Minor Thoughts from me to you

Contrasting Freedom With Oppression

On Friday, Fred Thompson reminded us of the importance of engaging the world with our ideas:

It's equally tragic that the U.S. is in no position to provide the victims of [Hugo Chavez] with the truth. There was a time, though, when Americans were on the front lines of pro-freedom movements all over the world. I'm talking about the "surrogate" broadcast network that included Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, often called "the Radios."

When Ronald Reagan was elected, he greatly empowered the private, congressionally funded effort and handpicked the Radios' top staff to bring freedom to the Soviet Union. Steve Forbes led the group.

Cynics still say that the USSR fell of its own weight, and that President Reagan's efforts to bring it down were irrelevant, but Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev say differently. Both have said that, without the Radios, the USSR wouldn't have fallen. The Radios were not some bland public relations effort, attracting audiences only with American pop music. They engaged the intellectual and influential populations behind the Iron Curtain with accurate news and smart programming about freedom and democracy. They had sources and networks within those countries that sometimes outperformed the CIA. When Soviet hardliners and reformers were facing off, and crowds and tanks were on the streets of Moscow and Bucharest, the radios were sending real-time information to the people, including the military, and reminding them of what was at stake.

Unfortunately, we scaled back the Radios and are in no position to use them to influence the Middle East or Latin America.

Fred Thompson mentioned that "we'll have a whole new set of media technologies" to use, if we start to stand up to today's dictators. It's true. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez has forced Radio Caracas Television off of the air, for the heinous crime of disliking him. RCT has decided to keep fighting anyway. Instead of broadcasting their content over their airwaves, they are broadcasting it over YouTube. Last Friday, YouTube listed RCT as their most-subscribed feed of the week. Today's dictators will have a much harder time controlling the flow of information than yesterday's dictators. I think that's something worth celebrating.

Finally, if Iran's government is so peace-loving and wants only to be granted a measure of respect, why are the Iranians so busy clamping down on freedom in their own country?

Unemployment among young Iranians is about 50 percent. Some 40 percent of the population is on the government payroll, and there is not enough oil money to pay off all the people who do support the government (about a third of the population). Thus the government keeps printing more money, and the result in an inflation rate of over 20 percent. The Iranian people are getting increasingly restless, and, more ominously, surly. The government has relied on street level gangs of young Islamic conservatives to discourage such behavior. But it isn't working, and there have been more and more street battles. The government can more readily call in reinforcements, and has won all these brawls so far. But if the government starts losing them, it's the beginning of the end. Some of the kids have cell phones, a technology the government tried to keep out. The fear is that a street level disturbance will result in the protestors calling in their own reinforcements, defeating the security forces, and spreading. The clerics fear an event similar to the one that suddenly destroyed communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe 18 years ago. For that reason, much attention and cash is spent on the street level muscle (the Basij militia), and a constant willingness to use physical violence against any protests or "un-Islamic" behavior.

There is a difference between the U.S. and our enemies. We need to remember that. More importantly, we need to highlight it whenever and wherever possible.