A Thought Experiment

Daniel Halper writes in The Weekly Standard today:

On “The Early Show” this morning, Obama said that “what we can do is bear witness and say–to the world that the, you know, incredible demonstrations that we’ve seen is a testimony to–I think what Dr. King called the–the arc of the moral universe. It’s long but it bends towards justice.”

Perhaps this is so, but Martin Luther King didn’t “bear witness” to the civil rights movement in America–he was a courageous participant. Obama now has a choice: Will he be a courageous participant or a weak witness? Will he declare that the elections in Iran were rigged, or will he continue to say that he does not know?

As Halper is probably aware, there is one fairly significant difference between King’s relation to the civil rights movement and Obama’s relation to the current protests in Iran. King was, indeed, a “courageous participant” in the civil rights movement, but he was an American and a leader of the movement itself. Obama, by contrast, is neither an Iranian nor a leader of the Iranian protest movement — rather, he is the leader of a rival power that has a fraught history with Iran.

It is fairly obvious that the level of “participation” that would be desirable, or effective, for a homegrown civil society leader would be different from that of a rival foreign leader. But to illustrate this obvious fact more sharply, consider the following thought experiment. In 1963, as King delivers his famous speech to the March on Washington, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev delivers a public message of his own to the protesters. “We would like to tell these brave voices of freedom,” Khrushchev says, “that they have the full support and solidarity of the USSR. The Soviet Union and the United States Communist Party are ready and willing to perform any measures within our power to help our American brothers and sisters obtain their rights from this oppressive regime. And although Dr. King pretends that he holds no hostility toward the American capitalist system of government itself, and wishes only to secure the ideals of the American founding for all of its citizens, we all know that he and his supporters really yearn for complete regime change in Washington. We in Moscow will do whatever it takes to help you achieve this goal.”

Let us ignore the question of Khrushchev’s intentions here: whether he is motivated by genuine sympathy and desire to aid the civil rights marchers, or a more cynical hope of destabilizing a rival government, or a narcissistic and self-righteous wish to take credit for the marchers’ achievement in order to feel better about himself and appease his domestic critics. (And before anyone gets up in arms about “moral equivalence,” let me note than I am not equating Obama’s America and Khrushchev’s Russia, merely noting that Obama and Khrushchev occupy structurally similar positions as leaders of distrusted rival powers.)

Let us focus only on a simple tactical question: would Khrushchev’s statement aid the civil rights movement? Would it be welcomed by King and his associates? Why or why not?

19 thoughts on “A Thought Experiment”

  1. I have a better idea than Jim Lobe’s so-called thought experiment: Let’s have a Color-Coded revolution in America.

    Since Americans, including Libertarian (cough) anti-interventionists, just love these Colored Revolutions, it’s logical that there should be one in the USA.

    After all, the USA has had its own stolen elections–two of them no less in 2000 and 2004–which Mainstream America has to this very day still covered up.

    The 2004 U.S. Election Was Stolen

    Indeed, there are many other American crimes (like, you know waging wars of genocidal wars of aggression based upon false premises) that the USA should be held accountable for.

    And since the American people have demonstrated that they are unable–or more likely unwilling–to prosecute the crimes of their regimes, it’s up to the international community to intervene in the USA and help bring these American rulers to justice.

    But somehow, I doubt even the most fervent Twitter Revolutionary or Iranian Green groupie would welcome the same type of political upheaval in America that they happily cheer for in “enemy” nations like Iran.

    But turnabout is fair play.

    This is something that citizens of the American Empire should keep in mind.

  2. No, it would not be welcomed. The reason is that while J. Edgar Hoover was covertly watching King, now he would have some reason to come forward with everything he had on the guy, including some contrived dot-connecting to prove that when Khrushchev spoke so confidently in support of King and his movement, it was because they were communicating through some back channels. It could then be argued that King was a traitor and spy, aiming to topple the duly elected government with the help of foreign powers.

    I cannot imagine that the Shah’s son and heir Reza Pahlevi is helping matters for the demonstrators as he adopts their cause and puts himself forward as a potential constitutional monarch when they once expel the mullahs. Isn’t this likely to lead to some in-fighting in the ranks, where some want a Shah to come back, some simply want the loser, and some want to overthrow the religious leaders while not inviting back anyone who will rule by hereditary right. This will split them. Also, those people trying today to nullify our own presidency because of racial prejudice and their delusional belief that Obama is not an American and certainly a practicing Muslim, seem to be telling the Iranian students that we are behind them in whatever they do. I cannot help but think of the Hungarian Revolution, in which moves were made with the encouragement of the Voice of America or some right-wing communication, only to have the revolution crushed by the superior Soviet force. The people in the streets do not have the tanks, and they ought to be aware that they are not actually united. Nor do they have allies. Unless their military goes over to their side, they are not going anywhere.

    Back to the thought experiment: King was not intending revolution. In those days, very few blacks were communist or leftist. By and large, they were veterans of a real war, and they found it contradictory that they could not achieve civil rights after they had served their country so valiantly. In separate communities, many had achieved in the professions, but they were not allowed to leave their ghetto. It was a painful ongoing insult to them as human beings. If Khrushchev had made such a speech, it would have been greeted with curiosity, but eventually contempt, as they noted how brutally the Soviets dealt with dissent, how the bodies piled up on the Berlin Wall. The Soviet leader would have seduced few American blacks, but for a time his words would have frightened the white public more than it already was, and Hoover and segregationists would have exploited that. As a person who might truly have honored the civil rights movement (Khrushchev wasn’t Stalin), he knew to keep his mouth shut.

