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June 23, 2009

Comments

I agree they are good questions, and whilst I don't really know what would be best Obama's strategy certainly seems defensible enough to me.

But I think there is one pertinent question missing from those ones: does any sizable percentage of the protestors actually admire or respect anything in or of the speaker?

After all I keep hearing how personally popular Obama is, and the more I hear that the more I think he really should go a bit beyond platitudes. In fact it seems to me contradictory to believe that Obama is personally mega-popular but that if he endorses, eg, a new election or at least a valid recount, this will undermine the protestors. Surely if he is anything of the figure he is made out to be it could only further inspire them?

Since Hoover believed King was a dirty commie to begin with, I think Krushec supporting him would have been the final nail in the movement.

The total lack of actual awareness of the situation on the part of these people who are criticizing Obama for not doing enough is appalling, but not surprising, since they have never displayed any kind of awareness of the real world beyond their own little spheres of influence which is comprised of a 3 foot circle around themselves.

Frankly, the whole "Should Obama do more?" debate has exhausted itself -- let's try something more interesting:

Do CNN, MSNBC, and FOX, in providing frequent daily coverage of the protests, help or hurt the opposition movement?

I happen to think they help -- far more directly than Obama could hope to make the point, it gives a clear signal that the world is watching (or at least the US population).

OTOH, the big three are mainstream enough that Iran can claim their coverage to be "evidence" of "Western propaganda" (and, by extension, of complicity between the revolutionaries and the West).

But then -- as Eric notes -- they're going to say that anyway.

from the translated presser:

Q: what took you so long to express your meaningless outrage about an election in a far-off country where we have a history of illegal interference?

Obama: because I'm not a total dumbass and didn't want to give the Iranian government ammunition!

Q: that's Reagan's job

Obama: exactly!

That's a very useful and clever thought experiment. Ironically, though, Soviet propaganda actually targeted King in the opposite way, trying to discredit him by circulating rumours that he was an FBI informant/agent provocateur. The Soviet Union did try to capitalise on the civil rights question in the US, avowed anticommunists like King impeded that effort.

It's also worth pointing out that Obama's position on Iran probably has a much larger audience in mind, not just in the Middle East region, but Russia and China especially.

"In fact it seems to me contradictory to believe that Obama is personally mega-popular but that if he endorses, eg, a new election or at least a valid recount, this will undermine the protestors."

Well, Obama is not popular with the Iranian security forces, per se - at least not enough to overcome their unease with US interference in their country. Ditto middle of the roaders in Iran. So if Obama sides with them in a way that makes it easier to crack down on the protesters, this would hurt them. Regardless of his general popularity.

"Surely if he is anything of the figure he is made out to be it could only further inspire them?"

I don't think Iranian protesters need Obama to inspire them, or not. They are battling other Iranians for the right to determine a number of issues important - first and foremost - to those very Iranians. Obama is superfluous, but could be used as a cudgel if he stumbles into that role.

It's perfectly plausible for them to find Obama appealing within the context of American leaders (especially after Bush), but not want him to give the regime an excuse by interjecting the US government into the equation (that is, moreso than it already is).

I still have doubts about the merits of this argument. Obama spouting off would probably make little difference either way in terms of domestic Iranian politics. (The better argument, I think, is that the US shouldn't let the protesters think it will actually help them, since it won't, and the US should keep its diplomatic options open if there is a crackdown.)

First of all, the USSR *did* support the American Civil Rights movement, and talked about it quite a bit in the official press, and the only Americans who cared were the ones who opposed the Civil Rights movement anyway.

Second, Khamenei-Ahmadinejad will portray the opposition as CIA-inspired whatever Obama says. If he is circumspect, they will just point to other American commentary or make stuff up.

For this argument to work, we have to imagine some Iranian who is on the fence between the two poles in Iranian society and would be pushed over by slightly more heated rhetoric from Obama. Is there any evidence that such an individual exists, let alone is typical of a big enough block of Iranians to make a difference in what happens over the next few weeks?

Also at the press conference Obama was gigged for not telling the press corps exactly what consequences the Iranian government would be faced with should they continue to take violent action against the protesters.

Call me naive or old-fashioned, but why wouldn't our government keep its cards very close to the vest while dealing with an on-going foreign affairs situation?

I find myself wishing that the president would simply say something along the lines of "Answering that question would compromise our State Department's options. Ask something else."

OTOH, the big three are mainstream enough that Iran can claim their coverage to be "evidence" of "Western propaganda" (and, by extension, of complicity between the revolutionaries and the West).

Well, the Iranian Powers That Be probably know that there's a limit to how much they'd be able to milk the classic "reporting as complicity" gambit nowadays. However, I would file under "maybe not carefully-enough thought through" that CNN and the BBC seem to have people tweeting back at the protestors.

In addition, the Iranian spokesman who made accusations of cyberwarfare apparently also noted that it's not like Iran meddled in Bush v. Gore. Oh, snap!

"Second, Khamenei-Ahmadinejad will portray the opposition as CIA-inspired whatever Obama says. If he is circumspect, they will just point to other American commentary or make stuff up."

Yes, and the made up stuff won't work as well.

"For this argument to work, we have to imagine some Iranian who is on the fence between the two poles in Iranian society and would be pushed over by slightly more heated rhetoric from Obama. "

First, we have to assume that all of this hand wringing by the pundits has been about "slightly less heated rhetoric." My guess is, they want more than that. And when that more comes, it would be amplified, blown up larger then life and thus made an issue in Iran.

At least, that's what leaders of the reform movement such as Shirin Ebadi, Trita Parsi and Akbar Ganji. I'll take their word for it.

"First of all, the USSR *did* support the American Civil Rights movement, and talked about it quite a bit in the official press, and the only Americans who cared were the ones who opposed the Civil Rights movement anyway. "

See byrnie's comment.

Eric,

Have you seen any discussion regarding what impact the Iranian situation may have in Iraq? Just wondering if the connections between Sadr and Maliki are tied directly to Ahmedinejad or the governing faction, or if the relationships are more general.

Re: the Soviets attacking MLK and the Civil Rights Movement

I'd like to see byrningman's evidence. It's been a long time since I looked at the communist press of the era, but that is not how I recall it. Of course, line changes were pretty common, but I've never heard that the official communist movement press attacking either.

"...the only Americans who cared were the ones who opposed the Civil Rights movement anyway."

This is not entirely true. Potential links to "communists" and other revolutionary tendencies were the rationale behind Nixon ordering the CIA (and other US government agencies) to conduct illegal surveillance, infiltrate, disrupt and generally roll back the civil rights movement. COINTELPRO.

Within the context of the time, it's unrealistic to assume that the only government officials and security apparatus employees engaged in these activities were already opposed to civil rights. And even if that was the case, that their actions in terms of tacit acceptance were not facilitated because of the association and fears it created. There was a lot of paranoia.

While the Soviets might have been supportive of the civil rights movement in some sense, Khruschev would not have aided the cause of the civil rights movement by grandstanding and making such impassioned statements about King given the context.

Just as, while the US government is in fact taking steps to destabilize the Iranian regime, it would not do any favors to the protesters by making the protesters appear a part of that operation.

"They shout 'Allahu Akbar' in the streets"

Which is to say, they're Muslim. It's almost identical to Jews saying the Shema, other than that Jews don't tend to shout it.

Back in the day (the Middle Ages), Christians used to shout "God is great!," as well, as I understand it. And many sects of Christians still shout a lot in church; Baptists, particularly, as I understand it.

Just noting.

"...because Obama...is not an Iranian (at least unless the Birthers have a new theory"

But he's a Muslim, which is close enough!

For the record, today's story is actually all about "Obama Assails Iran for Violent Response to Protests" and "President Obama harshly condemned the Iranian crackdown against demonstrations on Tuesday, declaring the rest of the world 'appalled and outraged'and dismissing what he called 'patently false and absurd' accusations that the United States instigated the protests."

"Have you seen any discussion regarding what impact the Iranian situation may have in Iraq? Just wondering if the connections between Sadr and Maliki are tied directly to Ahmedinejad or the governing faction, or if the relationships are more general."

Good question, and the answer is no. I'll poke around a little though. As a general rule, I would think that - either way - there would be good relations between Maliki and Tehran regardless of the outcome. But there might be some nuances that I'm unaware of.

