Iran’s Crisis of Legitimacy
An Embattled Regime Faces Mass Protests—and an Ailing Supreme Leader
Foreign AFFAIRS is forty years old-and the modern foreign affairs of the United States are less than ten years older. The problems we have today-of technology, conflict, alliance and hope-have little relation to the times of the Founders, the ordeal of Lincoln, or even the turning days of Cleveland, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. It is August 1914, with its alerting record of the stakes of diplomacy and of the enormous damage that ordinary well-trained men can do, which reminds us that Woodrow Wilson at his typewriter, and all of his successors, have had to live with world-wide danger, world-wide power, and so world-wide responsibility.
Many forces are a part of this revolution, but one which holds special fascination for the student of our history is our sudden and multifarious involvement with a host of friends. In traditional terms the most remarkable change in our foreign relations is that we now have formal alliances with 42 nations. Moreover, in most cases these are not merely formal ties of contingent commitment, but major operating day-to-day connections. Beyond these alliances we have major working relations too, especially in Africa and Asia, with dozens of nations which are friends, though not allies.
The central problem in all these relations is how to establish reciprocity. We are unique, in the non-Communist world, in our strength and wealth. We are also unique in our record of assistance to almost everybody. This has happened by choice; our help to others has been designed to serve our own wide interests, and with exceptions it has done so. But what we had to do for so many after 1945 we ought not now to do for many countries alone-or for some countries at all. At the same time we must give new and urgent attention to the needs of other nations-in and out of the Western Hemisphere-which were not on our priority list in the first decade after the second war.
We are thus required to move toward new relations of mutual respect and interlocking performance with those to whom we are traditionally connected. Some of our oldest friends, in new strength, are fortunately raising a louder voice in world affairs-and where their efforts match their claims it is not only necessary but satisfying to meet their desires. Others, proud and brave as they are, have come to accept and depend upon not only our strength but our wealth in ways which cannot lead to good, if unmatched by efforts of self-help. Yet not one of our allies is unimportant to us-not one but has claims on our support in proper and productive ways. The task is to find courses of behavior which will meet our obligations, sustain our connections, assist in self-reliance, and rest on reciprocity. It is not easy.
The half-dozen alliances in which these forty-odd partners are gathered have a family resemblance, in their formal clauses, which obscures the great variety of the real relationships involved. The passion for such treaties which marked the mid-fifties derived from a rather simple reflex to the Korean War. We have learned that while the danger of such direct aggression persists, there are other dangers against which a pact gives no automatic assurance. Time has made plain what forms obscured, and we now recognize that SEATO is not the same as NATO; all its members do not have common interests or purposes that compare in weight and character to those which bind the Atlantic Alliance together. As the central power of this alliance, we have real and important relations with all its members-but the meaning of our key relation to a country like Thailand in this area is different from the meaning of our relation to some other members with less at stake; when the same treaty is used to cover everyone, we must look past the paper to the facts.
Even in NATO there is a persistent tension between the formal identity of mutual guarantees and the real relations of the members with each other. The alliance is not defined merely by its operating paragraphs, any more than it is defined merely by its formally assigned forces. It is not even defined entirely by the full relation of all its members to one another. The security of Sweden or Austria is intimately related to what NATO is and does. The safety of all Europe and of North America requires NATO. It is dangerous to believe that all of the importance of this great alliance rests in any one element of its existence, and it is here that one can sympathize with General de Gaulle when he asserts that the organization and the alliance are not the same thing. His own vision of right relationships may not be ours, but he is right to remind us that nothing so important can be wholly defined in terms of specific present practices.
In all our alliances, though the forms are multilateral, the lines that pass in and out of Washington, bilaterally, have a special importance. Even in NATO, where there are other powers of major importance and where the general hope is that a new Europe may engage with us in a new level of partnership, there is great significance in the lines from London or Bonn to Washington. If France and the United States can find a way around their honest differences-a search to which the present Washington Administration remains fully committed-it will be clearer to others that Paris-Washington is also a crucial line of force. Indeed, the importance of this line is evident even when it is-as at present-temporarily and partially out of order. The two countries remain bound by common interests, that dwarf their differences, and certainly on the side of the United States the existence of disagreement is no bar to high regard for France and her President. Indeed, the honest recognition of such differences can be a step toward improved understanding; clearly it is better than any facile assumption that harmony can always be found in a simple acceptance of the unspoken desires or demands of others.
