Where's Obama's 'Evil Empire' Speech?LORNE GUNTER
In an interview five years ago with the Weekly Standard magazine, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky described the “brilliant moment” when he and his fellow prisoners in Siberia learned of Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech.
Speaking to the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983, president Reagan urged delegates against taking a moral equivalence stance on nuclear proliferation. When voting later in their convention on whether to support a freeze in the nuclear arms race, it would be too easy, Mr. Reagan said, to "label both sides equally at fault." That would "ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire."
Mr. Sharansky and his fellow inmates tapped the president's words to one another on the pipes and toilets in their prison. "Our whole block burst out into a kind of loud celebration."
Simply by proclaiming "before the entire world" that the Soviet Union was "a totalitarian regime," Mr. Reagan had made it impossible for other world leaders, and Soviet leaders themselves, to maintain the facade that Russia and its satellites were as righteous as the West.
Of course all the usual suspects -- academics, European leaders, special-interest cause pleaders, foreign policy experts, journalists and other assorted appeasers -- were aghast at Mr. Reagan's remarks. Didn't he understand that such rhetoric would only provoke Soviet leaders? Couldn't he see how his words would be used to whip up nationalistic pride and divert the Soviet people's attention from the abuses their own government was subjecting them to?
Of course, Soviet propagandists didn't need Reagan's real words to paint the West as a bogeyman. In the late-1970s, a defector from behind the Iron Curtain told British journalists that when he got to the West he half expected the streets to be paved with gold. Soviet politicians and editors had for so long spun such horror stories about conditions in the West that he would not have been surprised if the exact opposite had been true. Soviet citizens were already used to being lied to about the West.
Frank remarks, such as president Reagan's, make very little difference to official attempts by brutal regimes to paint external forces as being responsible for the suffering and repression of the people. Indeed, as the Soviet example shows, autocrats often have the most trouble demonizing the West when its leaders are at their most outspoken.
Pravda and Izvestia both jumped on Mr. Reagan's words, looking to whip up popular discontent. So did senior members of the Politburo, along with scores of Soviet-sympathetic professors and politicians in the West and foreign policy professionals who pontificated on news shows.
But where these experts poohpoohed Mr. Reagan's plain talk, the victims of Soviet violence and repression were not similarly dismissive. "It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations," according to Mr. Sharansky, "and we all instantly knew it. For us, that was the moment that really marked … the end of Lenin's 'Great October Bolshevik Revolution' and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution."
All of which brings me to current U.S. President Barack Obama's flaccid endorsement of the freedom protesters in Iran today.
On the weekend, White House apologists were all over the news interview shows in the U.S. and elsewhere insisting Mr. Obama was merely taking a "measured" approach, not a timid one. He was choosing his words carefully so as not to give Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rhetorical ammunition they could use against the West and to keep forces for reform from gaining ground within Iran.
Oh, please. Does anyone honestly believe that Ahmadinejad, who thinks nothing of denying the Holocaust (which, in and of itself, is an act of monumental dishonesty) -- or insisting an oil-rich country needs a nuclear program only to generate electricity, or consorting with Hezbollah, or sending troops into the streets to have his own citizens clubbed and shot -- needs real words from Mr. Obama to demonize the West?
A president's strong words would be for the Natan Sharanskys of Iran, not the mad mullahs who run the country.
Withholding full-throated rhetorical support from the protesters encourages their repressors. It tells those wielding clubs and guns that the West is too weak and conflicted even to speak out.
It is the moral equivalence game from the Cold War all over again.
Lorne Gunter. "Where's Obama's 'Evil Empire' Speech?" National Post, (Canada) June 24, 2009.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
Lorne Gunter is a regular columnist with The Edmonton Journal, and frequent contributor to the National Post, National Report, and other publications.
Copyright © 2009 National Post
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