The Last Time We Faced A Situation…

…like “we” face in Iran, I was in high school.  The people of Poland – Slavic, but very westernized; devoutly religious, but with a small-“l” liberal history; communist for a generation, but against the will of most of the people; a vassal state subservient to a nation most Poles hated with a viscerality that’d curl most Americans’ nose hair – were demonstrating, and eventually rioting, for freedom.

Like the Iranian people, the Poles were ruled with an iron fist by a despotic ruling clicque that was unpopular withthe people – but the people only had so much say in matters.  The candidates in their “elections” were carefully vetted by the rulers; those that stepped out of line – foreigners or domestics – were jailed and harassed.  Assemblies of dissidents were attacked by gangs of government goons; Iranians are besieged by Basiji, Poles were pummeled by the ZOMO.

Of course, historical parallels are an intoxicating mirage; they’re almost inevitably a small island of attention-getting, synchronous factors among a sea of differences.

One key difference:  There was, in Poland, one institution standing between the demonstrators and the Russians; one institution whose focus was more nationalistic than on the ideology (whether communist or western), that could step in to buffer the Polish state from suffering what the Czechs did in 1967, and the Hungarians in 1956 (and it seems hard to believe that more time has passed since the Solidarnosci era than passed between Budapest and Gdansk). The Polish Army – subservient to the Soviets, but with a long history of Polish nationalism – stepped in and ruled the country as a de facto military dictatorship until Communism started to crumble; like Franco’s rule in Spain, it arguably prevented a much worse Communist takeover, and – again, arguably – paved the way for Poland’s relatively stable democracy.

There is, to my knowledge, no such force in Iran today.  The Shah actually built the Iranian Army to fill that role, thirty-odd years ago; it seems likely the mullahs have purged any such impulses from the military.   Indeed, the Iran/Iraq war served much the same purposes for rulers on both sides; Hussein and Khomeini used the war to affirm their respective grips on power.

And on the other side?  After the 1980 elections, Ronald Reagan led an unlikely coalition to covertly smuggle aid to the Polish labor movement; Margaret Thatcher worked with NATO to set up the pipeline; Pope John Paul II, nee Karol Wojtyla, a Pole, openly used the Catholic Church (to which over 90% of Poles belong) to subvert the communists, and surreptitiously made it part of the underground railroad of covert aid; Layne Kirkland of the AFL-CIO – nominally a sworn political enemy of Reagan’s – made the union contacts that closed the circle and got the money through.

Aid came from all over, thirty years ago; foundations sprang up to scour for donations big (the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters) and small (I ponied up $20) to send to the Polish workers.

But George W. Bush, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, did no such thing (according to Michael Ledeen) to get aid to the Iranian labor movement, and Obama seems unlikely to start.  Indeed,what precious little Bush seems to have earmarked to support democracy in Iran may have been erased.
And when it was time for an American president to call the despots’ bluff?

One American president went to Communism’s front door and threw down:

Does anyone see Barack Obama calling a dictator’s bluff?

Don’t get me wrong; the time isn’t always right for all of the actions above.  Had Reagan given the same speech at the Brandenburg Gate in, say, 1981, it would have been a very different thing.

But can anyone imagine Barack Obama going to the Brandenburg Gate and saying anything other than “present”?

Can you imagine him challenging the mullahs like that?

Convince me.

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28 thoughts on “The Last Time We Faced A Situation…

  1. Challenge them? He wants to sit down to tea with them. This is the guy that bowed to King Abdullah, after all.

  2. Iran already rebelled against the superpower controlling it through an autocratic, out-of-touch puppet. That was in 1979. History doesn’t give President Obama a whole lot of moral highground from which to declaim “Mr. Ahmadinejad, tear down that mosque!”

    In contrast, when Solidarity took over the Gdansk Shipyard late in the Carter administration, Poland and America had a shared enmity toward the Soviet Union. There were lots of people of Polish ancestry in the U.S. (in the lightbulb screwing-in and submarine screen door industries, for example). And Poles were much more openly religious than any of the countries behind the Iron Curtain, which gave them additional ties to Rome and to Catholics in the West. Not to mention to a set of religious values that run contrary to communism.

