Friday, June 19, 2009

Whose Supreme Leader?

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 6/19/09

One of my favorite public moments was in the mid-1970s at a football game in New York. Howard Cosell, the most prominent announcer in his day, was in the stands looking for a few celebrities to talk to at half time. He was having a playful little back and forth chatter with John Lennon who had not long before moved to New York. Then he said to him, “I’ll see you, John. I’ve got to go interview the Gipper now.”

Lennon said, “Who’s the Gipper?”

It was a moment when history shifted and brought two figures together on a hinge; two who created their own generations and changed the world in my life time possibly more than any others, John Lennon and Ronald Reagan. Reagan was known as the Gipper for the role he played in the movie about the Notre Dame football player, George Gipp. Lennon did not know who he was and in the early 1970s, neither did many other Americans back East.

History shifts in a moment, and in my life time there have been two definitive moments. The one was in the early 1960s when The Beatles, all four together and dressed in black, tumbled down the steps of an airplane and landed in New York. The second was the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, came to power. The first gave the world John Lennon. The second gave the world Ronald Reagan.

Reagan first came to great popularity not so much as for who he was as for who he wasn’t: because he was not Jimmy Carter. In Carter’s term 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days by Iranians rising to revolution. As Wiki reports: In America, it is thought by some political analysts to be the primary reason for U.S. President Jimmy Carter's defeat in the November 1980 presidential election. In Iran, the crisis strengthened the prestige of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the political power of forces who supported theocracy and opposed any normalization of relations with the West.

The hostage taking divided Americans. Many liberals – at least in New York City, where I lived – supported the Ayatollah, the revolutionary guard and the hostage takers. It divided liberal sentiment to a point of complete separation.

It was a time to ask, who’s side are you on? Gut reaction in a positive way determined public opinion. One either supported the American hostages or one supported the Ayatollah’s crowd. I never spoke to half my friends again.

We may be at such a turning today. As Charles Krauthammer pointed out in his column this morning at The Washington Post, President Obama “solicitously” referred to the Iranian chief as “Supreme Leader” when he said, "some initial reaction from the Supreme Leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election."

What’s in a word? Everything. The French were divided for 100 years between those who referred to the supreme revolutionary leader as “Napolean” and those who referred to him as “The Emperor.”

Obama is dead wrong when he says that both parties in the disputed election have hostilities toward the United States. An Iranian student keeping anonymity for safety, reports today in the New York Times, that there is strong evidence that Iranians across the board want a better relationship with the United States and Mr. Moussavi would carry out his campaign promise of seeking improved relations with America.

“Until last week,” he writes, “Mr. Moussavi was a nondescript, if competent, politician — as one of his campaign advisers put it to me, he was meant only to be an instrument for making Iran a tiny bit better, nothing more. Iranians knew that’s what they were getting when they cast their votes for him. Now, like us, Mr. Moussavi finds himself caught up in events that were unimaginable, each day’s march and protest more unthinkable than the one that came before.”

If there is more blood on the tracks before this is over and there will be, again it may be time for a new generation of Americans to ask, which side are you on? Already, Obama may have missed the turning.