I will agree that Khruschev's or the CPUSA's support for the civil rights movement was not exactly helpful to the civil rights movement. However, it is weird to put this as a hypothetical when, in fact, the USSR and the CPUSA did support the civil rights movement.

To turn to the present, I don't think what Obama says will matter much, one way or the other, in terms of Iranian domestic politics. He seems to be taking a harder line today, so I suppose I will be proven wrong if it leads to a dramatic problem for the protesters.

"Potential links to 'communists' and other revolutionary tendencies were the rationale behind Nixon ordering the CIA (and other US government agencies) to conduct illegal surveillance, infiltrate, disrupt and generally roll back the civil rights movement. COINTELPRO."

But it was a defining aspect of rightwing militarists of the time to see the Insidious Hand Of Moscow behind every bush. And Nixon was one of the ne plus ultra there, as well as a crazy paranoid in general. It wasn't just a rationale; he genuinely believed it must be true. So did J. Edgar Hoover. And all these guys echo-chambered each other's beliefs that they knew the Soviets must be behind all these kids, etc.

Which, in fact, went absolutely hand in hand with the belief that Moscow and the Soviets were behind stirring up the colored folk. Which went hand in hand with the unending accusations that the colored folk would be and were quite happy before all those "outside agitators" arrived.

"Within the context of the time, it's unrealistic to assume that the only government officials and security apparatus employees engaged in these activities were already opposed to civil rights."

I have to disagree with this, because mostly those same people that were in the security apparatus were opposed to civil rights, partially on principles of general racism and paternalism, and partially on exactly what I say above: the belief that it was all part of The Insidious Communist Plan.

"While the Soviets might have been supportive of the civil rights movement in some sense, Khruschev would not have aided the cause of the civil rights movement by grandstanding and making such impassioned statements about King given the context."

But Soviet officials constantly denounced America, both domestically, and internationally, over the issue of lack of civil rights, and the existence of racism, in America. It was one of their largest themes.

This was the largest part of the reason both Truman and Eisenhower made what gestures towards civil rights that they did: because they knew they were suffering in the international propaganda war with the Soviets in the face of constant Soviet haranging about American racism, which went over very well in the Third World. It strongly affected JFK, as well, and was also one of his largest motivations regarding civil rights.

You can find endless amounts of detail about this in any of the major civil rights histories (I particularly, as always, recommend David Garrow and the three-volume Taylor Branch as essential reading for all Americans.)

Online example here.

Well, the hypothetical wasn't "support for the civil rights movement." It was make a certain kind of overblown statement after King's march on Washington. At a time of particularly heightened tension.

After all, Obama and the US government is known to support the reform/pro-democracy movement in Iran. The US government puts a good deal of money behind that support. But the question is, within the context of the election battles, would an overblown statement from Obama have helped?

"He seems to be taking a harder line today, so I suppose I will be proven wrong if it leads to a dramatic problem for the protesters."

Well, there's something to be said for timing. It's one thing to lead, double barrel guns blazing, and it's another to allow events to seemingly dictate your response. Start slow, build to a crescendo, rather than the other way around. There's no way of telling what would have happened if Obama had gone all John McCain right off the bat.

To reiterate, though: Actual Iranian leaders of the reform movement (intimately aware of the regime's tactics and rationales) cautioned strongly against Obama making too much noise early on. They might know some things we don't about the way such things work in Iran.

Trita Parsi said that the best way for the US government to help was to remain "two steps behind the Iranians."

Which I think is Obama's MO thus far.

"It was make a certain kind of overblown statement after the 1963 March On Washington. At a time of particularly heightened tension."

I'm still not really following what you're saying about the Soviet Union. They did make big statements after King's March, and after most major civil rights protests.

For example -- I'm hauling down my copy of Parting The Waters and typing in by hand here -- p. 786:

[...] It was Thursday, May 9th, 1963, one extraordinary week since the gamble of the D-Day Children's March. In Moscow, Pravda ran a story headlined "Monstrous Crimes Agmong Racism in the United States."
p 807:
[...] The same winds that lifted King from behind struck the Kennedy Administration in the face. Intelligence reports noted that the Soviet Union broadast 1,420 anti-U.S. commentaries about the Birmingham crisus during the two weeks following the settlement -- seven times more than during the worst of the Ole Miss-Meredith crisis, nine times the peak during the Freedom Rides.
Maybe I've lost forest for trees here, but none of this is hypothetical.

Let's say Obama goes more or less postal on Ali Khamenei and Khamenei makes the most of it:

1. Will the Iranians begin to hate freedom and ask to be beaten?

2. Will the Iranians hate democracy because it's now "Foreign"?

Perhaps Obama's words will have only a small impact on either side of the Iran conflict. The protesters could use a boost, though; They're entitled to be tired now.

Thousands or millions of people all over the world protesting in support of the Iran reformers would do some good. They might persuade Khamenei the jig is up.

And Obama can help with this. A few words of encouragement plus some good old-fashioned astroturfing. Sarkozy of France might be willing to help.

Perhaps President Zuma of South Africa (officially a Communist and President of the ANC) would be willing to help organize a big protest if Obama asked him.

It's time to think outside the box.

I would love to see a million Chinese marching in Tienanmen Square with signs that say "Where's My Vote?" or with pictures of Neda. But that doesn't seem realistic right now. But tell me you wouldn't just love to see it.

"I'd like to see byrningman's evidence. It's been a long time since I looked at the communist press of the era, but that is not how I recall it. Of course, line changes were pretty common, but I've never heard that the official communist movement press attacking either."

Hi, Pithlord. KGB operations against MLK are definitely detailed in 'The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB', by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin. I got it down off the shelf to check, and in this 2001 paperback edition it's covered in pp.236-9. There were some CPUSA members in King's movement, but when they had no success in getting King to link his cause to the global working class and so forth, they tried to undermine him to replace him. The goal was to cause disruption in the USA (not an unrealistic goal in the 1960s and 1970s) and, as I think it Gary mentioned above, the civil rights issue played well in Africa and in the Third World.

As Andrew and Mitrokhin note, MLK was one of the unlucky few people to have been the victim of dirty tricks and character assassination by both American and Soviet intelligence services.

The Andrew-Mitrokhin book is based on KGB files, and though there are some questions about the accuracy of all of the material they cover (since other scholars aren't allowed to consult the same archives), I don't think there's much disputing the basic story. I believe that other works cover the same story relying on other sources (American archives, civil rights movement sources etc.).

byrningman,

I wasn't aware of the history you are citing, but I think it is a bit orthogonal to the main point. Factional undermining of King within the civil rights movement is not the same thing as not supporting him as a public matter.

Communists are always big on internecine factional warfare. It's in the DNA.

"Thousands or millions of people all over the world protesting in support of the Iran reformers would do some good. They might persuade Khamenei the jig is up."

That seems very unlikely; why would he care? Heck, did George W. Bush care when a couple of million people around the world marched to protest the Iraq War? Is Khamenei more sensitive to foreign popular opinion?

It seems realistic to say that dictators don't care about international public opinion, but Amnesty International had some success getting various tyrannies to let prisoners go based on polite letter-writing campaigns. Of course, it doesn't always work, but you never hear of dissidents coming out of prison saying, "I'm really glad no one wrote the authorities or publicized my case. That really hurt me because it made the state mad."

OK, either a "stronger" statement from Obama would have an impact inside Iran, or it would not.

If it would have an impact, then the question is, would it help or hurt? Even if you don't accept that the balance of the evidence suggests that it would hurt, what is the rationale (in terms of things in Iran) for taking that chance?

And if you think it would likely not have a major impact in Iran, what is the reasoning for demanding such a statement? If there is a basis in overall American foreign policy, the only one I can see is that the advocates don't want anybody running foreign policy except in the way that they happen to prefer. Period; no other benefits are apparent.

And if, as seems increasingly likely, it is all about domestic American politics, again it seems that the advocates of "stronger statements" are essentially arguing that their way is the only right one. In either case, the fact that things aren't done the way you prefer after you lose an election should be no surprise to anyone. (But obviously is....)

"Obama (and his choice of words) is of little consequence to the protesters"

I'm not sure that's completely true, judging from the tone of a lot of things I have read. I think a certain amount of the morale of the movement, the hope for change, is supported by outside media coverage and attention, by the sense that Iran is violating international norms, and that the world, especially America, notices and cares. "Notices" does not of course mean "invades" or even "enthusiastically endorses", just to be clear about that, and I think what Obama has said has been pretty much perfectly treading the line of concern that lies between outright endorsement on one side and seeming indifference on the other.

