Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Reagan, Russia, Bush and Iran

There is a thrilling parallel between Iran in the 2000's and Russia in the 1980's.

In 1982, President Reagan made a stirring speech about freedom and democracy to the British Parliament:
What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term -- the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.
The next year he dared to refer to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire:"
So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride -- the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.
No one in the West knew it at the time, but news of Reagan's resolve electrified dissidents in the Gulag. Natan Sharansky described the effect in an interview in the Weekly Standard (hat tip: Powerline):
Were there any particular Reagan moments that you can recall being sources of strength or encouragement to you and your colleagues?

I have to laugh. People who take freedom for granted, Ronald Reagan for granted, always ask such questions. Of course! It was the great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union an Evil Empire before the entire world. There was a long list of all the Western leaders who had lined up to condemn the evil Reagan for daring to call the great Soviet Union an evil empire right next to the front-page story about this dangerous, terrible man who wanted to take the world back to the dark days of the Cold War. This was the moment. It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell's Newspeak was dead.
Last week in his inaugural address, President Bush laid out the American vision for securing our own liberty by expanding liberty in the world:
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.
Thanks to the Internet, we don't need to wait decades to find out the effect of the President's speech on dissidents in Iran. The prodigiously named Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran reports (via Andrew Sullivan via Pejmanesque via Instapundit):
The speech and its package of hope have been, since late yesterday night and this morning, the main topics of most Iranians' conversations during their familial and friendly gatherings, in the collective taxis and buses, as well as, among groups of young Iranians who gather outside the cities on the Fridays.

Many were seen showing the " V " sign or their raised fists. Talks were focused on steps that need to be taken in order to use the first time ever favorable International condition.

Many Iranians, who were looking for the World's super power firm moral support and financial aid to credible secularist opposition groups, are now becoming sure that Mr. Bush's agenda is indeed to help them to gain Freedom, Secularity and Democracy.
Since the 9/11 attacks, we've set Afganistan and Iraq on the path to freedom and we strongly supported the successful Democracy movement in Ukraine.

As long as we stay strong in the President's resolve that, "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands," the Iranian students' excitement and hope will not be in vain. And decades from now it will be these dissidents of the 2000's who look back fondly on another American President's brilliant moment of strength and encouragement.

UPDATE: John Dunshee also notes the Reagan parallel.