One would think that one of the leading architects of the biggest policy failure for decades if not more would be reluctant to give Pres. Obama advice about how to handle the momentous events in Iran. But there Paul Wolfowitz is, mangling history and giving condescending suggestions to Obama on his options with regard to Iran — and on the op-ed page of the same paper that yesterday announced the firing of Dan Froomkin for being too “opinionated and liberal”:
President Obama’s first response to the protests in Iran was silence, followed by a cautious, almost neutral stance designed to avoid “meddling” in Iranian affairs. I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s initially neutral response to the crisis following the Philippine election of 1986, and of George H.W. Bush’s initially neutral response to the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Both Reagan and Bush were able to abandon their mistaken neutrality in time to make a difference. It’s not too late for Obama to do the same.
In 1986, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos had called a snap election, calculating that a divided opposition would hand him a clear victory that would undercut pressure from the Reagan administration for broad-based reform. Instead, the opposition parties united behind Corazon Aquino, and only massive fraud could produce a “victory” for Marcos.
On Feb. 11, as the votes were still being counted, Reagan announced a neutral position, reminding Americans that it was a “Philippine election” and praising “the extraordinary enthusiasm of Filipinos for the democratic process.” Rather than blame Marcos for the fraud, which he called “disturbing,” Reagan said that there may have been fraud “on both sides.”
At the time, I was working for Secretary of State George Shultz as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and I shared Shultz’s dismay at the president’s comments. For more than two years, with the president’s support, we had carefully pressed Marcos for reform. Reagan himself once cited Lord Acton’s famous dictum, that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” while speaking of Marcos. Nevertheless Reagan’s unfortunate comment about fraud on “both sides” threatened to put the United States on the wrong side at a critical moment.
As an undersecretary of defense in George H.W. Bush’s administration, I witnessed a replay of the Philippine scenario on Aug. 19, 1991, when reactionary forces in the Soviet Union attempted a coup against Soviet President Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Bush was initially very cautious: uncertain about the facts and reluctant to interfere or to alienate a possible successor to Gorbachev.
Responding early that morning, the president refused to condemn the coup, calling it merely “a disturbing development.” He expressed only lukewarm support for Gorbachev and even less for Yeltsin, and neither was among the world leaders that he tried to contact about the crisis. He seemed focused on working with the new Soviet team, hoping that their leader, Gennady Yanayev, was committed to “reform.”
Although Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had argued consistently for the United States to support the peaceful aspirations of the Russians, Ukrainians and other Soviet peoples, it was Yeltsin — with a powerful personal letter — who persuaded Bush to abandon equivocation and oppose the coup. By late afternoon, the White House had reversed course, condemning the coup attempt as “misguided and illegitimate.” Bush then called Yeltsin to assure him of his support.
No two situations are identical. …
Indeed. We can just stop the “stream of effluent,” as Dave Noon so aptly characterizes it, right there.
Mustang Bobby, cross-posting at The Reaction and on his own blog, Bark Bark Woof Woof, points out the differences between there and here, then and now:
The difference, of course, between those situations and this one is that the United States had substantial relationships with both the Philippines and the Soviet Union. We don’t even have diplomatic relations with Iran, and that country has used the United States as a scapegoat for all of their problems; I wouldn’t put it past them to blame earthquakes on The Great Satan.
The other obvious point is that in both 1986 and 1991, the United States’ reputation abroad was considerably more well-respected than it is now. After eight years of faux-butch “bring ’em on” behavior on the part of the Bush administration — and executed by Mr. Wolfowitz — the credibility of our good and democratic intentions for other countries is rightly suspect by the rest of the world. And after being labeled as part of the “Axis of Evil,” does Mr. Wolfowitz seriously think that the rulers in Iran, whoever they are, are going to either give a rat’s ass what we say or not try to turn it to their advantage in their campaign of oppression?
Dan Nexon at The Duck of Minerva concedes that Wolfowitz’s analogy between Iran and the Phillippines would be an apt one, “if Iran was a U.S. client state.”
… I don’t think the absurdity of the comparison should be particularly difficult to grasp: the major difference between the Philippines in 1986 and Iran in 2009 is that United States enjoyed tremendous leverage over the former, but lacks much of any in the latter. Marcos left because he knew the jig was up; the US even helped arrange for him to safely make his way into exile. He died of natural causes in Hawaii.