What Americans think matters a great deal to the rest of the world, because of the political, military and economic dominance that it has in the world. At the most fundamental level, it matters because it determines whether or not your country will be invaded (Iranians presumably not unaware that we did so in two countries next door to them recently), but it also matters in that America sets international norms for behaviour and uses its political, economic, and sometimes military power to support them. Whether it is likely they will do anything at the political/economic level in response to this crackdown is completely unclear, but it's not out of the question based on past actions.

But beyond the purely pragmatic aspects, I do think that the image of America as proof in itself that democracy can be stable, durable, prosperous and equitable is widely-believed in the parts of the world that are not free, even as what the US has actually done has sometimes failed to live up to the ideal. Even when it hasn't, the fact that those lurches towards authoritarianism, warmongering, and human-rights violations have not resulted in a downward spiral to absolute tyranny but are actually corrected with the election of new leaders has to be pretty miraculous to people who have seen that story play out quite differently in their own country. (I think it is too.) So the US truly does have a moral power when it speaks, especially if the current President hasn't invaded anywhere lately.

There's one last thing that matters though. 70% of Iranians are under 30. They're also the ones protesting in the streets. And no matter what, they are the people who will be in charge of Iran in 20-30 years, because all the people currently in charge will be dead or too old to be involved in vigorous politics. Change will come to Iran even if the current leadership manages to stop it for now; I think it's impossible that they will be able to do what China did after Tiananmen and effectively contain news of the events, while accruing legitimacy to their claim to be effective stewards with rapid economic development.

So in the long run there is a real chance to reset US-Iran relations based on what the current generation of young Iranians think of the US. We blew one chance with the Axis of Evil speech and came pretty close to blowing it for another decade with Mr "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran". But the widespread individual support for the protesters that they see, the neutrally-worded but strong moral support from the President, the technical assistance from outside individuals in the form of proxies and probably assistance with other technical security measures, as well as simply the existence and availability of Twitter and Facebook and Youtube, I think those are things that will stick with them. You remember who your friends were when times were rough.

I certainly hope that comes to pass. The original cause of all the conflict with Iran seems to have been offense at their nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in, like 1953, and I have to say, the long-irrelevant grudges of defunct oil companies who appear to have been engaged in textbook neocolonial exploitation at the time do not play very well with me. There have been offenses on both sides but the most dramatic seems to have been the hostage crisis - so far as I can tell almost the 9/11 of its day, a traumatic demonstration of the limits of US power. But: we don't remember that. I was 2. And the people of our generation in Iran were also not involved with that. And I don't think my generation in any country thinks that perpetuating the grudge matches of the past is a great idea, based on how that turned out for the 20th century. I'm really tired of hearing about our ongoing list of Cold War-era enemies, when inclusion on that list usually seems to have been based on their having overthrown our pet dictator, booted out our evil corporations, or been just a little bit too left-wing back when my mother was 15 years old. I couldn't care less about any of that crap, and even when there were significant wrongs, I don't believe in visiting the sins of the father upon the son. We didn't do it.

So I think it does matter that Obama delivered a signal that is recognizable to the younger generation in Iran as moral support, but in a form that is not usable as proof of American interference. Because they'll remember that America was their friend when their government was beating the crap out of them and shooting them in the street. I don't think he could say something as strong as today until after Saturday, because until Saturday there was not proof that those who were killed were not acting violently towards the police at the time, and he can't be seen as favouring one ide in the election. After Saturday, things are quite different, and I think he appropriately changed his tone.

So, taking the Soviet Union/civil rights example to heart, if Obama makes a more powerful statement about the Iranian protesters, not only will Iran emerge as a superpower, but in 30 or so years, the United States will collapse upon itself and break up into individual states. All us hard-leftists at ObWi can only hope...

Well, there's something to be said for timing. It's one thing to lead, double barrel guns blazing, and it's another to allow events to seemingly dictate your response. Start slow, build to a crescendo, rather than the other way around. There's no way of telling what would have happened if Obama had gone all John McCain right off the bat.

So Obama was right when he played it cool and he is right now that he is denouncing the regime. He's right when he's realist and he's right when he's idealist!

I suppose it is possible that Obama has perfect timing, but I find it weird that anyone would get so passionate advocating yesterday's line.

From this Independent article:

Asked to explain how a Mousavi-run Iran would differ from an Ahmadinejad-run Iran, Mr Makhmalbaf said: "The first thing to say is that it is now clear that Ahmadinejad is irrelevant. He is not the real power."

If Mousavi was to become president, he said, Iran would invest in "improving the economy for ordinary people, not creating nuclear weapons or supporting conflicts abroad". Secondly, he said, there would be an end to the "constant harassment of young people which means that virtually every young person in Iran has been beaten up by the security forces."

You don't ever forget the people who beat you up. And people who have been beaten up tell their children scary stories about it, and children don't tend to like the people who beat up their parents, especially if that is an ongoing threat.

From that read of the situation, no matter how this comes out in the immediate future, it will be clear that there is an age-line in the Iranian population below which the current regime is near-universally hated. That line will inexorably rise over the next couple of decades and so long as the repression remains in place, even this generation's children are not going to forgive and forget.

So the regime will face three choices: give in to the reformist demands to preserve your legacy; eventually lose power unwillingly when the next generation is most of the population; or die having clung to power, knowing that your name will forever be synonymous in your country with injustice and repression.

Historically there have been a surprising number of stupid regimes who have opted for door number three, but hopefully not in this case.

I hope you're right, Jacob, but as Burma and North Korea make clear, it is also possible to just go on tyrannizing people and ruling them by fear.

"It seems realistic to say that dictators don't care about international public opinion, but Amnesty International had some success getting various tyrannies to let prisoners go based on polite letter-writing campaigns."

Yes, and do I really have to explain the difference between getting a handful of obscure prisoners released, and a regime voluntarily surrendering power?

"Communists are always big on internecine factional warfare. It's in the DNA."

Yes, they're entirely unlike, say, libertarians in that.

"OK, either a 'stronger' statement from Obama would have an impact inside Iran, or it would not."

It strikes me that absent people offering a metric, a definition, for how we judge how "strong" or "weak" Obama's statements have or will be, discussion of undefined "strongness" and "weakness" is pretty useless. It's more of a Rorschach blot for people's own political leanings ("I don't trust Obama; he should be stronger!" versus "I tend to trust Obama; he's doing ok!") than any kind of discussion of anything remotely objective.

Just how "strong" or weak" was Obama's statement today, compared to yesterday? A 6.3? A 4.7? What are people using as measurements, exactly?

Or is it, as I cynically suspect, largely just people enjoying vaguely supporting or attacking Obama and His Kind Of People?

Point taken about Burma and NK, but note:

GDP/Capita
North Korea - $1,116
Burma - $1,160
Iran - $11,250

Internet users
North Korea - N/A
Burma - 40,000
Iran - 23,000,000

Mobile phones
North Korea - N/A
Burma - 216,000
Iran - 29,770,000

Which I hope makes the difference.

Gary,

Regimes do sometimes "voluntarily" relinquish power. You are obviously well enough educated to think of a dozen examples. International opinion and seems to matter. I don't know that we understand why, but it does. In the long run, I'd rather be the Tibetans than the Uighurs.

I agree that most people are taking whatever position they take on this based on whether they like Obama. That's why I was needling Eric.

I tend to think the POTUS should say very little about the politics of other countries, but I don't think that because of how it will affect those politics.

"So Obama was right when he played it cool and he is right now that he is denouncing the regime. He's right when he's realist and he's right when he's idealist!

I suppose it is possible that Obama has perfect timing, but I find it weird that anyone would get so passionate advocating yesterday's line."

Pithlord, I don't understand how this point seems to be eluding you. The U.S. can't lead in this. As it was so nicely put, he needs to be two steps behind the reformers. We can debate all we want about the degree of his chosen statements, which have increased in proportion to the events on the ground. So, as the conditions shift, so does his response. The question is about not only the degree, but also timing.

You're trying to imply an inconsistency that doesn't exist. It's not that Obama can never make a strong statement about what's going on. But aligning the U.S. with the protesters from the very beginning is not the same as responding after the fact.

As for the question of whether anyone cares what we think, the reason question is whether the government can credibly use the U.S. as a foil. We know they will try regardless of what we say. But the more convoluted the Iranian government's attempts to use that canard—and the less easy we make it for the U.S. to be used as a foil—the more they will indict themselves.

