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City of Brass

Via Eric Martin at American Footprints – a brilliant thought experiment that clearly illustrates the vapidity of the call by Republicans such as John McCain upon President Obama to intervene more forcefully with rhetoric about the events in Iran:

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

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

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

And yes, the analogy to the Soviet Union is indeed apt – Iranians may admire the people of the United States for our democracy and culture, they also have a long and bitter memory of the US Government’s repeated interference in their own affairs.

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