Wolfowitz, on the other hand, spins a little fairy tale in which the magical power of Reagan’s words (alone) worked an enchantment upon the Philippines, reaching deep into Marcos’ black heart and causing him to see the light.
Michael Crowley at The New Republic notices that Iran hawks are not completely sour on the Obama-as-Moses idea:
For more than a year conservatives have ridiculed the alleged belief that Obama’s special rhetorical powers can do anything, including parting the waters. Now they’re all clamoring for him to change the course of Iranian history by leveraging what Paul Wolfowitz calls “his enormous political prestige.” In other words, by giving a fancy speech.
I love it when A-list bloggers agree with me:
The architect of one of the greatest mistakes in the history of American foreign policy, a man who was part of an administration that deployed torture against countless innocents and unleashed a sectarian war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands, an incompetent ideologue with blood on his hands, who has failed to take any responsibility for the catastrophes he helped bring to the world … well, of course, this guy gets to lecture Obama on Iran in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post, alongside so many other neocons and Bush cronies who refuse to acknowledge error and refuse to take responsibility for the past.
What’s particularly ironic about the right’s enraged stance on Obama’s handling of the Iran crisis is the fact that their reasoning is precisely the opposite of the reasoning they used to intervene in Iraq — that Iraqis could not take action themselves to overthrow or revolt against their oppressive government. I remember so well the reply made by an acquaintance shortly after the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq to my pointing out that it was patronizing for the U.S. to tell the Iraqi people we were invading their country to “liberate” them, when they had not asked to be “liberated.” He answered me, in dirge-like tones, “But Kathy… they can’t.” Meaning: Iraqis were too cowed and terrified of Saddam Hussein to liberate themselves; they need the U.S. to do it for them.
Well, here now we have Iranians taking to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, facing arrest, beatings, torture, and even death to protest election results they say are fraudulent — and beyond that, to demonstrate their opposition to Ahmadinejad himself — and fools like Paul Wolfowitz and Charles Krauthammer (whose column today is also about Obama and Iran) still insist that Iranians simply cannot carry on without the U.S. seal of approval.
Stuart Whatley at The Huffington Post wonders why conservatives are so drawn to the idea that the Iranian people’s revolt is all about us:
Obama is rightly ignoring the calls from both the right as well as within his own administration to take a stronger stand on the situation in Iran. These pleas — such as from Sen. John McCain, Rep. Mike Pence, Paul Wolfowitz, or Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, as reported in the New York Times Thursday — merely reflect the stale American solipsism that’s to blame for our sundered image abroad in years past. Obama has made notable progress in polishing the previous administration’s tarnish, but a single slip-up at the wrong moment could reverse it all in a second.
If Obama were to speak out and side with Mousavi in the current Iranian uprising, it would transform a legitimate, organic popular movement into a GOP teabag party. As many may recall, the conservative teabag movement in April was an embarrassing flop. Though it donned the mask of a grassroots uprising, it was quickly revealed to be naught but astro-turf (fake grassroots) — carefully orchestrated by conservative corporate lobbyists, Fox News and even the Republican Party. The result was that nobody took the “popular movement” seriously, regardless of its scale, prevalence, message or sincerity.
Curiously enough, this argument — that an overt endorsement of the pro-Mousavi, anti-Ahmadinejad protesters could very likely be the kiss of death for the uprising — is left unanswered by those on the right, like Krauthammer and Wolfowitz, who are so eager to condemn Obama’s circumspect approach:
President Obama has taken a cautious tone toward the demonstrators in Iran, with his stated reason being that more open support would discredit their cause. This strikes me as a sensible position. The revealed preferences of both sides suggest a mutual belief that an American embrace would hurt the protestors. The regime is trying (so far, without much success) to tie the demonstrators to the U.S., and the demonstrators are embracing the symbolism of the Iranian revolution (the color green, chants of “Alluah Akbar,” and so on) in order to demonstrate their patriotism and mainstream cultural status.
Still, this kind of judgment about an unfamiliar country’s internal politics is just a guess, and it’s a rebuttable proposition. What’s remarkable to me is that those on the other side refuses to rebut it. Today’s Washington Post op-ed page has two more columns lambasting Obama for failing to embrace the demonstrators. Today’s offerings are by Charles Krauthammer and Paul Wolfowitz. Neither one of them even mentions, let alone answers, Obama’s argument for why embracing the demonstrators would be counterproductive.
I don’t understand how you could write a column without ever once addressing the primary argument for the proposition you’re arguing against. The low quality of argument on this topic from the right is striking.