    In addition, freedom in the Eastern Bloc was aligned with America’s national interest and was supported by all U.S. presidents from Truman through Carter and Reagan. (The brief hiccup of Gerald Ford’s clueless 1976 debate performance notwithstanding.) As with many of his successes, Reagan was in the right place at the right time with the right script. There are few useful parallels to the current situation in Iran.

  3. By the way, I see you’re still working the “present” meme. Mitch. Much as Roosh can’t seem to do any better than “teleprompter.” Considering the guy has bailed out Wall Street and nationalized a couple car companies in just half a year, Angryclown would think you could do a little better.

    I know you guys like to root against America when you’re party is out of power (ridiculously so at the moment). But maybe you could find some more plausible way to trash the country and it’s elected leader? Keep working on it!

  4. Clown,

    There are a few good points buried in there. The US underwrote the Shah, whose biggest mistake was…acting like a totalitarian. Not just “bringing” change to Iran, but forcing it. To the extent the US was linked to the Shah’s excesses, you have a point.

    But there’s at least a fair sense that much of main-street Iran understands the difference between “the shah” and “the west”. Michael Ledeen’s spent quite a lot of time writing about this. I’ve interviewed him twice; it’s interesting, sobering (for some of the reasons you bring up, AC) and fascinating stuff.

    And yes, Reagan was in the right place at the right time; Poland (and the Czechs and Hungarians and Baltics, who were analogous in many ways) had some small-l liberal infrastructure that the Russians don’t.

    I don’t expect Obama to fly to Basra and demand Khameini tear down the wall. But dictators need sticks as much as they do carrots. What ever kind of stick is appropriate under the circumstances.

  5. Considering the guy has bailed out Wall Street and nationalized a couple car companies in just half a year, Angryclown would think you could do a little better.

    Good point.

    “Present” would be an improvement.

  6. But maybe you could find some more plausible way to trash the country and it’s elected leader?

    You’re right!

    We’ll spend four/eight years calling him “dumb”, and defaming his supporters (i.e., the majority) as a bunch of ignorant rubes that the rest of the country would be better off without!

    Thanks! I feel much better!

  7. Well the U.S. did much more than “underwrite” the Shah. The CIA installed him in power in 1953. As a result, every president post-Eisenhower inherited this dilemma: Do you support the one reliable regime in the oil-exporting Middle East or do you press hard for reform and risk anarchy, Shia fundamentalism or, what was most likely and potentially disastrous outcome at the time, Soviet domination? Presidents mostly chose the lesser evil, held their noses and supported the Shah against his people. Obama is doing exactly the right thing by staying out of the disputed election in Iran. Neither candidate is a friend of America. “Moderate Iranians,” first hallucinated by the Reagan Administration, are nowhere near power. To take sides in Iran now is to hand a weapon to the other side.

  8. Allah knows Obama wouldn’t want to voice support for huge public demonstrations. When US unemployment hits 15% he may have a few problems in this area Himself.

    Of course he can always get the Teamsters to hop on motorcycles with nightsticks…

  9. Well the U.S. did much more than “underwrite” the Shah. The CIA installed him in power in 1953.

    I”m a master of understatement; the very Emmett Kelly of subtlety.

    And yes, Obama is right to stay out of the disputed election.

    But that question about “moderate Iranians” is hardly cut and dried; while they are no more in power than iranian elections are democratic (a lefty hallucination), they are out there, and we should be bolstering them…somehow.

  10. > But that question about “moderate Iranians” is hardly cut and dried; while they are no more in power than iranian elections are democratic (a lefty hallucination), they are out there, and we should be bolstering them…somehow.

    We have to act boldly and strongly.

    Give ’em weapons, give ’em Bibles, and give ’em a cake with mobile satelite uplinks baked inside.

    Parachute ’em in with Ambassador Duke if we have to.

