The Shah’s Ghost…

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Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh tells the press Sunday he is heading to the U.S. for medical care

Those of you paying attention to international affairs a generation ago recall that Jimmy Carter’s decision to let the shah of Iran come to the U.S. for medical care created an anti-American firestorm back home in Iran. Has President Obama made the same mistake in letting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh begin his journey to New York for medical care over the weekend?

While there is some similarity, there are two important differences:

Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, the shah of Iran from 1941 to 1979, was ousted by an Islamic revolution. Suffering from gallstones, he ended up coming to the U.S. for treatment, first in New York, and then at a U.S. military base in Texas. The government of Ayatollah Khomeini demanded the shah’s return to Iran; he didn’t go home, and the Iranian hostage crisis began a short time later. The shah ultimately died of cancer in Egypt in July, 1980.

Saleh, on the other hand, is seeking medical care in the U.S. Here are the two differences: first, he is seeking care for wounds he received from his own people – and, secondly, he is pledging to return to Yemen.

Think Andrew Exum has this about right over at his Abu Muqawama blog:

What kind of message does it send to the people of Yemen and the greater region when the United States allows an abusive autocrat to take refuge in a New York hospital while his people demonstrate in support of democracy in the face of bullets from his security forces? Just whose side is the United States on in the Arab Spring? If [Syrian leader] Bashar al-Asad gets pancreatic cancer, should we expect for him to be treated at Johns Hopkins?

It may have been a tougher call for Carter, before the age of instantaneously communication and video ubiquity. But it would be heartening to hear an American President declare that thugs — no matter their pedigree — will no longer be welcome in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.