In this week’s New York Times opinion pages, John Kerry articulates the rationale perhaps underlying President Obama’s reluctance to speak out boldly in support of the uprising in Iran. Kerry’s piece reveals the sickness inherent in his foreign policy perspective.
Kerry’s argument boils down to depriving the Iranian leadership of its ability to use words of support for the Iranian people’s protest for freedom against U.S. interests. Kerry concludes, of course, that by staying “tepid,” Obama is appropriately balancing U.S. interests in maintaining Iranian leadership goodwill so that proper negotiations over their nuclear weapons program can eventually proceed. Many liberal pundits and Obama devotees mindlessly mimic these same concepts.
Despite Kerry’s unquenchable need to appear erudite, this perspective is nonsensical, at the least. It echoes the liberal compulsion to explain the behavior of uncooperative opponents as responsive to our acts. That is, Iran (as with North Korea, the Palestinian Authority, etc.) acts the way it does because the U.S. (or Israel) has acted the way it does.
At the heart of this policy construction is an infantile attempt to make that which is uncontrollable appear controllable — a function to be called “the control factor.” The realization that certain enemies do not want peace and do desire your death is simply too difficult for many modern American minds to consistently hold in focus. Accordingly, the mind does all it can to change its perception of the world so as to eliminate the realization of the threat. In Iran’s case, the megalomaniacal regime is recast as “realistic,” too intricate to be attributed any one motive, presumably ineffective because the people are said to be pro-American, filled with appropriate national pride deserving of a nuclear program, and so on. Only America’s improper actions get in the way of peaceful and mutually beneficial outcomes.
Such has been the case for three decades with the Islamic Republic of Iran. A government would be hard pressed to make it any clearer that it is at war with America and seeks America’s destruction, not to mention Israel’s. Yet liberal U.S. foreign policy “experts” wrap themselves in a wardrobe of elite “smart thinking” to create the impression of deep understanding of the finer nuances of Iranian political realities. It is this product which, more than any action Kerry might attribute to America, has significantly encouraged, if not caused, the very Iranian behavior we seek to quash.
Kerry counsels us to realize that our words can be manipulated against us by the ruling regime. Thus, any support for the protesters can be framed as American involvement similar to the presumed horrific action the U.S. took in the 50s to overthrow Prime Minister Muhammad Moussadeq in favor of the shah. This is deemed so troublesome to Iranians that Obama had to apologize for it in his now famous Cairo speech. Speaking out now, Kerry suggests, would allow President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to cast himself as a modern day Moussadeq, which in Kerry’s mind would ruin our chances for a successful future negotiation with him.
Kerry’s details are dangerously distorted. First, the CIA involvement in the Moussadeq overthrow has been largely exaggerated. It also predates the lives of most of the population. Even in Iran, the human mind is capable of growing with time.
Additionally, this construct is extremely devaluing of the intelligence of the Iranian people. As has been seen through its facility with Twitter and Facebook, the Iranian population is well equipped to sort out realities, if only we would assist. Yet Kerry’s ego rears its head out from under his veneer of thoughtfulness and sensitivity in suggesting that the population is unable to credibly distinguish Moussadeq’s time from today.
More importantly, for years, the Left has correctly pointed out that the people of Iran generally favor America and aspire to have good relations with America. For years, the argument from the Left has been that military action against Iran’s nuclear assets will destroy that goodwill, and instead we must wait until an uprising comes from within.
That day has come.
And now Kerry is afraid to demonstrate support because that support will not be represented as support but rather as the attempt to overthrow what the people, themselves, are making clear they want overthrown. Perfectly circular logic is still circular.
Kerry smugly attributes Iranian provocative behavior over the past eight years to the “tough talk” that George W. Bush utilized. Once again, the control factor is suggesting that “if only” Bush had talked nicely the regime would have mirrored it back. This is Kerry’s example of how our words hurt us. Now that Obama will talk kindly and apologetically, Kerry suggests Iran will certainly respond with wide pupils and unclenched fists. What Kerry misses is that unless the regime is uprooted, it will act in every way consistent with its desire to obtain nuclear weapons and to see its goals of dominance and the destruction of Israel and America fulfilled — irrespective of how “nice” Obama is to it.
Despite his distortions, Kerry’s principle is ironically correct — our words do matter. The one time that Iran did respond cooperatively to America, following 9/11, was after Bush marched through Saddam Hussein’s army in three weeks. Bush had clearly identified the regime for what it was and acted congruently with those words. Afraid that Bush would turn right and march through Tehran, the Iranian Republican Guards (Ahmadinejad’s base) moved much of their money out of the country while taking certain actions supposedly helpful to Bush in dealing with al-Qaeda. This is when, according to the nefarious CIA National Intelligence Estimate, Iran took a temporary cessation of nuclear development. It was precisely because of Bush’s “tough talk” that they showed some signs of cooperation. They had begun to lose comfort that they would be around much longer.
It was only after Kerry and the American Left began to lambast Bush and the U.S. military day and night that the regime began to see that America had no stomach for aggressive action to interfere with Iranian nuclear ambitions, much less regime rule. As mistakes in Iraq floated to the surface of public exposure, vitriol at home cracked every impression of strength Bush had tried to assemble in preparation for negotiations with Iran. The clear lesson was that Kerry’s principle was correct — our words do matter. The problem was that it was Kerry who had the wrong words, and those words destroyed the sense of self-respect and internal conviction that is necessary to successfully resolve conflicts with a regime such as Iran’s.
In Cairo, Obama both apologized for Moussadeq and offered negotiations, and suggested we all had common interests which could draw us together. Kerry attributes the Iranian people’s courage to challenge the election results and the entire basis of the regime to Obama’s words. Yet quite the opposite can be inferred. The Moussadeq comment actually signaled to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Obama had no plans to interfere with his rule. Obama’s speech, citing the notion that no nation has the right to stop another from peaceful nuclear power, gave further comfort that Obama would not interfere with Ahmadinejad’s Iranian nuclear ambitions. In essence, Obama’s words confirmed for Khamenei that Ahmadinejad’s aggressive anti-American posturing worked. Is it a wonder that Khamenei would bet on the same horse again and do so with blatant confidence that no challenge would likely mount?
This is precisely the time that America needs to recognize that its words do have an effect and its lack of words an even greater effect. The Iranian people who so love America want to know unmistakably it is not unrequited. Obama’s inept response will be taken as betrayal. Kerry’s attempt to be “smart” and “nuanced” will likely prove to be regrettable stupidity.