In the branding biz, there is no greater measure of success than when your name or tag line becomes part of the cultural lexicon: We FedEx a package, even if it's sent UPS. We Twitter, even if using another micro-blog service. To this end, Nancy Reagan must be so proud (or mortified) that her famous "Just Say No" campaign has become the core conservative message strategy.
Since the day our President was sworn into office six months ago, the "Just Say NO-Bama" campaign has been a consistent and increasingly strident drumbeat. In fact, it started with his inauguration. Due to Chief Justice Roberts' slip of the tongue while administering the oath of office, the very legitimacy of his Presidency was challenged. So set the seriously petty tone of a very organized campaign to counter the President at every possible turn.
As a public relations strategist, I'm all for a well-orchestrated communications campaign -- within the confines of truth and responsibility. Yet, this past week, conservatives have overreached in a manner that shows their arrogance, exposes serious gaps in their knowledge of history and endangers the courageous Iranian people they claim to support.
Simply stated, when uber-cold warriors Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski -- from opposing parties -- agree with the President's posture, then the critics need to back off. Even Pat Buchanan agrees for goodness sakes! And so does George Wll. I don't think they should be silent -- far be it for me to deny the right of speech or to critique -- but the right wingers certainly need to be more circumspect. After all, these men, as Brzezinski told Fareed Zakaria on CNN yesterday, "were up to [their] ears trying to steer and manipulate" the downfall of Communist and other authoritarian regimes. They were architects of America's checkered history with such actions that conservatives now purport to cite as proof of Obama's timidity.
In particular, Congressman Mike Pence's now oft repeated attempt to conjure Ronald Reagan with his reference to the Berlin Wall proves his ignorance of history. And, since the radical right wingers put him up front as their spokesperson on the matter, it shows their ignorance as well. At the time of his famous utterance (1987), Reagan was challenging Gorbachev to take the ball the final ten yards into the end zone after the Soviet Secretary General (not Reagan) had significantly softened the USSR's grip on its satellite states under his reforms. It was a very Gipper-esque moment yet one that was heavier on symbolism than revolution. As impressive as that speech was (and I remember tearing up with pride) it was not a call to arms. Rather, it was an expression of support for the organic changes engineered by the people of Eastern Europe over a long period of time.
Yes, there is no doubt that the people of the Eastern Bloc were inspired by the freedoms enjoyed by West, but it was the internal foments for change more than anything else that gave rise to the social revolution achieved in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, historians argue that the potential for that change was very likely forestalled by decades because of serious tactical mistakes made by the West and the U.S in the first half of the Cold War.
It is as if Pence, John McCain and company believe that a more amplified institutional condemnation of the Iranian government is the best and perhaps only means of showing support for the Iranian protesters. They ignore the hard lessons Eisenhower learned during the Hungarian revolt in 1956. At that time the U.S. administration's strident, continuous pledges that the U.S. will meet tyranny and liberate captive nations was called upon by the Hungarian people who dared to rise against their Soviet oppressors. Our bluster was realized as a bluff, and the Soviets summarily crushed the revolt there and solidified its iron grip on Central Europe.
I have pledged to be as balanced as possible in my criticisms with this column. In the interest of equal time, the left wingers are getting it wrong on Iran too. Just this morning on CNN, Julie Menin of the Democratic Women's Campaign Forum cited the 1956 Hungarian Uprising as an example of the kind of support America should give to the Iranian people. Seriously... note to Pence, Menin and wing nuts everywhere. If you're going to cite history, please use more than Wikipedia for background research or at least click on the bibliography provided at the end of the articles.
Hence, Pence, Menin, McCain et. al. are getting it wrong when it comes to what's happening with the Iranian people. They call President Obama's response to the incredibly fluid interactions inside Iran "timid" and say that it is part of his "apology" tour. They say the President's refusal to be baited into coming out more forcefully against the Iranian regime is a failure that denies the Iranian freedom fighters a show of American support. If we lived in 1995 and not 2009, that argument might have some validity (although it would still be a stretch), but the global outpouring of support by the people of the U.S. and the world for the people of Iran via cell phones, Twitter and the Internet leaves them with absolutely no doubt that that we are with them. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the President to tow a more delicate political line with a grip on history and a long view to the future.
I daresay if President Obama had come out with a more fist-pumping "vive la revolution" statement, the Just Say NO-Bama brigade would have used that as proof that he is too immature for the office. Instead, his rhetoric has been measured and cautious, far more in line with President Bush 41 during the Polish Solidarity movement, another organic uprising that led to real and lasting change. At that time President Bush was excoriated for not taking a harder line of support for the Polish workers' revolt. Instead, he "responded with little apparent excitement and with rather guarded statements," according to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times in 1989. Bush's position on Poland was best summed up by his national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, "Only Poles can see that they succeed." And so they did.
Why would we -- and especially the NO-Bamas -- want anything less for the Iranian people? First of all, despite the urgings of a percentage of the Iranian nationals living in the U.S., their compatriots inside Iran have not asked for U.S. or other Western support other than a desire that our media continue to report their story. These brave men and women (and especially the women) want the reforms to be by, for and of Iranians for the future of Iran. This is what should make us all proud as this is what the American example of Liberty is all about.
And, this is what Diplomacy versus egotistical saber rattling can achieve.
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