The troubled state of our relations with France leads naturally to the question of nuclear relations among allies. What is urgently important here is not the question of what role Europeans may come to play. That is a major question and a most difficult one, but it needs sober thought and discussion, probably continuing for a long time ahead. In such discussion the United States will aim to play a fully responsive part. But what really matters at present is what has been repeatedly and emphatically stated by the President. It is that now, and for as far ahead as we can see, our nuclear strength is committed to the support of the alliance. We have not made our pledge to the defense of Europe in any lighthearted or limited way; for the fulfillment of commitments most solemnly and advisedly undertaken, our whole strength serves the whole North Atlantic area. This is at once a fundamental principle, a fact of deployment and an imperative of nuclear strategy. Beside this reality much recent dialectical discussion of details of nuclear tactics is pompous nonsense. Where and how the nuclear defenses of NATO should be deployed and engaged are of course important questions, but they are questions wholly subordinate to the reality that the whole strength of the United States, including its whole nuclear strength, is engaged for Europe's freedom-which is only another way of saying what is obvious, namely, that it is engaged for our own freedom. And this is not the commitment of a single moment or of a single Administration. It is the commitment of a people, made clear by them after mature contemplation of a half-century of history made painful by uncertainty on this precise point.
There is another reason for clarity on this point: it is that the world cannot risk misunderstanding on the other side of the Wall. The twin dangers of the nuclear age are irresolution and over-boldness. We have aimed, in three Administrations, to avoid both dangers. By the clarity of its commitment to evident vital interests, and the completeness of its rejection of any policy of nuclear adventure, the United States aims to set an example which, if followed elsewhere, will protect us all from nuclear war. It cannot help in that process to have doubts expressed, for special purposes, by those whose security under our nuclear umbrella is most evidently guaranteed.
Many of our friends are allies-others remain apart from that form of connection. Yet it would be an erring logic which would set our unaligned friends always behind our allies. We have chosen neutrality for enough of our history to recognize and respect the similar choice of others-and none of our allies is attached to us by other than free choice. We have a deep interest in the effort toward stable and progressive freedom now so gallantly in course in small states and in great sub-continents; that interest is not removed by the absence of formal alliance-any more than the justified fact of alliance is a reason for perverse suspicion by those who do not choose to join.
But the requirement of reciprocity is as important for friends who are unaligned as for friends who are engaged. Among some of the former there is a tendency to take our good will for granted, and to assume that their special interests and prejudices may, in the nature of things, be pressed against us to the limit. When the discount is made with all insight and generosity for the special problems and concerns of the ardent new nations, this still remains a global community where the interests of all-even the richer states commanding greater military power-deserve respect. It is disappointing that a few men, themselves extraordinarily thin-skinned, appear to rejoice in attributing the lowest of motives to us; one may hope that American journalists will cease to apologize for asking fair questions of such sensitive politicians.
Fortunately most of our neutral friends are friends indeed. We will continue in our respect for their neutrality, in our concern for their advancement, in our belief that their independent progress is deeply in the common interest of humanity. Because we ourselves are a new people, a recent historical addition to the written record of mankind, we can and do feel with a shock of recognition the pride and purpose of the new countries.
Neither they nor we have yet solved the new problem of setting the reasonable terms of cooperation for their development and for the common peace. Out of even a short experience we may conclude that easy formulas are likely to be wrong, and that in this new relation neither politics nor economics, as normally defined, has a good claim to single sovereignty. We cannot apologize if we find a special importance in such notable states as India and Pakistan, and in the aspirations and problems of our neighbors in Latin America. In quite another aspect we must and do recognize that what happens to certain great commodities that make breakfast for the world is more significant for many a young economy than all the long-term loans that Washington can laboriously assemble.
Indeed the travail of these new relations can easily lead to disappointment and even cynicism. We must remember how unusual it is that separate nations should seek genuine economic cooperation with one another, and how little historical experience we have to guide us, on either side. We should remember, on both sides, the cost of failure. And we should understand that in a society which keeps its energies alive and its conscience active, new means of action will constantly be thrown forward. The Peace Corps, against more skepticism than many would wish to remember, has shown plainly that a good idea, with good men and women at work for it, still counts.
