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Khruschev was Tubby, but Ahmadinejad is Skinny!

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I think that Dan Drezner’s effort at refuting Rick Perlstein’s Khruschev-Ahmadinejad comparison is quite weak. Dan is correct to point out the dangers of historical analogy, but I find the one Perlstein makes pretty solid. Dan’s points:

1) The USSR was an acknowledged superpower; Iran is not. And yes, these things should matter in how foreign potentates are treated. And last I checked, neither Hu Jintao nor Vladimir Putin has complained about their treatment in visits to the United States during the Bush years. In fact, as Matt Zeitlin observes, Hu got the 21-gun salute and exchange of toasts the last time he was in the USA.

This is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t exactly argue in favor of the hysterical response to Ahmadinejad. Since the point of the wingnutty is that Ahmadinejad is EVIL DANGER EVIL DANGER EVIL DANGER EVIL and must be silenced at all costs, the comparison seems quite apt. Nikita Khruschev had in his hands the power to destroy the United States, or at least a very large part of it. He was also a direct lieutenant of Joseph Stalin, and guilty of untold crimes against humanity. Ahmadinejad has very limited power in a country that has no nuclear weapons and is trivially weak compared to the United States. Why the latter merits a more hysterical response is utterly unclear to me.

2) Khrushchev had no problem wearing a tuxedo and delighting in the petty charms of the bourgeoisie as it were. If we even offered a white tie dinner to Ahmadinejad, does anyone think he’d actually accept? And what would he wear? This sounds like a small difference, but it’s symbolic of the larger cultural gap that exists between Iran and the U.S. than existed between the superpowers during the Cold War.

True enough, but it’s unclear to me why this matters. Ahmadinejad doesn’t wear neckties and Khruschev did; is Dan suggesting that this somehow justifies the difference in reception? I don’t even think it explains, much less justifies… certainly the United States has entertained other world leaders despite significant cultural differences.

3) In 1959, the Soviets weren’t viewed as defecting from the tacit rules regarding nuclear weapons. Once they were suspected of violating those rules, I’m astonished to report that Cold War liberals started acting in a different manner.

Take a look, for example, at this video of Adlai Stevenson’s famous 1962 UN speech in which he confronted Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin about the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba — glamorized in Thirteen Days.

Click on over and check out the speech for yourself. We get nuggets like these:

Mr. Zorin and gentlemen, I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I don’t have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk. And I must confess to you that I’m glad I don’t.

Wow, that Stevenson was a pants-piddler, wasn’t he?

I’m utterly befuddled by the point that Dan is trying to make here; obviously, the United States and the Soviet Union had important policy differences, engaged in competitive behavior, and often used sharp rhetoric against one another. I don’t at all understand how this relates to the Ahmadinejad situation; if anything, liberals have been quite positive regarding the use of sharp rhetoric against Iran, preferring it to, say, bombs. Indeed, I suspect that if Iran tried to deploy nuclear weapons to Cuba, American liberals would be rather put out. That’s kind of the point; when we’re deciding which things we should be afraid of, we ought to choose the scary things.

If I may, I believe the point that Perlstein was trying to make was that the United States had good reason to fear Khruschev’s tanks, planes, and nuclear weapons, but none at all to fear his rhetoric. Ahmadinejad doesn’t even have the tanks, so it’s unclear why right blogistan, “Hacksaw” Jim Bunning, and the great hosts of the wingnutty have been having a freak out orgy for the last two weeks.

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