    Intsead, Obama’s eating ice-cream and pussyfooting around with the Orkin man.
    /jc

  11. Howsabout we go a couple months without torturing prisoners in an offshore prison before talking real big to other countries about freedom, ‘kay Kerm?

  12. “Does anyone see Barack Obama calling a dictator’s bluff?”
    By doing what? Funneling money to Iranian unions? Given U.S. trade sanctions, it would be exponentially harder than reaching Solidarity. Nor it there much evidence they want the money.

    I could work up an inch of interest in the debate, if somebody could explain what Obama should do in non-metaphoric terms.

  13. Er, Clown?

    The Iranians torture people (as opposed to legally-indeterminate detainees) for real. And lynch adulterers from construction cranes. And stone gays. In short – they actually do the things that all you lefties try to pin on American religious conservatives.

  14. I could work up an inch of interest in the debate,

    Ah! You mean you’ll sit one out and not post flotsam from Wikipedia and act like you’re superior to all the peons you’re deigning to pseudo-engage?

    Yay! It WAS a good day!

  15. what Obama should do in non-metaphoric terms

    Actually, a symbolic act would probably do a helluvva lot. After being on the “wrong” side for two generations, Obama could point the US toward the high ground with the Iranian people by simply saying “we support you, and at least diplmatically we are going to do what we can for you”.

    But he and his State Department have too much invested in “detente” with the Mullahs; I bet they’ll be loath to add “Nuance” to that approach.

  16. “Howsabout we go a couple of months without torturing prisoners in an offshore prison..” You mean the “pre-torturing period” when The U.S.S. Cole, 9-11, ect., ect., happened? Ok, Boz.

  17. “we support you, and at least diplmatically we are going to do what we can for you”

    Something like this?
    “The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.”
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Statement-from-the-President-on-Iran

  18. Sure Rick. A strongly worded letter is called for! Maybe Clownie could draft it. He has such a deft hand.

  19. Awesome point, Mitch. In the U.S. we do torture people somewhat less ruthlessly than many other countries. And most of our elections since 2000 have been free and fair.

    Oh wait, you kooks are still whining that Obama and Franken stole the election. Oops. Better wait a couple weeks before lecturing the country where we overthrew a democratically elected government!

  20. angryclown whined:

    “most of our elections since 2000”

    and then immediately projected

    “you kooks are still whining”

    This is why it’s bad to use crack, people!

  21. Angry Clown:
    Better wait a couple weeks before lecturing the country where we overthrew a democratically elected government!
    George W. Bush:
    Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.
    Who would have guessed that AC was a neocon?

  22. Oh, we are well beyond counting any cost at this point in the Obama administration.
    What stooge is talking about here is the Reagan administration’s violation of the Boland Amendment. The NSC (a security agancy controlled by the president) sold weapons to the Iranians to finance the contras in Nicaragua. What the Reagan administration did was very, very bad. A democracy isn’t really a democracy when the head of state can raise and spend money without accountability to the representatives of the people. In the 18th & 19th century European heads of states (usually royalty) would use the access they had to their own funds to thwart the will of parliaments. Bismarck built the German empire this way.
    Obama doesn’t have a rationale for working against the will of congress. His party controls it. They would simply vote him the funds if he asked.
    But liberals are incredibly ignorant of history, hence the off-the-wall allusion to Oliver North’s shenanigans. Makes no sense in the current situation but what the hell. Cheap shots are the currency of liberal commenters on SITD.

  23. Kermit:
    “A strongly worded letter is called for!”
    Take your complaint to Mitch and John McCain. They are the ones who can not come up with anything other that the Tinkerbell strategy. ‘If we all just wish hard enough, the flower of freedom will bloom in Tehran.’

  24. Yeah, I can imagine him speaking out as strongly — and with his own distinctive style. Hell, I could write the speech.

    But he won’t.

    I keep asking myself WWHD? What Would Harry Do? The greatest president of at least the last hundred years — a man who didn’t seek the office — would have just, well, given ’em hell: he would have told the truth, in plain language.

    That’s too much ask of the “present” resident of that office.

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