The claim that Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, is a “moderate,” with
whom Western leaders can do business on the basis of mutual self-interest,
brings to mind an earlier fantasy common among elites in the West after the
death of the Soviet dictator, Leonid Brezhnev, in 1982: that his successor as
General Secretary, Yuri Andropov, was a closet liberal eager to reduce the
tensions of the Cold War, then nearly four decades old, and thereby make nuclear
war less likely.
The evidence of Andropov’s moderation was his supposed
fondness for scotch whiskey, the novels of Jacqueline Susann and such icons of
American popular music as Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and Chubby Checker. By
some accounts a witty conversationalist conversant in German, English and
Hungarian, the new Soviet leader was even reputed to dance the tango
Trumpeting this information – which in reality was Soviet
disinformation – with the breathless intensity of those who think wishing hard
enough for something makes it real, Time, The Washington Post, The Christian
Science Monitor, The New York Times and other pillars of establishment opinion
in the West didn’t bother to consider whether Andropov’s personal preferences
bespoke a loss of faith in Marxism- Leninism or a diminution of the ardor with
which the Soviet leadership sought to spread communism.
Andropov, when he succeeded Brezhnev, was the same man who, as Soviet ambassador
in Budapest in 1956, oversaw the destruction of the Hungarian Revolution; it was
Andropov who, after the revolution was suppressed, falsely promised its leader,
Imre Nagy, who had taken refuge in the Yugoslav embassy, that he would be
treated leniently if he turned himself in. Foolishly Nagy did so, and was flown
to Moscow, where he was imprisoned and, less than two years later,
As General Secretary, Andropov almost certainly issued the order
for Soviet fighter planes to shoot down Korean Airlines flight 007, in which all
269 passengers lost their lives, over international waters and in violation of
And Andropov’s treatment of Soviet dissidents was no
less cruel and repressive than it was from 1967 to 1982, when he headed the KGB
and in that capacity ordered dissidents imprisoned, incarcerated in labor camps,
exiled abroad or internally to cities far from Moscow or, worst of all, declared
insane and committed to psychiatric hospitals, where they were given
mind-altering drugs that reduced some to a vegetative state.
record is even worse: he planned the bombing of a Jewish Community Center in
Buenos Aires in 1994, which took 85 lives, and of the Khobar Towers in Saudi
Arabia in1996, in which 19 American soldiers were killed. He refuses to
acknowledge that the Holocaust happened, and claims that in any case it is
something only historians should be concerned with.
He has also called
Israel “a wound” on the Middle East that must be removed. His boast about
deceiving the West into believing that Iran, from 2003 to 2005, had stopped
enriching uranium is well known, and there is no evidence of his having the
slightest objection to his own government’s savage persecution of Bahais and
others in Iran professing a religion other than Shi’ite Islam.
only hope President Barack Obama and his counterparts in Europe, now engaged in
yet another round of futile negotiations with Iran, will recognize that men like
Andropov and Rouhani who acquire positions of power share the beliefs,
objectives and policies of the repressive regimes they lead, and are not about
to repudiate them because of any personal habits they have or because they talk
in tones suggesting they are amenable to reason.
consequence of not doing so – the detonation of nuclear weapons as an act of war
for the first time since 1945 – would be catastrophic.
The writer is
professor of history at Central Connecticut State University and the author,
most recently, of Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei