The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sterile and Marginal

Is anyone else struck by how sterile the 'debate' over Obama's rhetorical support (or lack of thereof) for the Iranian protesters is? Does it really make that big a difference either way? Aren't the events in Iran basically internally driven? It seems to me this 'controversy' only has any traction if one assumes the U.S. president's words have omnipotent powers.

That the Republicans have seized upon this as an issue I think is the product of two things. The first rather base and cynical, which is their need for a political football. It is all very theatrical and opportunistic, but hey, that's part of the game. The second is a sincere belief that Ronald Reagan huffed and puffed and blew the Berlin Wall down. Hence we have precedent.

I wouldn't touch the long, complicated and sterile (there's that word again) debate about the merits of the 'Reagan Victory Thesis' with a ten-foot-poll. But I will say this: in the absence of something big - like armed conflict with the outside world - these revolutionary/reformist processes are in the immediate basically internal. After all, the 'tough' rhetoric had stopped before the Soviet Union was disintegrating. By May 1988, Ronald Reagan was in Moscow proclaiming that the U.S.S.R. was no longer an Evil Empire and when East Germans broke through the Iron Curtain, George H. W. Bush repeatedly made the point of not 'dancing on the Berlin Wall'.

Not that words are wholly without influence. But it does strike me as rather marginal in the current situation. If and when the crackdown comes we can start discussing more unequivocal condemnation and sanctions. (Not that they particularly work.) But at the end of the day, neither the U.S. nor the West generally is able or willing to put any hard material backing - military or otherwise - behind the protesters. As soon as we've established that, the debate is academic. Rhetoric may have done great deal to encourage dissent - say - in Hungary in 1956 or Iraq in 1991. But it seemed like nothing but false hypocrisy when the West watched impotently as guns were fired and blood ran in the streets.

Incidentally, George F. Will I think is the only prominent conservative to have not jumped onto the bandwagon.

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