Republicans have been criticizing President Obama for not having been more outspoken in support of the masses in the streets of Iran. They choose to ignore what happened when Republican presidents encouraged the rising of the Shia in southern Iraq in 1991 and, indirectly, of Hungarians in that country in 1956. In both cases the people involved assumed that the United States would come to their rescue and instead were slaughtered en masse by Saddam in Iraq and by the Soviet forces in Hungary.
On February 15, 1991, President George H.W. Bush appeared on the Voice of America radio station to tell Iraqis "There is another way for the bloodshed to stop: And that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside..." Assuming the nearby US forces would come to their help, Shiite Iraqi soldiers returning from their defeat in Kuwait joined with civilians in a number of cities in the southern part of Iraq to attack Saddam loyalists, engaging them in street battles with small arms. However, these freedom fighters were lacking in firepower, and the government counterattacked with heavy weaponry, killing many thousands of Shia. In retaliation for the uprising, upon reentering the Southern cities government troops summarily executed large numbers of civilians. The Shia felt betrayed by the United States, and this became but one more reason they are still leaning toward supporting Iran.
The Hungarian uprising against Soviet domination took place against the backdrop of Dwight Eisenhower's administration's campaign of public diplomacy promoting freedom for the people of Eastern Europe. The president noted at the time that the US had a mission "to help those freedom-loving peoples who need and want and can profitably use our aid that they may advance in their ability for self-support and may add strength to the security and peace of the free world." During the uprising, Radio Free Europe aired several broadcasts giving combat advice to Hungarian fighters and encouraging their campaign, and many Hungarians thought that the US would offer more active support .Despite its rhetoric, the US did not extend any actual assistance, and the movement was crushed by Soviet troops with over 2,000 Hungarians killed and hundreds of thousands later fleeing the country.
Now the Republicans cry "The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it...He's been timid and passive more than I would like," (Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.). And, "[Obama] needs to speak to the people of Iran, the people of the Middle East, and he has to make a forceful statement on behalf of the people on the streets for freedom and democracy," (Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.). They disregard, in their desperate quest to find a political foothold that even if the president did listen to them and his words did not lead to even more bloodshed, he surely would discredit the uprising in the eyes of many Iranians who are suspicious of Western intentions, for some very good reasons.
The GOP should learn the difference between a loyal opposition that raises serious objections in a sensible manner--and a crazed one that is foaming at the mouth, and feels free to endanger masses of good people, of freedom fighters. This is especially true in dealing with foreign policy, where the stakes are so high, grandstanding is particularly shameful, and hardly a way to win points for the next election.
**I will respond to the comments of those persons who are willing to identify themselves, because I hold this essential for a civilized dialogue.
Amitai Etzioni is a professor of international affairs at The George Washington University and the author of Security First (Yale, 2007). He can be contacted at email@example.com.