Politics & Policy

Bring Back the Shah?

Is it too late to beat up on Jimmy Carter's foreign policy?

Bill Clinton’s foreign policy has taken a beating lately. Is it too late to beat up on Jimmy Carter’s too?

The U.S. is now in the business of wracking up unsavory allies (with the liberal media cheering it on, on the theory that if Colin Powell’s in favor of it, it must be right!). So, it’s worth remembering one unsavory ally it would be nice to have at the moment: the Shah of Iran.

He was crooked, clumsy, and repressive, but friendly to the U.S. and a much less ambitious tyrant than the Ayatollah Khomeini.

At the time, Iran was a perfect case study in liberalism’s strategic blindness, its unwillingness to choose one unpleasant option in an attempt to forestall another even more unpleasant one.

Instead, liberals pretended to believe in “moderates,” in a “democratic opposition” — a flight from reality and its hard choices — and thus helped dump the Shah and bring to power a regime hostile to the West, and more repressive in the bargain.

Jeane Kirkpatrick famously examined this dynamic in Dictatorships and Double Standards, writing that the choice to abandon an autocratic U.S. ally is:

presented in the context of a growing clamor for American disengagement on grounds that continued involvement confirms our status as an agent of imperialism, racism, and reaction; is inconsistent with support for human rights; alienates us from the “forces of democracy”; and threatens to put the United States once more on the side of history’s “losers.”

So, you get Khomeini, who had none of the Shah’s scruples (if the Shah had played politics the way it usually is in that part of the world, he would have had Khomeini shot instead of exiled, while he still had a chance). Here is how David Pryce-Jones describes a few of the delights of Khomeini’s reign:

Destruction by means of the gallows and firing squad of the Shah’s apparatus of defense and control was a priority. . . . Khomeini saw no obstacle to authorizing the shooting of the only woman to have served in an Iranian cabinet. Somewhere between half a million and one million Iranians fled into exile, and with them the westernized elements of the society largely vanished.

So, why is it now that suddenly befriending nasty allies is the liberal, responsible position? According the new Powell Doctrine, we not only need the supposedly moderate Arab dictatorships on our side — Saudia Arabia, Egypt — we’ve got to rack up the immoderate ones too: Syria, Iran, Sudan.

And anything that would interfere with the collection of a broad range of rogues into our coalition, well, that just wouldn’t be prudent.

I think what unites the old anti-autocratic-allies and new pro-autocratic-allies liberal lines is that both, in their ways, work to constrain American power, which the Left is uncomfortable with and wants to check by any means possible.

In the Cold War, it was by denying the U.S. allies. In the war on terrorism, it is by piling on allies who can be counted on to balk at any American action sterner than freezing Osama bin Laden’s checking account.

With allies like this, one might ask, who needs enemies — which, for the Left, may be exactly the point.


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