by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

It must have been the viewing angle: The despots who run Iran somehow missed the halo gracing President Obama during his recent sermon to the Muslim world.

The ruling mullahs’ contemptuous handling of Iran’s presidential election was their response to “the Cairo effect” announced a tad prematurely by the White House.

Our president’s public flagellation of America only emboldened the junta in Tehran — leaving Iran’s power brokers more defiant, determined and dismissive than they’ve been in years.

And the strongest response Obama can muster to the blood in Tehran’s streets is: “I am deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television.” How bold, how manly, how inspiring . . .

Our president’s speechwriters made the same mistake no end of diplomats and pundits made before them: They didn’t pause to consider the enemy’s viewpoint. Like Obama himself, they didn’t bother trying to understand the mullahs’ logic for acting as they do.

Obama believed that his rhetoric would change the strategic environment — and his White House apostles wasted no time before declaring that his Cairo speech was responsible for Hezbollah’s electoral setback in Lebanon a few days later.

Then administration spokespersons panted to take credit for the “inevitable” election of Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran. But the men who run Iran didn’t play along: Every Basij (regime-thug) baton cracking a demonstrator’s skull in Tehran is a — distinctly clenched — fist shoved in Obama’s face.

Mousavi may have won the most votes: Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad probably didn’t receive the landslide majority announced two hours after the polls closed — in a country that’s barely progressed beyond the abacus. We’ll never know the real tally of ballots.

Now we have the cynical charade of a “review” of the election results by the Iranian authorities. (The Persian cat really enjoys toying with the mice.)

But the point really isn’t whom the voters chose. It’s that Iran’s entrenched interests read Obama’s meant-to-be-conciliatory remarks as a confession of weakness, a signal that the United States is at the end of its strategic rope.

The result was that the mullahs and state corporatists no longer saw a need to play pretend. Bush worried them. Obama doesn’t. They judged, correctly, that Washington wouldn’t so much as issue a tough-minded statement in response to this mockery of an election. And they were right.

For its part, the administration appears stunned, still unable to believe that its self-abasement toward the Middle East didn’t inaugurate the Age of Aquarius.

Well, consider the view from Tehran (or from Qom, Iran’s religious capital): Improved relations with the United States would rob the religious junta of the justification for much of what it does, from looting the country in the name of righteousness to pursuing nuclear weapons.

The rulers in Tehran need us as an enemy (along with Israel). A demonized foe is essential to their grip on power. And all that rhetoric about the impending end of time and the return of the Hidden Imam? A key faction — which includes President Ahmadinejad — believes it.

Of course, a president who feels that one religion’s as easy to disbelieve in as another can’t fathom the depths of faith in a Muslim fanatic any more than he can grasp the benign devotion of an American Roman Catholic, Baptist or Jew.

Ahmadinejad believes that his faith alone will rule after the any-day-now apocalypse. Obama believes in . . . Obama.

This is not an even match, folks. No man preoccupied with his personal destiny can beat the man ablaze with revelation: This contest features the carnival barker vs. the suicide bomber.

My money’s on Ahmadinejad, not Obama, to trigger change in the Middle East. And it’ll be change you can believe in.

Meanwhile, the Saudis, our paramount enemies, just sit back and smirk after making a court eunuch of yet another American president. The stillborn hopes of greater freedom lie buried in the sand.

Obama’s penitential Cairo sermon betrayed those Middle Easterners who embraced our ideals, who struggled for human rights and democracy, suffering prison, torture and death. Perceived as a confession of weakness and guilt, Obama’s rhetoric electrified our enemies.

There has been a “Cairo effect.” We just saw it. In Iran.

Now we face our bloodiest year in Afghanistan. Iraq’s exciting progress has ground to a halt. All Palestinian factions just rejected an attempted opening by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And al Qaeda has awakened from its coma.

The desert’s a lousy place to walk on water. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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