Eric is absolutely correct: the only odd position anyone has taken has been the neocons, who still can't begin to reasonably spell out what they think a "stronger" response from the President will accomplish.

"...who still can't begin to reasonably spell out what they think a 'stronger' response from the President will accomplish."

If we attack Russia now, to get them out of Georgia, our international clout will rise, and we have much more ability to face down the Iranians!

Just spit-balling, and besides, I've been playing too much of this the last couple of days. Turns out one really doesn't have much leverage on Russia. Big surprise.

Did the Soviet Union's support for the civil rights movement hur or harm the cause?

Even with hindsight, it's hard to say. But I think it helped. It made deaking with Jim Crow a Cold War imperative. Cold War liberals were able to argue that the US couldn't persuasively fight for democracy around the world and deny it in Alabama.

Paulk,

A medieval person suspected of heresy, but perhaps unable to articulate all the subtelties of orthodoxy, was permitted to say, "I believe what the Church believes."

So it would be easier simply to say "I support what Obama does. "

"So Obama was right when he played it cool and he is right now that he is denouncing the regime. He's right when he's realist and he's right when he's idealist!"

But he wasn't silent in the beginning either!!! Which is part of what made the avalanche of criticism so weird. He was speaking out, but in measured tones and in a manner so as not to become the central story.

He was denouncing the violence and standing up for democratic principles.

Then the violence got more intense - and everyone saw it on youtube with Neda et al - so it was appropriate for his rhetoric to intensify - but it has only intensified slightly. The press is making a big deal out of it, but really, his statements are more similar than different.

At least, you couldn't label one response realist and another idealist. But yeah, overall, he's done a fine job. I guess maybe Kissinger is a hopeless Obamabot too, but he agrees with me.

Or: What PaulK said more eloquently. His rhetoric has changed in proportion to the evolution of the situation. Which is a good thing in most circumstances. Don't be rigid, adapt to the situation.

"So it would be easier simply to say "I support what Obama does."

Which would be an accurate portrayal of my position, except it isn't. I have criticized Obama extensively on the following issues:

1. Torture/civil liberties
2. Af/Pak policy
3. Economic policy
4. LGBT policy
5. Iraq policy

Given my track record of rather forceful criticism, it's a stretch to say that I'm knee jerk, reflexively supportive of whatever Obama is doing.

At least, if that's what I'm going for, I'm doing it wrong. Rather, I'm merely pointing out that the avalanche of criticism is ridiculous (as George Will and Henry Kissinger have pointed out). His response has been rather deft. It's a pleasure to behold after President Foot in Mouth.

"Did the Soviet Union's support for the civil rights movement hur or harm the cause?...It made dealing with Jim Crow a Cold War imperative."

Yeah, tell that to all those people whose lives were destroyed by COINTELPRO. Civil Rights weren't "dealt with" in a positive way during that period.

It's clear that the battle lines are drawn; the Iranian crisis has crystalised the contours of the debate over Obama's foreign policy and conservative lines of attack.

Although conservatives will occasionally throw in the irresistible Carter comparisons, in many ways it looks like we are in for a replay of the Nixon-Kissinger era. The neocons were essentially born from conservative opposition to Nixon and Kissinger's strategy of pursuing a working relationship with countries like the Soviet Union and China, toning down the rhetoric in the process as they believed constant ideological attacks only prevented discussion of arms control and other issues with these governments.

By and large, Obama's grand strategy seems to owe

A medieval person suspected of heresy, but perhaps unable to articulate all the subtelties of orthodoxy, was permitted to say, "I believe what the Church believes."

So it would be easier simply to say "I support what Obama does. "

Maybe his argument wasn't articulated clearly enough for you, but I didn't have any problem with it, and I don't think most other people did either. If you could point out the specific parts that were too complicated, I'll try to explain them, if you want.

"Yeah, tell that to all those people whose lives were destroyed by COINTELPRO."

I don't think that can remotely be blamed on the Soviet Union (or Red China). The U.S. conservatives/rightwingers simply saw the hand of Moscow behind every possible evil, no matter what, no matter whether there was a shread of Moscow's influence there, or not.

Moscow's influence, as you know, over both the American anti-war movement, and civil rights movement, was next to nil; these were 99.9% domestic movements, organically grown in the U.S. COINTELPRO was an outgrowth of the long long long campaign by J. Edgar Hoover, ever since the Palmer Raid days, against The Horrible Threat of Leftists, Anarchists, Blacks, and Foreigners (collectively known as "subversives"). Added to that were the special paranoias of Richard Nixon.

What the Soviet Union did or didn't do was more or less irrelevant to all this. The Soviet speeches about about civil rights, or against the Vietnam War, didn't cause COINTELPRO.

And in general, I don't think it's terribly useful to make analogies from the U.S./Soviet/civil rights issues to today's U.S./Iran issues; I think trying to stretch those is why this conversation has gone so wobbly.

"What the Soviet Union did or didn't do was more or less irrelevant to all this."

I can accept that to some extent, but I do believe the specter made it easier to usher in COINTELPRO and other measures. Did the Soviets increase the paranoia/association? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I don't see an argument that their interference helped.

A medieval person suspected of heresy, but perhaps unable to articulate all the subtelties of orthodoxy, was permitted to say, "I believe what the Church believes."

So it would be easier simply to say "I support what Obama does. "

Bizarre analogy, Pithlord, but okay.

No.

The methodology has been argued and the behavior prescribed, so I'm not sure who is having trouble articulating whatever orthodoxy you seem to think is beyond us. As I said, we can debate whether Obama's actual wording should be stronger or weaker, but the guiding principle is to avoid inserting the U.S into a situation over which we have no control, cannot be expect to have any control, and which would be far more disadvantageous than advantageous.

That was true a week and a half ago and is still true today.

I'm not only NOT arguing that I support whatever Obama does, I'm saying the opposite. Many people on the left and right who know a good deal about foreign policy have credited him with walking a narrow and delicate line well. That's not to say that I'm perfectly happy with all word choice and timing. But given all these issues, stating that we're impressed with what he has done is not the same as arguing that it impresses us because he is the one who does it. (This sounds remarkably like the Bush-era rationalizations that were so maddening and destroyed the credibility of many previously respected public figures.)

You're still tilting at straw windmills. Accusing people of contradictions means you need to actually demonstrate a contradiction and counter the rebuttals, not merely ignore distinctions and repeat the accusation.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that my suppositions are wrong, but that would require that someone honestly engage the argument that Eric has put forth. You still haven't done that.

"This was the largest part of the reason both Truman and Eisenhower made what gestures towards civil rights that they did: because they knew they were suffering in the international propaganda war with the Soviets in the face of constant Soviet haranging about American racism, which went over very well in the Third World. It strongly affected JFK, as well, and was also one of his largest motivations regarding civil rights."

Maybe not the "largest part" but yes, the Soviet Union "meddled", as bad as the Soviet Union was, and it worked. They were playing to the third world decolonizing peanut gallery. Paul Robeson?

It's something they don't teach you in school which is why I'm not surprised that people didn't know this. Anyhoo, I think this is a good example of why Martin shouldn't try to match George Packer's sanctimony with his own sanctimonious mocking and lecturing.

I'd like Obama to speak up more, even if 1) the Republicans are just playing to their base 2) it wouldn't really change things one way or the other just as being more muted won't 3) even if he'll still pursue a more diplomatic route in the near future.

Republicans get all idealistic about foreign affairs because they can't about anything regarding domistic affairs where they're backing polluters, the insurance companies, big banks etc.

"I think this is a good example of why Martin shouldn't try to match George Packer's sanctimony with his own sanctimonious mocking and lecturing."

What sanctimony? what lecture? What mocking?

What's odd is that I acknowledged that the Soviet Union meddled. But then you present evidence that the USSR meddled and use that to argue that this is a reason why I shouldn't mock or lecture...George Packer? Please explain.

Peter K: It's something they don't teach you in school which is why I'm not surprised that people didn't know this.

Something they didn't teach me in school was how in the world YOU know what they did or did not teach me in school, or, for that matter, what I would eventually [now] come to know.

So: How DO you know all this about me?

"So: How DO you know all this about me?"

It's not about you; it's about They. Everyone knows about They.

They are responsible for everything we don't like, after all. They have powers that are mighty and awesome. Fear the They!