A curious and special problem, in our relations with the many new nations, lies in our somewhat different views of the United Nations. For us the U.N. is both a major hope and an indispensable reality; it is also a force in which our steady support has been, from the beginning, essential. We do not from this fact conclude that the U.N. must do only what we want; our record in New York challenges comparison in its responsiveness to the interests of others. Our steady insistence on the importance of the U.N. as both forum and framework of action has set us apart, on occasion, from important allies.
But this long record of political and economic support for the U.N. has taught us that, like other merely human institutions, it functions best when it functions in the real world. We cannot see it merely as a voting machine for the expression of simple feelings. The legitimate aspirations of all men are not the same as the present capacities of every dependent-or newly independent-area. And the natural feelings of those who see colonialism as the one great enemy are not always a perfect guide to action or to voting. The U.N. can do many things, but the price of irresponsible votes can be high; our own effort will be still to do all we can to assist in reasonable progress, and to avoid damage to the U.N. through misuse of its forum. Yet we shall continue to seek a place in the first ranks of those who make the peaceable influence of the U.N. an end as well as an instrument of policy.
In one way or another all of our military alliances take their present meaning mainly from the threat of Communist expansionism. They are all defensive, and Communist power is plainly what they must now defend themselves against. Except in the case of our hemispheric connections, it is the Communist danger that has created the requirement for these alliances. Yet because we are numerous and varied, and because we live at different distances from the various centers of Communist aggressive initiative, we do not all see the Communist threat alike. For the United States it has a special and unique meaning, if only because without us the Communists would be irresistible everywhere. It is therefore fortunate that among the 40 allied opinions ours is near the center.
We have not yielded, except in the temporary and discreditable fears connected with the name of Joseph McCarthy, to the notion that the only guide to policy is passionate anti-Communism; as a people indeed we have never ceased in our hope and preference for a reliable improvement in our relations with the Soviet Union. Those among us who would make empty hatred into a policy have never been more than a minority in either party; the victory we seek is not one of angry words-and still less one of heedless holocaust.
At the same time we have not since the second war allowed ourselves the gentle luxury of belief that the Bear will turn into a Golden Retriever if only we are kind to him. We have found no natural good will in the record which still remorselessly includes the drawing of the Iron Curtain, the death of free Czechoslovakia, the blockade of Berlin, the attack in Korea, the blood bath of Budapest, and the inhumanity of the Wall. It is probably inevitable that among our friends there should be some who read reform in every new Soviet riddle, but it is also good that we are skeptical.
Among the allies, then, we are moderates. We see the Soviet power as a great reality, uncertainly but intimately entangled with the Chinese Communist enormity. Together with our allies we must deny this power the temptation to expand by open aggression; we must oppose its persistent effort to expand by conspiracy and deception; we cannot and do not seek its conquest in war. We shall not be second in readiness for defense against attack-but we must still be first in the search for more honest exchanges, more even communication and a clearer recognition that peace is in the common interest.
Yet it is well to remember always that this policy can be put at hazard by miscalculation or provocation on the Communist side. Recurrent and uncalled- for slanders, in a warfare of words which belies the pleasant tones of improved diplomatic courtesy, are dangerous to peace; still more dangerous are pressures tinged with threat upon clear and well recognized rights. Our strength and our determination are equal to such challenges, but the patience of even the most careful democracy is never infinite. We shall persist in our refusal to reply in kind, but we shall also persist in remarking that such one-sided adventurousness is as unbecoming to a genuine great power as it is inevitably hazardous.
In this determined but moderate posture we find many of our allies content, a few concerned to restrain us, and a few who are troubled by existing restraint. We stand between these separated allies-and yet we also stand together with them all. For in the end there is reality in all of our alliances, and in our concern for all of our allies.
And that is why, in a discussion of our many friends, the last remarks must go to allies. Danger does exist; the threat is real. Those who recognize the threat, and act in prudent but declared response, have made a choice not to stand apart, and not to pretend that because there are only two great powers they must (on some mistaken logic) be alike. This choice we honor, and for it we have met, and we will meet, reciprocal obligations.
