In the Arena

There Will Be Blood

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The Washington Post’s increasingly strident op-ed page offers a double-barreled neocon assault on President Obama’s Iran position today by Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz. And it’s interesting to see these fellows–among the smartest of the neos–deploy the usual intellectual shortcuts in the neoconservative bag of tricks: Broad, unsupported statements of opinion posing as fact…and false historical analogies.

Take Krauthammer. He boldly states this:

The demonstrators are fighting on their own, but they await just a word that America is on their side.

They do? Which ones? Name one. And if that word came, what then? Would it be the same as the “word” Dwight Eisenhower sent, and later regretted, supporting the Hungarian protesters in 1956 when he had no intention of supporting them militarily? Or the “word” that George H.W. Bush sent the Iraqi Shi’ites after the first Gulf War, who then rebelled against Saddam Hussein and were slaughtered? In fact, it seemed clear to me when I was in Iran–and even more clear, given the events of the past few days–that the protesters realize that they have to do this on their own. And that an American endorsement would taint their movement, perhaps fatally.

Wolfowitz deploys an interesting historical analogy from his own past–the Reagan intervention in the Philipine elections–but it is flawed as well. For one thing, no winner had been announced when Reagan intervened, after a period of restaint, in favor of Corazon Aquino and those who voted to topple President-for-Life Ferdinand Marcos.  For another, the Philippines  were a  former  U.S. colony that remained, at that point, very much a U.S. client state.  We had military bases there.  We had real power. (Wolfowitz also doesn’t deal with the fact that there were announced results in the Iranian elections–and that Ahmadinejad might well have won without the fraud.)

Iran is quite the opposite from the Philippines. It never was an American colony, but the U.S. policy toward the Persians was relentlessly neocolonial. The U.S. has had, in fact, a notably disgraceful history of intervening in Iranian affairs. There was the CIA involvement in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government in 1953, which Obama spoke about in his Cairo speech. There was the U.S. support for the Shah, who ran a regime every bit as repressive and arguably more brutal than the Mullahs. There was the U.S. support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war–and this remains a bleeding wound in Iran: I spoke with a woman in South Tehran last week whose husband is incapacitated by the poison gas Saddam used during the war (and which all Iranians, including those in the streets, are convinced was supplied by the Americans). There are many chemical victims of the war in Iran, and many war dead, a constant reminder of U.S. meddling. And there was George W. Bush’s pronouncement of Iran as part of an Axis of Evil, which many of the Iranians I first met in 2001 and have kept in touch with ever since–vehement reformers all–found insulting.

If Charles Krauthammer had bothered to ask anyone, he would have learned that the reform movement is every bit as outraged by the history of U.S. meddling as the Ahmadinejad supporters are–arguably moreso, because they are well-educated, sophisticated people who despise the neocolonialist condescension toward  Iran that marked American presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

The failure to understand this basic fact–the failure to even care what Iranians, even the Iranians who hate the regime,  actually think–is at the heart of the lethal carelessness that marked the Bush Junior’s Administration and neoconservative thinking in general. I would guess that the Supreme Leader–which is the man’s actual title, no matter how Krauthammer disdains it–is itching for an excuse to send tanks into the streets. (Which he may well do anyway.) If Barack Obama were sounding like John McCain, the tanks would have been in the streets days ago, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people killed, and a ready excuse that would have great credibility with the Iranian people: the U.S. was at it again, trying to foment a revolution to overthrow the duly elected government of Iran.

But then, in the long-term scheme of things, the neoconservatives would undoubtedly argue, blood will be spilled in the pursuit of freedom. Undouboutedly true, but you don’t want the blood to be on your hands. You want it to be the choice of those who are risking their lives in the streets.

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