Er, Them. Them, Them, Them! [points, screams, and runs off into desert]

Eric,

But I don't see an argument that [Soviet] interference helped.

If I could prove that Truman desegregated the army because of fear of Soviet criticism on the subject, would that change your mind? What evidence would?

Paulk,

My view is that Obama got it right in the first place (although not for Eric's reasons) and is making a mistake now.

Obama has gone from expressing "concern" about domestic repression (OK in diplomatic terms and similar to what GHWB did back in the day) to expressing "outrage". That's a big difference, and an unfortunate one from my perspective. I doubt it will make any difference to domestic politics in Iran, but it narrows diplomatic options. It makes it more difficult to treat with Khameini if he succeeds and weakens the US's bargaining position with Moussavi if he does.

We're all better off because GHWB and Baker kept up diplomacy with China after 1989.

While we are sensibly debating realism and idealism, and what the people of Iran want, let's not forget to actually listen to what they are saying, though. This is Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the official overseas spokesman of the Moussavi campaign:

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=202314015507

We need to continue protesting in front of the embassies and lobby the issues pertaining to the people of Iran- with help from world governments, journalists and citizens.

We need the world to recognize Ahmadinejad as the leader of a coup d'etat and not as the leader of Iran. If this happens, we will be successful.

...

We need to work collectively to spread the information coming out from Iran.

We need to continue.

Friday night, at sunset, light a candle. Think about and respect the deaths of the brave. The Iranian people are planning to do the same outisde their houses, on their roofs, chanting: "Allah o Akbar.

They will be chanting "Allah o Akbar" to not prove their religion, but to voice the intolerable pressures put on them by the government.

Wearing the colour green is not to represent Mousavi, it is to represent a movement (democratic movement).

We are all supporters. Right now, none of us belong to any specific groups- we need to unite.

This is to speak out against Ahmadinejad, Khamenei, and 30 years of dictatorship in Iran. We want to take that closer step toward democracy.

We should follow the footsteps of Ghandi and Mandella.

We want the people of the West and the media to listen to the words of the Iranian people in Iran.

I'm not saying that means at this moment we (or Obama) should be doing anything other than what we are doing. But I think it's worth remembering that it is not realism that puts people in the street demonstrating against their elections having been stolen, facing tear gas, batons, & bullets. You don't do that based on a cold calculation of what is the safest path. If everyone in Iran took the safest, most realistic path, nobody would be out there protesting.

So that's just to put a word in for idealism here. Sure, if they don't succeed, we will still have to deal with Ahmadinejad in the near term. But that situation will change, and the people who will end up in control will remember who offered them at least moral support back when they were getting killed in the street.

And like I say it is important - if we are going to say that we are trying to do what the people in Iran that we sympathize with want us to do - to actually listen to what it is they are asking for. And it's not as simple as saying that they want us to keep quiet. From the first day #iranelection was full of pleas for non-recognition of the results, for media coverage, for outside pressure, it has been a constant.

"If I could prove that Truman desegregated the army because of fear of Soviet criticism on the subject, would that change your mind? What evidence would? "

That would certainly be good evidence. But I still argue that it made Nixon and those around him more predisposed to violently repress the movement, and mad that repression under Nixon easier to sell.

Perhaps it's a question of timeline? Helpful under Truman and Ike, less so later?

I'll add this pithy: I'm less confident in Obama's more recent rhetorical tack - but only if it escalates/signals something deeper.

I expected the rhetoric to intensify given the increased violence. Further, the language is not a dramatic shift. But if he goes any further (or if the most recent statement is an indication of inward administration power-struggles), it could prove problematic for the reasons you point out.

"What's odd is that I acknowledged that the Soviet Union meddled. But then you present evidence that the USSR meddled and use that to argue that this is a reason why I shouldn't mock or lecture...George Packer? Please explain."

I just pointed out as others have that your main analogy is wrong. So maybe you don't know everything and hence should take a less mocking, righteous tone when debating Packer or other people.

I'll agree that Packer's sanctimonious tone is perhaps asking for it.

I'll also admit that perhaps the US under Truman and Eisenhower was more open to positive social change than the Iranian mullahs are, but then that would mean the US isn't such an evil empire as people assume.

I really don't think the US Government should be taking its policy from Moussavi spokespersons (or vice versa for that matter).

Eric,

In case you missed this from the previous thread, Gary posted this nugget:

Now that Ayatollah Khamenei has become inexorably connected to Ahmadinejad’s power grab, many clerics are coming around to the idea that the current system needs to be changed. Among those who are now believed to be arrayed against Ayatollah Khamenei is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shi’a cleric in neighboring Iraq. Rafsanjani is known to have met with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani’s representative in Iran, Javad Shahrestani.

I searched a bit for any Iraqi statements about the Iran situation, and (not surprisingly) found none. But if it is true that Sistani is aligning against Khamanei, I think there would have to be a negative impact on Iraq if Khamanei and Achmedinejad retain power...and possibly a positive one if they don't.

"So maybe you don't know everything and hence should take a less mocking, righteous tone when debating Packer or other people."

Of course I don't know everything! And I wasn't upset with Packer becuase of garbled trivia. I was upset because the tendencies and foreign policy outlook that led him to support probably the biggest foreign policy blunder in US history have been cropping up again.

If he had gotten a fact or date wrong, or was wrong about the extent of US or foreign involvement in [ISSUE X], I would hardly have mentioned it. I've cited Packer favorably far more frequently than negatively.

I can't keep track of all the different backs and forth on this thread, but on the specific question of whether or not Soviet espionage had an impact on American society, specifically vis-a-vis race issues in the 1960s and 1970s, I think the answer is absolutely yes. Clearly much less than the Soviet intelligence services would have liked, but I think Soviet interference helped intensify the contentions of that era. For example, a great many of the conspiracy theories of that era can be traced back to Soviet disinformation campaigns, JFK's assassination, MLK's assassination etc. Basically, if it appears in an Oliver Stone film, it probably began on the desk of the professional document forgers at KGB headquarters. Secondly, even if much less successful than Moscow might have liked, there was enough communist penetration of movements like the civil rights movement to encourage, and in some quarters vindicate, those who earnestly desired to blame most every left-wing cause on nefarious communist plots. Thirdly, more radical groups later in the decade, such as the Blank Panthers and the Weatherman, were surely products of the Cold War.

I also think Eric's original analogy (or did it come from another source?), of Khrushchev supporting the civil rights movement, is a clever and useful way of considering America's position vis-a-vis the Iranian opposition today. I don't see how the existence of some degree of Soviet infiltration invalidates it -- it seems likely to me that Obama's enthusiastic support of the Iranian opposition would be about as welcome as Khrushchev's was to MLK and other civil rights leaders.

"But I still argue that it made Nixon and those around him more predisposed to violently repress the movement"

I really don't think so.

(FWIW, if there's one subject in the world I regard myself as pretty damn expert on, albeit as an auto-didact it's Richard Nixon), and Richard Nixon's reactionary acts, which is to say, almost all of his acts, were almost all responses to voices in his head. He also saw the Alger Hiss case as the model that presented the solution to most every problem, but I don't think one could argue that this meant that if the Hiss case hadn't specifically existed, that Nixon would have been less paranoid about the hand of international communism playing out in America. Nixon believed that Daniel Ellsberg was an agent of the Soviet Union. Nixon believed that North Vietnam followed directions from Moscow (and to some extent China). Nixon believed that just about everybody was an agent of the Soviet Union. What the Soviet Union actually did played no actual part in 97% of his beliefs and actions.

In particular, what the Soviet Union actually did, or said, had effectively no bearing whatever on Nixon's convictions that the peace movement was secretly run by the Soviets.

I realize that I'm just asserting here, but I'm not sure how to more fully support my claims absent dropping fifty door-stop books on your desk about Nixon and asking you to read them.

Although if you haven't read Perlstein's Nixonland (which you probably have) as one of the best of the most recent, that would be a good choice.

Summary: the simple fact of the existence of the Soviet Union was sufficient to generate crazed paranoia in Nixon as his basic political pole, since the beginning of his political career in 1946, and the same is true of J. Edgar Hoover since his installation as head of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924. Statements from the Soviet Union were just irrelevant to anything they believed or thought about anything.

"I'll also admit that perhaps the US under Truman and Eisenhower was more open to positive social change than the Iranian mullahs are, but then that would mean the US isn't such an evil empire as people assume."

