The same conservatives who mere months ago applauded their candidate’s rendition of “Barbara Ann” are now criticizing Obama for refusing to meddle in internal Iranian affairs: “[He] has only a smidgen of a chance left to get on the right side of history—either he starts acting like the leader of the free world, or he’s a quisling of thugocracies everywhere.” To say that Obama risks putting himself on the wrong side of history suggests that you know enough about that history to distinguish between its sides, even though you don’t even know there are always more than two of them. Consider how incoherently conservatives have responded to official Iranian propaganda:
Iran accused the United States on Wednesday of “intolerable” meddling in its internal affairs, alleging for the first time that Washington has fueled a bitter post-election dispute . . . The Iranian government summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, to complain about American interference, state-run Press TV reported. The English-language channel quoted the government as calling Western interference “intolerable.”
That government forces accuse America of meddling in the face of Obama’s tepid public statements is not, as conservatives would have it, evidence that because the accusation will be made, we might as well meddle. It indicates that the Iranian government recognizes how politically efficacious the accusation of American intervention in Iranian electoral politics is, which means Victor David Hanson and like-minded conservatives are urging Obama to take a principled stand by playing directly into the hands of the Iranian regime. Ahmadinejad and his supporters would love nothing more than for Obama to read the lines they scripted for him.
But why are conservatives encouraging Obama to do exactly that? Because, unlike him, they are deeply and proudly ignorant of the weight of history. This ignorance is what leads Karl to complain that German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy beat Obama to the moral high ground, even though he quotes the reason the French and Germans can condemn the apparent electoral fraud and America cannot:
“Either way we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States,” [Obama] added.
Because Germany and France do not have a history of meddling in Iranian electoral politics, they can criticize the election results without creating the appearance that they have a vested interest in their outcome. The Wall Street Journal is similarly clueless:
Yesterday he invoked the CIA’s role in the 1953 coup against Iranian leader Mohammad Mossadeq to explain his reticence. “Now, it’s not productive, given the history of the U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling—the U.S. President meddling in Iranian elections,” Mr. Obama said. As far as we can tell, the CIA or other government agencies aren’t directing the protests or bankrolling Mr. Mousavi.
The issue isn’t whether America’s actually bankrolling the opposition party, but whether it appears to be; if it does, it undermines the legitimacy of the same movement the conservatives ostensibly support. The editorial staff at the WSJ doesn’t understand the depth of Iranian mistrust of American policy especially on the issue of Iranian elections. But the most eloquent proponent of elevating ignorance to the status of fact is the de facto voice of American conservativism:
And he said yesterday, “[i]t’s not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.” We have to know what this means, “given the history of US-Iranian relations.” What history? Is he talking about the coup when we put the Shah in there in ’53 that he apologized for? Is that what he means? Is he so handcuffed to defend liberty and those who seek it because of what happened 65 years ago? What’s holding Obama back from standing up for freedom? Standing up for freedom is “meddling”? It has to be understood. What was he talking about? What is this history? What is it?
That Limbaugh’s argument moves by dint of unanswered rhetorical questions is damning enough—neither he nor his audience knows the answers to those questions—but the fact that, even if he knew what had happened, he would still consider it irrelevant because it happened 65 years ago. This claim that history can expire is indicative of a strain of stupid to which those who regularly complain about the “re-FDRing of America [via] the New New Deal” should be immune. Limbaugh fears nothing more than the revival of policies more than 65 years old, yet is incapable of understanding why the Iranian people may harbor a grudge against a nation that took liberties with its internal governance until 1979?
Limbaugh’s questions amount to little more than magical thinking thrust into face of empirical evidence. We know that Ahmadinejad and his allies believe the appearance of American meddling is a powerful political cudgel; to this fact, conservatives respond that 1953 was a long time ago. We know that Ahmadinejad and his allies are actively working to manufacture evidence of American meddling; to this fact, conservatives reply that Obama should do their work for them.