Silver linings are deceptive and often hard to find, but that might be a tiny sliver of silver in that dark cloudbank over Iran. Barack Obama got notice from the election results that his tongue, golden and honeyed though it may be, is no match for reality.
If Iranian voters had thrown Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the street, the American president would have assumed that he was the One who did it, and the American press would have led the hosannas for the messiah from the south side of Chicago. Just a few more speeches, a few more respectful bows toward Mecca, and all the rough places would be made smooth and plain. But now even Mr. Obama must wake up and smell the tear gas.
The prospect that a victory by the Iranian moderates would cure what's wrong in the Middle East was a hookah dream from the start, a tale of the Arabian night indulged by those unable to bear the sight, sound and responsibility posed by reality. Iran is not ruled by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but by the head ayatollah, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and his pigsty of brutal mullahs. Mr. Ahmadinejad never misses an opportunity to pay craven tribute to these unelected agents of harsh Islamic rule, always with a bending of the knee and a kiss for every outstretched holy hand.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the current object of Western desire, put up the brave fight and now puts up a brave loser's front, stiff upper lip and all that. But he's under virtual house arrest as thousands of his supporters continue to throng the streets, screaming and vowing never to recognize a suspect verdict. He was reduced Monday to begging the mullahs to issue a fatwa decreeing that Mr. Ahmadinejad is not really the president, and asking the chief ayatollah to change his mind. He wants the government to dismiss the results and call a new election. All that, and a lollipop, too.
The election results, together with the high probability that the result was tinkered with if not rigged, and the cops and troops controlling the streets with clubs and tear gas suggest that, surprise, surprise, Mr. Ahmadinejad is getting away with it. From the capitals of the West, there was mostly spluttering and whining. The French foreign minister said the treatment of the demonstrators was "somewhat brutal," the operative word apparently the "somewhat," and the German government said the Tehran reaction was "unacceptable," which is diplo-speak for, "is there any more tea?"
There was all but silence from the White House, where Mr. Obama said he was pleased with the "robust debate" in Iran, proving only that he's easily pleased and eager to get back to what he does best, wrapping appeasement of the enemy in the sticky warmth of mere words. The "robust debate" Mr. Obama admired featured the opposition candidate smeared as both inspired by Hitler and a creature of the Jews, with skeptical newspapers shut down and Internet sites closed. Foreign observers were forbidden to watch and listen to the "robust debate." Given that nobody voted secretly voters are easily identified and the naughty ones often punished the 33 percent who voted for the opposition were brave, indeed.
Joe Biden, our long-missing veep, complains that "we just don't know enough," which is business as usual for good ol' Joe. (Nobody ever tells him anything.) "Is this the result of the Iranian people's wishes?" he asks. "The hope is that the Iranian people, all their votes have been counted, they've been counted fairly." Well, yes, we can all hope that.
But Mr. Obama will have to do better than admire "robust debate" and hope that once the evildoers hear the sound of his voice they will straighten up and fly right. Iranians, like everybody else, have a right to elect whomever they want, and even to steal elections without outside interference. The reality that President Obama must deal with goes beyond whether the election was free and fair. The mullahs who guide the hand of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have made it abundantly clear that they have an agenda, and intend to enforce it with the clenched fist Mr. Obama imagines he can unclench with a teleprompter.
Some people in the West particularly in Washington are tempted to dismiss the Iranian president as a clown and a fool, given to writing checks ("Israel must be wiped off the map") he could never cash. But these skeptics are the fools. President Obama must now rise to the occasion to deal with Iran as it is, and not as he wishes it to be. This is the job he said he wanted.