In President Barack Obama’s restrained reaction to the upheaval in Iran, pragmatism won out. The administration’s calculation was that, in the long run, the United States was still going to have to do business with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But Obama also avoided adding to what is widely perceived as America’s history of encouraging revolutions and then not supporting them.
To mention two: References to the 1956 uprising in Hungary resurfaced this week because many Hungarians are still bitter that the West — and particularly the United States — failed to come to their aid in fighting Soviet troops. Radio Free Europe encouraged the rebels to think that Western support was imminent, but the Hungarians were abandoned to their fate. RFE, then an arm of the CIA, even gave tactical advice to the Hungarians on how to fight Soviet armor.
For RFE’s Iranian-language service and its English-language counterpart, these are dramatic times. Now based in Prague, the service has provided full coverage of the Iranian elections and their turbulent aftermath. Not surprisingly, RFE does not hide its sympathy for the demonstrators: The service is largely staffed by Iranian expatriates. But it has stopped well short of incitement, and its reporting through contacts inside Iran has been widely cited by other media.
In the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War, the Bush administration, having stopped short of delivering a coup de grace to the badly mauled Iraqi regime, urged Iraqi Shiite Muslims and Kurds to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The United States dropped leaflets inciting the Shiite and Kurdish populations to overthrow the Ba’athist government. But when Saddam used Scuds and helicopter gunships to suppress the uprising, forces of the U.S.-led coalition deployed on Iraq’s southern border made no move to help the insurgents.
The first President Bush would later reject criticism that his administration had encouraged the uprising and then failed to help it. The United States and its allies, he argued, could not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs!