Iran, Cold War Revisionism, and Vaclav Havel

Over at The American Prospect, foreign policy commentator Matthew Duss goes much further than I did yesterday in criticizing hawkish reactions to the recent events in Iran (which seems to have taken an ominous turn today). But in lamenting conservatives' Cold War revisionism, Duss indulges in a bit of his own:

[I]n a recent Politico profile, [Charles] Krauthammer scoffed at the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s as "hysteria," which is the orthodox view among Reaganites.

The views of actual Communist dissidents, however, tell a different story. Such leaders as Czechoslovakia's Vaclav Havel and Poland's Adam Michnik, among others, have acknowledged that the cultural and intellectual exchanges that grew out of the anti-nuclear movement were important for the training and morale of their organizations and for preparing them for peaceful transitions of power after the Soviet Union collapsed. In a 1995 article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, historian Mary Kaldor noted that the peace movement of the 1980s "was unprecedented in scale and in its transnational character," and in the way it made explicit links between peace, democracy, and human rights "[in seeking] links with individual dissidents and groups in Eastern Europe."

Actually, Havel in 1985 wrote an essay, entitled "Anatomy of a Reticence," about just this topic. And the conclusion was just about the opposite:

How much trust or even admiration for the Western peace movement can we expect from a simple yet sensitive citizen of Eastern Europe when he has noticed that this movement has never, at any of its congresses or at demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of participants, got around to protesting the fact that four years ago, one important European country attacked a small neutral neighbor and since that time has been conducting on its territory a war of extermination which has already claimed a million dead and three million refugees? Seriously, what are we to think of a peace movement, a European peace movement, which is virtually unaware of the only war being conducted today by a European state? As for the argument that the victims of aggression and their defenders enjoy the sympathies of Western establishments and so are not worthy of support from the left, such incredible ideological opportunism can provoke only one reaction–utter disgust and a sense of limitless hopelessness.

That quote and more beside are included in my 2003 Reason appreciation of Havel, "Velvet President."

So what has Havel saying about the Iranian crisis? From a recent interview he gave to Bloomberg News:

"The Iranian president does not represent any religious nor national or other ideas," Havel said. "In my eyes he is a man possessed. Unfortunately we are living at a time when a man possessed could easily inflict damage to a lot of people, due to modern technology.

"It is important that the West should not consider oil to be more important than human rights," he added.

The West could consider embargoes or boycotts aimed at the Iranian government, taking care to ensure they don't harm the people, Havel said. [...]

"What is possible and what I would repeatedly warn against is the policy of compromise and the notion that if we don't provoke evil, it will just go away by itself," Havel said. "On the contrary, that would just make it stronger."

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  • ||

    The West could consider embargoes or boycotts aimed at the Iranian government, taking care to ensure they don't harm the people

    When has this ever worked?

  • ||

    L_I_T:

    Arguably the only boycott to have ever worked as intended would be the boycott of South Africa from international sporting events and a few other things, because it was both so widely followed, and because they loved their sports.

    Of course, if you're asking when has it not "harmed the people," that would be never. South African academics hated the academic boycott, etc.

    The part of the Iraq boycott/Oil-for-Food program that gave money directly to the Kurds worked, but that's because we both funded and defended a parallel government in the north of the country.

    It's easier to point to quick military invasions that had lasting effects, even, than boycotts. (Grenada, Panama, Falkland Islands leading to the generals in Argentina stepping down, etc.)

  • ||

    Even South Africa, of course, it's probably easy to overstate the actual results of the boycotts.

  • ||

    if we don't provoke evil, it will just go away by itself

    The fundamental flaw of transnational progressivism in a nutshell.

    The West could consider embargoes or boycotts aimed at the Iranian government, taking care to ensure they don't harm the people

    They always harm The People, of course, but a blockade of Iranian oil would cause massive and immediate damage to the government, as that is its primary source of funds (as I understand it).

    An "embargo" or "boycott" of Iranian oil would be pointless theater, as the Iranians would continue to sell just as much oil as before, and we would see a replay of the Saddamite oil embargo corruption.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Don't compromise, but don't do anything that might hurt anyone? And note that Havel didn't even advocate a "no hurt" boycott. He only suggested that the West "could consider" such a boycott. Looks like Western Europeans aren't the only ones afraid of getting in the way of a bullet.

  • ||

    Indeed, its very difficult to make the ruling class cry uncle while simultaneously keeping the population of the country healthy and happy. The ruling class has the distinct advantage of making whoever's under them more miserable than they are at any point in time. Its the nature of things.

  • \"Nuance\" - The Revenge||

    "if we don't provoke evil, it will just go away by itself" "The fundamental flaw of transnational progressivism in a nutshell."

    Wow. You managed to construct a strawman argument out of an almost feminine, black and white understanding of the issue.

    Impressive. It further reinforces my impression that Libertarianism attracts many socially retarded individuals who are poor at dealing with nuance.

  • ||

    "When has this ever worked?"
    Germany after WW1
    Abadan Crisis

    Just to name a few off the top of my head. Just because you are ignorant of something working, does not mean it hasn't worked.

    Blockades are powerful and dangerous tools that bring suffering and death on a population and the innocent, but we should not underestimate the power of evil. If evil didn't work it wouldn't be so tempting.

  • Mike||

    Strawman, my ass. I lost count of how many times after 9/11, I heard people say things like, "We were attacked because of our militarist involvement in the Middle East/support for Israel/humiliation of Muslims/ect."

    We were attacked for one reason; we are a free country, and the terrorists don't want us to be free. You don't have to look for evil. Eventually, it finds you. This was the lesson of the 20th century, one that the left never learned.

  • ||

    We were attacked for one reason; we are a free country, and the terrorists don't want us to be free. You don't have to look for evil. Eventually, it finds you. This was the lesson of the 20th century, one that the left never learned.

    "They hate us for our freedom!!!"

    Bwahahahaha...

    Mikey partyin' like it's 2002!

  • ||

    "When has this ever worked?"
    Germany after WW1
    Yeah that totally worked because they only came back twice as hard 30 years later. embargoes and blockades and sanctions are all valid acts of war. Then we cry and whine "why do they hate us?"

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