Huh? Which people, specifically?

"I just pointed out as others have that your main analogy is wrong."

Well, it's not necessarily "wrong" for the reasons Byrnie pointed out - it was more of an illustration of a point than an analogy.

Further, pointing out that the USSR was meddling in the civil rights movement doesn't negate the analogy. After all, Obama and the US government is also meddling in Iranian affairs/the anti-regime movement.

"Basically, if it appears in an Oliver Stone film, it probably began on the desk of the professional document forgers at KGB headquarters."

I suggest that that claim is best narrowed primarily to just JFK. His Nixon is really quite accurate, with small allowances for dramatic condensing. Neither is there anything particularly inauthentic about Platoon, neither does there appear to be anything particularly in the department of KGB forgery in Wall Street, and so on.

"Thirdly, more radical groups later in the decade, such as the Blank Panthers and the Weatherman, were surely products of the Cold War."

This is a sufficiently vague claim that I'm not sure what you mean by it. (Setting aside the obvious typo for "Black Panthers," of course.)

Certainly the Weather Underground and the later Black Panthers were revolutionary, and their framework was a world of the Cold War, and the Weather Underground, at least, was communist, but they certainly also didn't in any way take direction from Moscow, or look to Moscow. Insofar as they looked to others for models, they looked to the generalized concept of third world revolutionaries, "anti-imperialism," and thus also regarded themselves as highly in solidarity with North Vietnam. But otherwise their ideology was quite mish-mashy, as well as non-static, and so I'm really unclear what exactly by "products of the Cold War" here. In a generalized sense, sure. But if you meant any sort of more specific sense, I'd ask for clarification.

"For example, a great many of the conspiracy theories of that era can be traced back to Soviet disinformation campaigns, JFK's assassination, MLK's assassination etc"

I'd tend to say that in American the more prominent conspiracy theories more generally tended to run in parallel than they tended to originate in Moscow, though there were certainly elements of Soviet black propaganda that were picked up, both in America, and particularly in Europe and the third world, certainly.

But it wasn't necessary for the KGB to suggest that James Earl Ray didn't act alone; Americans were able to come up with the idea on their own. Ditto Oswald. To be sure, the KGB did what they could to help, but it was hardly necessary, or a major reason why such theories have been so popular (in the U.S., at least; I'd give more credit to the KGB abroad in their propaganda).

I don't think the issue is Soviet or communist meddling in the civil rights movement. The issue is whether Soviet public rhetoric about the evils of segregation helped or hurt the cause.

That's a genuinely tough issue. On the one hand, reachable whites were not likely to be impressed by the moral credentials of the Soviets. One might imagine they'd take their dislike of communism and apply it to the civil rights movement. The problem is that those whites most likely to reason-by-association that the civil rights movement was communist were precisely the people most hostile to civil rights anyway.

On the other hand, Sovite criticism had documented positive effects, because American elites wanted to blunt it. They were able to say, "The commies are making us look bad by calling us out for Jim Crow. If we're going to persuade the world we are the good guys, we have to do something about that."

The John Birch society would respond by saying Negro equality was a communist plot, and they could point to plenty of Party Congress speeches and Pravda editorials if they watned to.

Who can say what the net effect was?

I really don't think the US Government should be taking its policy from Moussavi spokespersons (or vice versa for that matter).

I did not say that. I said if we (we the people discussing this, not we the United States government) were going to say that we were advocating a course of action that was "what the people in Iran want", it would be good to pay some attention to what the people in Iran actually want. Because saying "Oh they want the world to stay out of this" when in fact they are begging for the world to condemn it is pretty bogus.

That does not mean we have to do what they are asking for. It means that we can only honestly say we are doing what they want us to do when we are actually doing what they want us to do.

And my point beyond that is: it matters a great deal whether the younger generation in Iran feels it was A) abandoned or B) supported by the United States, because those are the people who will be in charge 30 years from now, and they will remember. That matters a lot more to me than whether the aging minority group of hardliners currently in power get (more?) cranky with the US right now over being called, you know, murderous crushers of human rights.

But I shall move along to the next thread since this one seems stuck on this (to-me unenlightening) discussion of Soviet rhetoric on the Civil Rights movement.

Martin:
"Well, it's not necessarily "wrong" for the reasons Byrnie pointed out - it was more of an illustration of a point than an analogy.

Further, pointing out that the USSR was meddling in the civil rights movement doesn't negate the analogy. After all, Obama and the US government is also meddling in Iranian affairs/the anti-regime movement."

Let me try again. Here's your quote of Luban and what you wrote:

Luban:
"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?"

Martin:
"I would say good questions, but they really answer themselves."
---

Do they? I think King - someone who knew American history especially regarding civil rights - would know that constant Soviet haranging of the US during the Truman and Eisenhower administration over the US's racism did change things. It doesn't matter that the Soviets were playing to the decolonizing third world. I think King probably approved of the results.

So yeah King probably didn't disapprove of the Soviets criticizing the US over racism. The Soviets didn't inflame the already inflamed white supremecists. They did damage the US in the court of World Opinion, which the US had responded to in the 40s and 50s.

Luban's example would argue for Obama to be even more strident in his criticism of the Iranian regime. But there is a lot of differences between the situations so I would advise against using it as an analogy.

(FWIW, if there's one subject in the world I regard myself as pretty damn expert on, albeit as an auto-didact it's Richard Nixon), and Richard Nixon's reactionary acts, which is to say, almost all of his acts, were almost all responses to voices in his head...Nixon believed that just about everybody was an agent of the Soviet Union.

Gary, I've got to say you really need to reappraise your characterisation of Nixon, you really seem to taking Nixon the myth far too much at face value. Admittedly, he deliberately cultivated that persona to an extent, but you've got to push through that. His presidency is fascinating precisely because he departed from blinkered anti-communism to such an unprecedented degree, compared to his predecessors. Detente, the opening to China, his efforts to isolate the North Vietnamese, all these cornerstones of his foreign policy are predicated on a nuanced and relatively dispassionate analysis of the communist world (don't believe Kissinger's self-generated hype either, the president was always in the driving seat of these initiatives).

I happened to rewatch Oliver Stone's Nixon myself just the other night. I mean, it's fun, and Stone does try to find the real Nixon in his own maladroit, heavy-handed fashion, but c'mon, it's pretty absurd.

So yeah King probably didn't disapprove of the Soviets criticizing the US over racism. The Soviets didn't inflame the already inflamed white supremecists. They did damage the US in the court of World Opinion, which the US had responded to in the 40s and 50s.

Luban's example would argue for Obama to be even more strident in his criticism of the Iranian regime. But there is a lot of differences between the situations so I would advise against using it as an analogy.

Well, it's not just about "criticize." I mean, Obama did plenty of "criticizing" as has every US regime since 1979. The question was about how to deal with this specific episode, and Luban made a point about a specific hypothetical statement by Kruschev that was never made. Not just criticizing, but offering help, making common cause, standing together, etc.

"Detente, the opening to China, his efforts to isolate the North Vietnamese, all these cornerstones of his foreign policy are predicated on a nuanced and relatively dispassionate analysis"

Yes, he absolutely believed he could do business with all these Communists; I don't recall saying anything at all about this, let alone suggesting it wasn't so.

"...but you've got to push through that."

I've read something close to, possibly over, 400+ books on Nixon and his presidency, including the memoirs of just about everyone who ever served in his administrations, and almost every one of his books, and I've listened to over a hundred hours of his tapes, as well as read hundreds of hours more transcripts, as well as having read endless critiques and analyses of his presidency, earlier career, and later career, as well as, of course, seen all of his televised press conferences and speeches more than once. I've read almost all of the major biographies of him. I've followed his domestic policy, his foreign policy, his personal life, his appointments, his Congressional career, his post-governmental life, his theories about everything he ever expressed a theory about, and his pre-governmental life. And, of course, Watergate. (Plus something on the order of another 800+ books and unpublished manuscripts on the Vietnam War, plus many hundreds of other books on politicians and politics and foreign policy during Nixon's lifetime, both U.S. and of/about many other countries.)

I liked Nixonland but there was not one single fact about Nixon in it that I wasn't quite familiar with. (A few details about other people were new to me.)

This certainly doesn't in the least mean I can't be wrong about Nixon in any number of specifics, or in general, let along put myself poorly in saying something about him, but thanks muchly for your advice, including the part about taking his "myth far too much at face value."

