In retrospect, the collapse of the shah of Iran in 1979 and the rise of a radical Islamic regime in his place have to be classed among the great strategic disasters of American foreign policy in the latter half of the 20th century.
Was this debacle inevitable, or could the U.S., under President Jimmy Carter, have taken effective action to prop up our ally?
Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to Carter at the time and about all this he wrote something quite wise in his memoirs:
I felt strongly that successful revolutions were historical rarities, that they were inevitable only after they happened, and that an established leadership, by demonstrating both will and reason, could disarm the opposition through a timely combination of repression and concession.
But, of course, despite the efforts of Brzezinski and others serving Carter, the shah did not succeed in disarming the opposition, either via repression or concession. In the end, the Persian king of kings was toppled by an Islamic revolution, and after this happened, it too became “inevitable” when we look back at it.
Could the U.S. have kept our ally in power by some means? History cannot be rewound to answer that question (except perhaps via Hillary Clinton’s favorite television show, The Time Tunnel). But what can be demonstrated to an absolute certainty is that decision-making in the U.S. government in that period was catastrophically disordered. Read More
For Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, it was a moment of truth: would she call for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation following the devastating Winograd report on the 2006 war in Lebanon? If he refused, would she herself resign?
From the public’s point of view, her duty seemed clear. Even before the report’s release, Olmert’s approval ratings had hit rock bottom. And the report more than confirmed the conventional wisdom: his government had launched a war without having any idea how to fight it or how to end it.
The public expected Livni to start the political process that would bring down the government. Instead, she chose a half-measure: calling on Olmert to resign while staying in his government in order to help him implement the report’s recommendations. Though polls today indicate that the Israeli public is split down the middle on whether she should have resigned, her fence-straddling position is ultimately untenable. If Olmert should resign, as Livni’s statement suggests, how can he be fit to implement the changes outlined in the report?
On Tuesday, referring to North Korea’s failure to live up to its pledge to shut down and seal the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by April 14, Condoleezza Rice remarked that “we don’t have endless patience.” North Korea made its promise to shut down the reactor in February at six-party disarmament talks as a part of a two-step plan to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. The talks were sponsored by Kim Jong Il’s only ally, China, which pressured the United States to accept the deal.
Secretary Rice was repeating comments made last Friday by President Bush, who declared that “Our patience is not unlimited” as he stood next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David. (To their credit, Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, have been pushing the United States to adopt a stiffer policy toward Kim Jong Il.)
These latest statements add to the collection of similar warnings that Kim has collected over the past two weeks. “Our patience is not infinite,” Reuters reported a senior U.S. official as saying on April 14. On that day the State Department’s Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator at the talks, said, “We are not indifferent to missing a deadline.”
Maybe the Bush administration is not indifferent, but it has been very tolerant. The same unidentified American official said that Washington was willing to give Pyongyang “a few more days.” In fact, the U.S. has given the North Koreans a few more weeks.