Finally, we come to what we ourselves may ask of all our friends. This question is too often omitted, in a conscientious but incomplete concern for what others think and want. Of both neutrals and allies we may properly ask the same thing they expect of us: an understanding that we have a role and interests of our own. Our power and responsibility are now so evident- so fully taken for granted-that their meaning for us is easily forgotten. Thus close allies, serenely confident of our ability to sustain the nuclear shield, can easily disregard the cost and care of this assignment. A balance of judgment, as on nuclear tests and test bans, which we must weigh with full accountability, others can treat with casual optimism, because they count on us. Disarmament is easy for the irresponsible.
Nearer to the bone, and harder for all concerned to understand, is the fact that we too are in front-line danger now. Ancient and deeply rooted habits of geographical thought do not easily yield to the facts of our time, on either side of the Atlantic, but perhaps we have grasped the new reality more clearly than some friends in Europe. The general nuclear war the world fears would be a disaster to the whole race, but it is the stronger members of the two great opposed alliances who would be most certainly caught in its horror. The present danger does not spare either shore of the Atlantic- or set Hamburg apart from San Francisco. We can understand the desire of some to stand apart from the Promethean force of nuclear weapons and the desire of others to have their protection without their hazards. And while our experience of the cost and burdens of genuine membership in the nuclear club makes us believe that countries which do not apply are wise, we fully recognize that this sovereign decision is not ours to make for others. But we may reasonably ask for understanding of the fact that our own place at the center of the nuclear confrontation is inescapable.
Out of this confrontation come both responsibility and concern. Thus it is the seriousness of our commitment to NATO that makes us wonder at the frivolity with which that commitment is questioned for small purposes. Similarly, it is the knowledge of nuclear hazard that makes us press in two directions which have given honest but mistaken concern to some allies. First, we are insisting upon the best and most effective arrangement, both of technical mastery and of military discipline, to ensure that nuclear weapons are used when-but only when-the central order is given. Second, we remain indefatigable in our pursuit of some workable and reliable international agreement to limit the general hazard of nuclear weapons and enlarge the world's safety. We know better than any other nation how little the Soviet Union has yet said or done in serious response-but we will not stop the reasonable, necessary, human search for sensible agreement. Moreover, we will always measure the hazards of agreement against the hazards of unlimited competition, and we do not expect to be distracted from this course by men, on either side of the argument, who emphasize one danger and ignore the other.
Outside the nuclear field, in which mutual understanding must include the present fact of our special responsibility, our claims upon our friends can be entrusted to the formula of reciprocity. What we ask, in respect for our convictions and concern for our peculiarities, we must also be ready to grant. In one other respect, perhaps, we have a special claim to sympathy; as we are the most powerful, we have the largest number of associations-and so we face the largest number of conflicts of interest. Both interest and sympathy can pull us two ways, or more; those who find such choices easy are usually wrong, and our policy will often put us in positions which both sides would like to disapprove. It is becoming that we should accept that responsibility coolly-as we have tried to do, in these last years, in different ways, in the Congo, in West New Guinea, in the Dominican Republic and in the Middle East. It is as reasonable to ask a general understanding of this posture as it would be foolish to expect the praise of the interested parties in each specific case.
And finally, there are the things on which we are hard set as a people; nations, like men, have convictions that are at given periods beyond argument. Ours are limited but real. They may not be universally approved, but it is prudent that they should be understood. What we believe, for example, of Red China and Red Cuba rests, to us, upon evidence, principle and interest. We do not require that others who disagree should change their minds or lose our friendship. But they should recognize that it does not advance international understanding to assert with comfortable self- satisfaction that "nobody could think like that." We do. It will serve their interest to study our reasons and respect our convictions.
Yet a proper insistence on our own national interests and attitudes should not blind us-or even our friends-to a wider claim. The emerging society of free nations, as we see it, can and should so shape itself that the ultimate interests of all are served in concert. We try not to seek for ourselves what we would deny to others. Even in the grim business of nuclear deterrence we can share whenever there is equality in sharing. And at the happier end of the spectrum of affairs, we seek nothing more than that all peoples shall find a way toward decency and hope, in simple human terms. With all our national failings, we do not fear comparison in the depth and the integrity of our commitment to this reasonable dream.