Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Verbal Solidarity

Right-wingers like Powerline's "Trunk" and Ed Morrissey are measuring Barack Obama's cautious rhetoric on Iran versus Ronald Reagan's on Poland in 1981 and finding it lacking.

Apparently Reagan said a lot of tough stuff about the imposition of martial law in late 1981. But what was the impact? Of course any counterfactual can be conjured up to make an intervention look good.

But there's little actual evidence that Reagan's interventions helped. Nor could one expect much. This was still the Warsaw Pact era with the USSR finely balanced between reactionary and patient instincts for its sphere of influence. The west had no capacity for direct intervention of any kind of Poland, not least with the Brezhnev Doctrine still in force. Aren't we supposed to take seriously the words of our "enemies"?

Even simple things show no obvious improvement, though. Martial law -- the thing that Reagan spoke directly against -- wasn't lifted till summer 1983. Solidarity itself was banned in October 1982 (not during the martial law imposition period, by the way) and only legalized at the end of the decade. And the stepped-up repression of late 1981 was only unwound with the final collapse of communism in 1989. So what are the observable indicators that Reagan speaking up did an iota of good?

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