I'll perhaps try to keep it in mind.

Richard Nixon's reactionary acts, which is to say, almost all of his acts, were almost all responses to voices in his head

I haven't been following thread to closely, given that they seem to spontaneously explode into italics or new and improved trolls appear that make me long for the old ones, but catching this comment when it was quoted, I have to ask what 'voices in his head' means. While I imagine that everyone has their own chorus of voices that tell them things, so in one way, it is totally unremarkable, the formulation sounds like there is evidence that Nixon suffered from mental illness. Is that the case?

"...the formulation sounds like there is evidence that Nixon suffered from mental illness. Is that the case?"

Nixon was treated for many years by Arnold Hutschnecker, as it happens. There's no dispute about this. Of course, whether someone qualifies as suffering from "mental illness" is pretty much a subjective determination.

That Nixon did was the theme of Anthony Summers's biography, actually. I don't have a license to practice medicine, myself (and neither did Summers), so I wouldn't care to argue the claim on those terms. But in the late stages of Watergate, it's well-documented by many sources that this is true:

[...] Concern for Nixons mental state was so great, Summers writes, that Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger ordered the military not to react to orders from the White House unless they were cleared by him or the secretary of state.
If you check page 701 of Perlstein, you'll also see his mentioning that after Walter Winchell in the Fifties "raised suspicions about the number of visits Nixon was making to a certain Dr. Hutschnecker on Park AVenue, Nixon started seeing a military doctor in Washington instead."

Hunschnecker's only been quoted as saying that Nixon was "neurotic," which I think is pretty indisputable.

There was a tv documentary made out of Summers' book, following the theme that Nixon was mentally ill, but I don't recall that it had anything to add to Summers, whose details are somewhat contested, and whose reputation doesn't approach rock-solid. (He's somewhat tabloidish, in other words, so buyer beware. Judge for yourself, if you like.)

There's no disputing that Nixon was heavily drinking in the latter days of his presidency. Kissinger, as I recall, makes mention of giving orders that certain calls to the president from foreign leaders not be allowed to go through, on grounds that Nixon was drunk at the time. (Regrettably, I no longer possess my copies of Kissinger's memoirs, or any of the rest of my former library of Nixonia (though some I still have in storage with a friend in New York), other than having recently picked up a copy of Nixonland so I could read it.

There are, of course, about one jillion examples in the Nixon tapes, and in Nixon's histories, of his obsessions with his personal enemies. Random example:

[...] "Never forget," Nixon tells national security adviser Henry Kissinger in a taped Oval Office conversation revealed Tuesday. "The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy.

"Professors are the enemy," he repeated. "Write that on a blackboard 100 times and never forget it."

Presumably I need remind nobody (aside from perhaps d'd'd'dave) of Nixon's "enemies list."

I think it's perfectly fair to say that Richard Nixon was a man obsessed with his perceived enemies. And it drove him to destroy himself. He himself was quite obviously talking to himself in his farewell speech:

[...] Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember other may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.
Which is exactly what he did in forming the Plumbers, demanding they firebomb the Brookings institute, and the bajillions of other investigations and acts of revenge he ordered of every agency of government he possibly could, including, of course, rooting throughout government to find all the enemies within he constantly stated were there, and had to be found, and gotten rid of. There are a zillion quotes from his own tapes on these themes.

What I meant by my remark that you ask after, LJ, was that Nixon's suspicions of the Soviet hand being behind endless matters didn't require any actual Soviet activity, or any information that might lead a reasonably objective person to suspect any such thing. Similarly, most of Nixon's suspicions about his perceived "enemies" where phantoms of his own mind. (Er, you can ask one of the blog-owners about her father's being ranted about by Nixon as one, if you like.)

Oops; put more than four links into my comment; will split it. Pt. I:

"...the formulation sounds like there is evidence that Nixon suffered from mental illness. Is that the case?"

Nixon was treated for many years by Arnold Hutschnecker, as it happens. There's no dispute about this. Of course, whether someone qualifies as suffering from "mental illness" is pretty much a subjective determination.

That Nixon did was the theme of Anthony Summers's biography, actually. I don't have a license to practice medicine, myself (and neither did Summers), so I wouldn't care to argue the claim on those terms. But in the late stages of Watergate, it's well-documented by many sources that this is true:

[...] Concern for Nixons mental state was so great, Summers writes, that Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger ordered the military not to react to orders from the White House unless they were cleared by him or the secretary of state.
If you check page 701 of Perlstein, you'll also see his mentioning that after Walter Winchell in the Fifties "raised suspicions about the number of visits Nixon was making to a certain Dr. Hutschnecker on Park AVenue, Nixon started seeing a military doctor in Washington instead."

Hunschnecker's only been quoted as saying that Nixon was "neurotic," which I think is pretty indisputable.

There was a tv documentary made out of Summers' book, following the theme that Nixon was mentally ill, but I don't recall that it had anything to add to Summers, whose details are somewhat contested, and whose reputation doesn't approach rock-solid. (He's somewhat tabloidish, in other words, so buyer beware. Judge for yourself, if you like.)

Pt. II:
There's no disputing that Nixon was heavily drinking in the latter days of his presidency. Kissinger, as I recall, makes mention of giving orders that certain calls to the president from foreign leaders not be allowed to go through, on grounds that Nixon was drunk at the time. (Regrettably, I no longer possess my copies of Kissinger's memoirs, or any of the rest of my former library of Nixonia (though some I still have in storage with a friend in New York), other than having recently picked up a copy of Nixonland so I could read it.

There are, of course, about one jillion examples in the Nixon tapes, and in Nixon's histories, of his obsessions with his personal enemies. Random example:

[...] "Never forget," Nixon tells national security adviser Henry Kissinger in a taped Oval Office conversation revealed Tuesday. "The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy.

"Professors are the enemy," he repeated. "Write that on a blackboard 100 times and never forget it."

Presumably I need remind nobody (aside from perhaps d'd'd'dave) of Nixon's "enemies list."

I think it's perfectly fair to say that Richard Nixon was a man obsessed with his perceived enemies. And it drove him to destroy himself. He himself was quite obviously talking to himself in his farewell speech:

[...] Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember other may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.
Which is exactly what he did in forming the Plumbers, demanding they firebomb the Brookings institute, and the bajillions of other investigations and acts of revenge he ordered of every agency of government he possibly could, including, of course, rooting throughout government to find all the enemies within he constantly stated were there, and had to be found, and gotten rid of. There are a zillion quotes from his own tapes on these themes.

What I meant by my remark that you ask after, LJ, was that Nixon's suspicions of the Soviet hand being behind endless matters didn't require any actual Soviet activity, or any information that might lead a reasonably objective person to suspect any such thing. Similarly, most of Nixon's suspicions about his perceived "enemies" where phantoms of his own mind. (Er, you can ask one of the blog-owners about her father's being ranted about by Nixon as one, if you like.)

Walter Isaacson's scholarship is pretty highly regarded, so this quote from his book on Kissinger (there are a large number of sources one could go to on Nixon's drinking):

[...] "That was the excuse that Kissinger often used when defending Nixon: When he was tired and under strain, Kissinger would say, Nixon would begin slurring his words after just one or two drinks, even if he wasn't really drunk. Still, Nixon's drinking became unsettling to Kissinger, who barely drank at all. He would poke fun at 'my drunken friend' the way people joke about things that truly scare them.

"The drinking was also a festering issue among his staff, who often listened in on the slurred late-night conversations. Kissinger used this to his advantage; he needed their support, he would tell aides, because as they alone knew, he was the one man who kept 'that drunken lunatic' from doing things that would 'blow up the world.'"

Or see Robert Dallek.

Dallek (starting with the Yom Kippur War) :

[...] At 10:35 a.m., Kissinger again called Haig. They discussed how to work with the Soviets to bring the fighting to a halt. When Haig reported that Nixon was considering returning to Washington, Kissinger discouraged it—part of a recurring pattern to keep Nixon out of the process.

[...]

Although Kissinger spoke to Nixon frequently during these four days, it was usually Kissinger who initiated the calls, kept track of the fighting, and parceled out information as he saw fit. On the night of October 7, according to a telephone transcript, Nixon asked Kissinger if there had been any message from Brezhnev. "Oh, yes, we heard from him," Kissinger replied, volunteering no more. Nixon had to press, asking lamely, "What did he say?"