    John McCain is not as bright as that old peasant was. Nor are the commentators on CNN. They are a bunch of war junkies.

  3. “Rival Power”? Are you kidding? The U.S. simply has no rival in the world. Obama is the leader of an aggressive power, the greatest instigator of aggression in world history, that is threatening aggression against Iran.

    The author is comparing apples to oranges here. The U.S. simply doesn’t have to put up with any foreign meddling in its politics, for obvious reasons. There simply is no parallel in recent U.S. history that compares to the U.S. backed overthrow of the government of Iran in 1953.

    Obviously, any perceived foreign meddling in our politics is going to be looked at with disdain by most Americans, and for good reason. But what is fine for us isn’t fine for the people of the nations the U.S. government is aiming to destroy. According to the proponents of meddlesome interventionism, the U.S. has a divine right to destroy any government it disagrees with.

  4. “Merhkans” would be up in arms about someone taking a foreign leaders “advice” and support. If it were discovered that someone was funding a group to the tune of 400 million in order to bring about “change” you can damn well be certain that some people would be pissed. And the nation who was bank rolling those curious events and then beating its chest about how concerned it was about casualties would be viewed as the lying hypocrites they are.

      1. I don’t sit and read every day so there is a certain amount of “lag”… gets confusing at times.

  5. ahh this reminds me of the week strait of mainstream news coverage of the protest against election fraud in iraq and afganistan.

    oh what? that never happened. what it did happen but the protest were against us so they got five seconds on cnn’s ticker.. oh

    well i guess it reminds me of the week of coverage givin to the violent crack down on protesters by the political conventions…

    and i just love how the day after the election we “KNEW” that there was rampant fraud.

    go back to sleep america

  6. The best thing we can do for Iran is to leave them alone. Any “aid” we give the opposition will have the opposite effect, and our rulers know it. We should also pull out of the ME and that includes not only all our troops but also our finacial support for all other nations.

    I find it interesting that both Obama and Tim R. quoted Martin Luther King in regards to this issue. I don’t know why they see this parrallel as it’s obviously apples and oranges but I guess it sounds good to people who don’t bother to think too deeply.

    I wish the best of luck to all the people of Iran and hope that someday they have a government or lack of government that works for all of them. However, I am completely convinced that the US can not be of any help in this regard. The people of Iran will work this out on their own in time, if we stay out of it.


  7. OK, does one have to have an education in Law (like Russian President Medvedev and Putin have), do understand the difference between protesters demanding
    a) the legislative branch of Govt. to change the laws (that discriminate based on race) vs.
    b) the executive branch of Govt to follow the existing laws (i.e. count votes as required by the law, and prevent voters from being forced to vote in a certain way, in a ways not allowed by law)

    Now – keep in mind that case c) “they voted according to law, and votes were counted according to law, but these people don’t vote in a way that benefits the US” – is different from a) b) and is outside of realm of decency (which is though the common complain about elections in Russia)

    Notice that case a) is objective – i.e. laws that discriminate are more or less easy to identify. Case b) is quite subjective – especially when it is 50/50 sort of split.

  8. Excellent comment, Mr. Lobe – as well as pertinent comparison with King/Khrushchev. The real forces behind the “Obama must DO something” peanut gallery are, of course, those who would use this crisis as an excuse to militarily assail the Persian state, and Obama’s measured tone is as much defiance to them as wise exercise of diplomacy to Iran (which it is).

  9. You give the average American WAY too much credit. Tactics? Strategy? Over moral preening, grandiose statements, and glorious ad hominem attacks? Never!!!

  10. The neocons just want to bomb Iran. If Ahmadinejad is re-elected – bomb Iran; If Mousavi prevails – bomb Iran; If the Iranians elect Mickey Mouse – bomb Iran. Is that so hard to see?

  11. Statistics can be manipulated in any way one wishes. It is interesting how Mr. Reimondo himself is amongst those whose minds are already made up about Iran’s election being fixed.
    Tehran is one city in Iran and those demonstrators represent one fraction. The other side does not invite his supporters to come to the streets to prevent clashes. What Mr. reimondo calls repressive regime was democratically voted for by Iranian people in 1979. But since we did not like that vote, that election must have been fraudulent too!

  12. Wasn’t it Stalin who said that “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” Hmmm?

  13. All this is just an illustration to one belief I’ve gradually obtained through life in USSR, USA and modern Russia – “Democracy does not (can not) exist”. “Democracy” is from the same set of entities as “Communizm”, “Heaven on Earth”, “Kingdom of God”, “Third Reich’ modern state of Israel :-) Nice constructs – in theory – yet trying to implement them results in millions of people slaughtered.

    I can state it differently – “Democracy and freedom can not be established by formal, rational, ‘algorithmic’ means, and that includes legislation, occupation etc.’ It can happen by spontanious process of social self-organization, yet it’s fragile and does not live long on historical scale. 200 years seems the maximum possible :-)

    Either certain group of people is blessed with that – or not.

    So – the way people in Iran voted – does not matter. The way their voices were counted – does not matter. Only one thing matters – forces of Evil, of Entropis, of Satan himself if you wish, are able to destabilize life in Iran – and I would gladly count as such both Shah, and Ajatollas, and US backed factions. All of them are various kind of parasites on the body of Iranian nation. Well… that body must me not that healthy if it’s prone to these illnesses.

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