profoundly indignant, as women employed in the world of universities and culture, at the way in which the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi treats women both in public and in private,” the letter reads.

Though such a boycott will not happen, it would be a powerful statement. Still, I do have to ask: why are the wives expected to attend in the first place? As Dana Goldstein pointed out, neither Mr. Angela Merkel nor Mr. Cristina Kirchner went to April's G20 meeting, yet all 18 wives attended. If those two find summits not worth their time, then surely the wives can find a more productive way to spend three days than making nice for the camera.

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images