At 7:55 on the night of October 11, Brent Scowcroft, Haig's replacement as Kissinger's deputy at the N.S.C., called Kissinger to report that the British prime minister, Edward Heath, wanted to speak to the president in the next 30 minutes. According to a telephone transcript, Kissinger replied, "Can we tell them no? When I talked to the President he was loaded." Scowcroft suggested that they describe Nixon as unavailable, but say that the prime minister could speak to Kissinger. "In fact, I would welcome it," Kissinger told Scowcroft.

What is striking is how matter-of-fact Kissinger and Scowcroft were about Nixon's condition, as if it had been nothing out of the ordinary—as if Nixon's drinking to excess was just part of the routine. They showed no concern at having to keep the prime minister of America's principal ally away from the president.

[...]

In the midst of these developments, Nixon called Kissinger. But it was not to discuss the Middle East. Nixon was, Kissinger would later write, "as agitated and emotional as I had ever heard him." The call confirmed what Haig had told Kissinger by phone a day earlier. "How is his frame of mind?," Kissinger had asked, according to a transcript. "Very down, very down," Haig replied.

Kissinger and Haig decided to convene a meeting of national-security officials to devise a response to Brezhnev. Kissinger acknowledges in his memoirs that Nixon was by then asleep, and that he and Haig decided not to get him up. "Should I wake up the President?," Kissinger asked Haig during a 9:50 p.m. phone conversation on October 24, according to the transcript. "No," Haig answered. A half-hour later, in another phone conversation, it is Kissinger who has become reluctant. "Have you talked to the President?," Haig asked. "No, I haven't," Kissinger replied. "He would just start charging around I don't think we should bother the President." Haig persuaded Kissinger to at least shift the meeting from the State Department to the White House, as a way to leave the impression that Nixon was "a part of everything you are doing." Was Nixon on sedatives that would not allow him to function effectively? Had he been drinking? Was he simply preoccupied, as Kissinger suggests in his official recollections? For whatever reason, Kissinger did not want the president involved.

It was an extraordinary turn of events. None of the seven officials who met for more than three hours, until two a.m., had been elected to office. Yet they were setting policy in a dangerous international crisis, and coming to a decision that should have rested with the president: directing U.S. forces to raise America's worldwide level of military readiness from Defense Conditions 4 and 5 to Def Con 3, a level reached only once before, during the Cuban missile crisis. (U.S. readiness would be raised on only two subsequent occasions, during the 1991 Gulf War and on September 11, 2001.) The worldwide alert was coupled with a message delivered to the Soviet Embassy at 5:40 a.m. It described "your suggestion of unilateral action as a matter of the gravest concern involving incalculable consequences." Although the White House issued a statement attributing to Nixon the decision to put the nation on high alert, and Kissinger repeated this assertion at a press briefing, it was Kissinger and the six other national-security officials in the early-morning hours who actually chose to do it, though presumably confident that they reflected Nixon's wishes. But how confident could they really have been? As Kissinger would remind Haig the next day, according to the transcript of a phone call, "You and I were the only ones for it. These other guys were wailing all over the place this morning."

Etc., etc., etc. Dallek's scholarship is rock-solid, and most highly regarded, and all this stuff about drinking is highly uncontroversial among any Nixon scholar who isn't an extremely pro-Nixon partisan. More to the point, you can listen to the tapes of Kissinger or Nixon yourself. (You might also read the next page in the excerpt's from Dallek's work at that link, for a bit more, if you like.)

Incidentally, speaking of this whole "try to imagine" thing with Krushchev, I'm reminded of Kruschchev's visit to Pittsburgh when the steelworkers were on strike, and the attitude the steelworkers took towards meeting Krushchev (much to his disgust; his grasp of American politics was, shall we say, not strong -- and he was surprised they didn't feel towards him like Harry Bridges and the dockworker's union did).

Oops, I gave bad links; please use this and this, which is to say, page 122 and page 129. Sorry about that.

Sheesh! Page 118 on Bridges, and page 122 on the steelworkers in Pittsburgh.

Thanks Gary, it's not the culmination of the Watergate affair that I'm wondering about, it's when you say "his reactionary acts, which is to say, almost all of his acts" sounds like he was suffering long before Watergate. Sorry, between classes right now, so will try to flesh this out a bit later.

Finished classes, so to flesh this out a bit, if Nixon were 'hearing voices', I'd probably have to reevaluate my utter and total disdain for the man. To me, hearing voices is a step up in intensity from a drinking problem. I'm sure that Nixon had his problems, but until you phrased it that way (and I haven't read Summer's book), I had never considered that he was acting out of anything other than self aggrandizement and that his use of communism to defeat opponents was simply opportunistic. I might go as far to say that he became a victim of the paranoia he created, but point occurred, I would have placed it in his reelection run up.

Well, I will say this for your insights into Nixon, Gary: you've certainly acquired his predilection for carpet-bombing when things aren't going your way. The rest of it you're not convincing me.

byrningman: Gary: you've certainly acquired his predilection for carpet-bombing when things aren't going your way.

Apparently, "things aren't going your way" is equivalent to "I, byrningman, continue to disagree with you."

I don't see anyone else refusing to accept the *evidence* Gary has laid out - nor you giving any reason for your refusal, beyond "you're not convincing me."

I'm just wondering how you can type with both fingers inserted firmly in your ears.

Ugh, I'll regret this, but I'll make one last effort. Frankly, I don't really believe that Gary wishes to have a good faith discussion of the topic, so I'll be brief. I find it tiresome that, as in this case, whenever we disagree he feels the need to insist that he has read "400 books on the subject" and then wear out my browser's scroll bar by quoting at excessive length from only tangentially-related passages of some book or other. Now, I don't wish to violate the posting rules, I am just saying that I find this style of argumentation objectionable, and if I did in fact have "both fingers inserted firmly in my ears" it's only because I feel like someone is screaming at me while banging a saucepan incessantly. Quantity != quality.

Anyway, my disagreement is with Gary's statement that Nixon was paranoid to the degree of hearing voices, and attributed everything to a Soviet/communist plot. Frankly, my assertion that this is a gross exaggeration is not terrible profound, and only seems to be controversial on this blog, outside the realm of a cartoonish pop-cultural notion of Nixon perhaps.

No one is denying that Nixon drank (I certainly never made that claim), nor that he had a serious personality disorder, and perhaps only in 73-74 could you even try to make the case that he was paranoid to the point of hallucination. If I recall, Dallek's book (which, although a fine and respectable work, is not terribly important or authoritative on the subject), is particularly critical of Nixon's faculties in this period. However, Dallek's book is one of many which falls for too much for Kissinger's story line . Merely the conception of the book -- that Nixon and Kissinger were somehow equals in the formation of American foreign policy -- is music to Kissinger's ears. In any case, as that very same book makes clear, Kissinger's stomach-churning sycophancy in Nixon's presence was only matched by his steady campaign to assassinate the president's character behind his back. By portraying the president as a mad, near-incapacitated drunk, Kissinger could claim to be running the show. It is indicative of the oddness, and perhaps degree of self-loathing, on Nixon's part that he was perfectly aware of Kissinger's schemes and almost supportive of them at times.

However, the record plainly shows, and if Gary really has consulted the primary sources as he claims he would know this too, that even in 73-74 Nixon's foreign policy-making was perfectly lucid and even very successful, by his standards at any rate (certainly many disagree with his foreign policy, but that is a different argument).

Now, regarding paranoia and Soviet conspiracies. Certainly he was quite paranoid (although it's a word we need to be careful of because it has certain medical connotations and we are basically indulging in pop-psychology), but only notably so regarding his domestic opponents (or perceived domestic opponents), and although he certainly loved to rant and exploit anti-communist fears to his own ends, he certainly didn't believe all his domestic foes were the tools of communist conspiracy.

In the international domain, his foreign policy was and remains controversial precisely because he showed a remarkable capacity, for that era, to move beyond the notion of some vast communist conspiracy and actively try to pit communist governments against each other -- China, USSR, North Vietnam etc. One should also keep in mind that his "foaming anticommunist" persona was deliberately constructed to a large degree, and it did help provide cover from right-wing criticism during his presidency.

So that, basically, is that. I'm hardly making extraordinary claims, and I hardly have my fingers in my ears. I'm actually quite calm and bemused at what seems to be a widespread reluctance around here to accept what is essentially conventional informed wisdom on the matter.

Anyway, good luck to y'all.

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