IN THE MIDST of this much-advertised climactic Iranian weekend, it is worth pausing to think about a very American aspect of the present conflict: the domestic holocaust over whose fault it is. No, this is not going to be a sermon on the dangers of permitting a "Who lost Iran?" debate or on how there is no point in retracing the policy missteps that preceded the terrible events in Tehran. In fact, there is plenty of reason to analyze and argue out these things -- coldly and brutally -- and that sould be an early order of business after the crisis has been resolved. Too often in our recent past such legitmate, even essential, post-mortems have been ruled out of order on grounds that they are witch hunts and time wasters. Iran (vietnam, cuba) wasn't ours to lose, the protesters will assert as if they had said something truly clever and presuasive, when they have merely stated a self-evident irrelevancy. The fact is that in all these places Americans have reconized and asserted a stake, an interest, a position; and when all fail utterly in the execution and policy is left in a shambles, it is reasonable to try to figure out what went wrong.
But to say that American actions and policies in an area have an impact on events, is not to say that what this country does determines all that happens every place else. And this latter, near-magical view of the u.s. omnipotence and of a corresponding global blahness -- a world and its inhabitants just waiting to be motivated, colored in by us -- is what underlies the surpassingly ugly argument that has been going on over the past couple of weeks about who lost the embassy in Tehran. Last week, on the opposite page, Henry Kissinger responded to some of the charges that he had said and done things to which our current dismal and dangerous condition could be directly traced. Others, in and out of the administration, have in turn had to respond to Mr. Kissinger's own general charge that the administration has behaved over the past couple of years in a way that virtually invited the current turmoil.
This conflict, no less intense for having been conducted in lowered voices over the past couple of weeks, rests on assumptions as naive, arrogant and unrealistic as they are familiar in our foreign policy debates and debacles. It does not seem even to be conceivable to the participants in this murderous argument that some things happen overseas because people overseas want them to. It never does. The United States is guilty, always, of either provocation or default -- one or the other being accounted the explanation of why country x or minister y or raging-street mob z did what it did.
Poor things -- we either frightened and goaded and oppressed them into retaliation or tempted them, by our paper-tiger weakness, into greedy, aggressive behavior. In Hanoi and Phnom Penh and Moscow and Peking and Havana, in Tehran and Angola and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia there are, under this construction, no real people acting -- and acting on occasion with surpassing recklessness and cruelty at that. There are only blank, will-less creatures, without intention or enterprise, waiting around for us to do something they can react to.
It is interesting that these extgremely condescending attitudes are shared by the people on both sides of the argument; and it is equally interesting that through their great miasma of condescension they regard themselves, ironically, as -- what else? -- great friends and benefactors and sympathetic understanders of whatever foreign people we are tangling with at the moment. They will grant such foreign peoples either a just cause and a morally irreproachable position or every reason to have supposed that they could push us around with impunity -- they will grant them everything, that is, except reality, the dignity of being seen and understood as three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood persons who can be as mean and wrong and -- yes -- guilty as anyone else.
Guilt. If the hostages are killed, who will be guilty? The shah? Henry Kissinger? David Rockefeller? The president and those of his advisers who have counseled foreign policy reticence over the years in other parts of the world? Or -- and here's a novel thought -- how about the ayatollah and his bestial street mobs? Would it be too farfetched, for once, to suggest that the people who are perpetrating the offensive acts are in fact responsible for them? Would it be too wild to think that when you see hundreds of thousands of people milling and screaming and demonstrating over a period of weeks that you are in the presence of something that was not wholly created and determined by a phone call made by one American to another or the mere act of giving asylum to a deposed potentate?
The current mob that rules Iran is very big on responsibility and guilt. They say their own savage acts are out responsibility, naturally, and they are seeking to get an international finding of guilt against the shah. The pitiful and ridiculous thing in the American reaction is that so many people here are mindlessly going along with that current, looking for ways to pin guilt on other Americans, as a way of fleeing our own (and their own) very real responsibility as a nation for maintaining a degree of continuity, reliability and honor in our national conduct.
This country should not kick out the shah. The other nations of the world should have, from the beginning, shown a lot more integrity and commitment in shouldering their own responsibility for debts incurred to Iran in the past and for the future of civilized treatment of diplomatic personnel. What is so squalid about the domestic attempts to lay off the blame for what happened on individual Americans is not just that it is the self-indulgent and hypocritical work of a few, but rather that it is a way of escaping the burdens and responsibilities that a mature government and people have to face.