Rarely am I at a loss for words, struggling for something to say that might be heard on the other side of an ever-widening worldview chasm and engender honest reflection… something that would form the basis for a debate grounded in reason. When Drudge featured a link to this article in the Guardian Wednesday evening (still featured as of 5:30AM EST) it should have been an easy, toss-off post of despair and derision.
But my God, being the awesome God that He is, tells me to steer clear of both things… and so I will. (“There is no try”, says Yoda, “only ‘do’ or ‘not do’”. Yes, even green rubber muppet-wannabes can sometimes speak wisdom.) Let’s get serious for a moment. The Guardian article notes:
Officials of Barack Obama’s administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks… The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.
Diplomats said Obama’s letter would be a symbolic gesture to mark a change in tone from the hostile one adopted by the Bush administration, which portrayed Iran as part of an “axis of evil”.
OK, let’s pause there, shall we? This begs several questions. Among them:
Do Obama and/or the State Department believe in ‘evil’? If so, how do they define it? How would they recognize it? (If they believe in ‘good’, aka ‘progress’, however mushily they may define it, they must also logically believe in its opposite.)
Did the Bush administration merely ‘portray’ Iran as evil? Or is it more accurate to say that Iran’s actions and determined rhetoric (e.g., to wipe out Israel, gloss over Hitler’s atrocities, funnel IEDs and men into Iraq, etc.) have come as close to a dictionary definition of evil as it is possible to get?
Is it Obama’s intent to merely change ‘tone’, or to also change in some way the United States’ firm opposition to the evil actions of the current Iranian regime? And if the intent is not just to honey-coat clear and firm opposition to the regime’s evil actions — then on what basis do we justify capitulating to those very actions? Expediency? Reduced concern about the real impact or long-term effects of Iran’s policies? (‘Hope’ in its purest form, without fact or reason.)
There’s another thing. Two, actually.
1) Any official letter from the U.S. government to the leaders of Iran, by its mere existence (even if it just says ‘Hi!’), will be deeply demoralizing, even paralyzing, to those most deeply (and potentially) crushed by its tyrannies. That includes not only the obvious (e.g., Israel) but also our quiet allies elsewhere in the region — the mythical but very real moderate muslims — who know these guys as nut-jobs bent on conquest and destruction. Perhaps most importantly, it includes the silent majority in Iran itself who are sick and tired of efforts to bring the 11th century into the 21st… the hanging of teenage rape victims, the torture of homosexuals and other grim, sick things any self-respecting Western liberal (or just plain human being) should chafe at.
2) Many were upset, during the Bush adminstration, that the U.S.’s reputation abroad had been tarnished… that the caricature of the stupid, naive American had been animated by one man from Texas who could not be easily persuaded to change his principles. Yet how many, now — especially those in the muslim world — look at this kind of overture and ask: Does this young president understand who he’s dealing with? Is he truly that naive? Is he stupid? Does he have any idea how different a world view he’s confronting? How many assumptions he cannot take for granted? How his words will be perceived as weakness only? That they confirm and embolden Iran’s current course towards regional domination?
It [the U.S. letter] would be intended to allay the suspicions of Iran’s leaders and gives assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime, but merely seeks a change in its behaviour.
I’m going to try and stay calm and measured here… no despair, no derision… it’s tempting, though. This idea that all bad things spring from fear… let’s unpack that one just a bit.
Who ever said that was true? No, really, tell me. I’m asking. Oh sure, the two are often related, but what about the larger notion that evil manifests from things like pride, envy, lust, shame and jealousy? What about the old tribal urge to gain power and be rid of the other — to murder (in heart, then in fact)?
When did evil (if it is even acknowledged) get distilled into this simplistic Star Wars/FDR notion that ‘all [they or we] have to fear is fear itself’ and if we just sing some secularized New Age version of kumbaya (no ‘my Lord’, please, that’s divisive), breed our kids to have high medi-chlorian counts and talk in hushed, soothing tones and keep our light-sabres sheathed that the beast will be instantly tamed?
In short, when did it become true that telling a group of fanatical clerics, whose stated, firm and steady goal across five different U.S. presidents (and arguably longer) has been our (and Israel’s) destruction and/or subjugation that they need not fear us is likely to change anything? Did we not try that thirty years ago, long before nukes? And when did their behaviour actually change? Moments after Reagan took power.
The letter seems to rest on an assumption that behavior stems from fear, not ideology. That’s an ironic twist for a man who, both personally and through his followers, has sought to demonize his opponents — Bush and Rush, just to name two — as hopeless ideologues. Can Obama supporters understand how ironic it is that in this case (Iran) the goal is no longer regime change but that with George Bush the goal was nothing less? Let’s move on…
One draft proposal suggests that Iran should compare its relatively low standard of living with that of some of its more prosperous neighbours, and contemplate the benefits of losing its pariah status in the west.
Worldview check. It has been a point of pride, among many left-leaning intellectuals I know, that they believe themselves to possess a more nuanced understanding of global culture than we religious conservatives. Yet I find it startling that an overture such as this rests on a a blanket assumption of cultural homogeneity — i.e., that economic interests are paramount in the minds of these clerics and that embarrassing them further about their backwards status is likely to change their hearts and minds.
The Iranian people may understand that, to a degree. The leadership faces a much starker choice: continue in power along current lines or end up like Nicolae and Mrs. Ceauşescu — on the front page, very dead. An overture to the Iranian people, urging them to overthrow their leaders would be far more effective. Unfortunately, it’s already been tried.
Ahmadinejad said yesterday that he was waiting patiently [while building nukes] to see what the Obama administration would come up with. “We will listen to the statements closely, we will carefully study their actions, and, if there are real changes, we will welcome it,” he said.
Of course they are. Time is on their side. As one fellow blogger put it, the snake waits in the grass.
Ahmadinejad, who confirmed that he would stand for election again in June, said it was unclear whether the Obama administration was intent on just a shift in tactics or was seeking fundamental change.
‘Election’? Oh, please.
He called on Washington to apologise for its actions against Iran over the past 60 years, including US support for a 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected government, and the US shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988.
If memory serves, we have apologized multiple times for both things. I don’t defend either one. Yet, if memory serves, the Iranian regime has not apologized, even once, even haltingly, for invading our sovereign territory (our embassy) and taking hostages… not to mention advocating the outright annihilation of a sovereign UN state, denying the Holocaust…
A clear world view matters greatly. Understanding the other guy’s world view matters as least as much. Nothing about this letter gives me any confidence that Obama understands either point. I had honestly hoped for much better.