Friday, March 20, 2009

And Happy Nowruz to You Too Mr. Obama!

Farideh Farhi

I must say that I am stunned by the tone and content of President Obama's message to Iran on the occasion of Iranian New Year or Nowruz. I am stunned because the message was great and on matters related to Iran I am not used to hearing what I like from Washington. So here are some quick thoughts.

Asides from being his gracious self, President Obama did several things that are significant. First and foremost was the fact that, unlike his predecessor, he did not attempt to drive a wedge between the people and government of Iran. He spoke explicitly to both the “people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” acknowledging their common history and culture. No more we love the people of Iran but hate their government taunt repeatedly brandished by the Bush Administration.

Second, he did not try to drive a wedge between the leaders of Iran. He addressed them all and in one brilliant move put to rest all the useless chatter about who the Obama administration should talk to. His focus was not on which Iranians the US wishes to talk to ("moderates" or "pragmatists") or should talk to (the ones who “really” wield power) but the fact that the two countries should talk on matters of mutual interest as well as about their differences.

Third, stating his commitment to meaningful diplomacy and avoiding demonizing rhetoric and peremptory demands, he simply stated the basic truth that the two long-time foes now face a chance for “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect” and addresses concerns of both. The process, he said in no uncertain terms, “will not be advanced by threats.”

This is the closest anyone in the US has come to ruling out the military option regarding Iran. Obama did not ignore “serious differences that have gown over time,” but did not validate "those who insist that we be defined by our differences." His commitment was clearly to “diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues” as well as “constructive ties” between the two countries.

Some Iranians, no doubt, will find fault in the following paragraph, deeming it a bit patronizing if not insulting:

The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.

But the general tenor of the speech was so different from what the Iranians are used to hearing that my bet at this point is that this part will be mostly ignored. The Iranians have been calling for a serious conversation and Mr. Obama has now promised them one. Let’s see if it happens.


leoeris said...

So... if Iran takes it's place in the community of nations without resorting to terror or arms, does that mean the United States will consider trying the same thing?

Farideh Farhi said...

Good question Leoeris!

Salour said...

President Obama's statement is sophisticated and has a very positive tone to it. It is smart in the sense that it celebrates the civilization, the culture, and especially the mention of the poem by Sa'di was brilliant.

But there is a subtext to this; the paragraph Farideh points to is significant, and it will be noticed by just everyone. The mention of phrases such as "terror" and "arms," is inconsistent with the unified spirit of the Nowrooz message, and understandably it will undue the intended effectiveness of the message. The paragraph is like a glitch placed in there, knowing that phrases as such are not acceptable to the Iranian side; hence making it unworkable. It appears as if this paragraph was added by an invisible (ideological-national security type) third hand. From the contradiction in this utterance, one detects an unsettled duality and disagreement among Obama's foreign policy advisors.

In President Obama's interview with Al-Arabia network, you observed this same glitch again when it came to Iran. In response to Ahamadinejad letter of congratulations, Obama implicitly accused Iran of holding a "clinched fist." Again, mention of "clinched fist" was tantamount to placing a glitch.

On the Iranian side, they could also use the same sophisticated and polite language to respond, by praising Obama and parts of American cultural identity, "...partnership, commerce, the old divisions are overcome..", and yet towards the end may think of placing a glitch, to make it unworkable.
Both sides need to deliver cohesive and unified messages, if committed to rapprochement.

mortezaesavand said...

The only source of instability in the region is the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan." The "blind support" by the United States of Israel was also a cause of friction between the two countries. Iran would never forget the role the US played when Iran's prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq was overthrown in a coup in 1953, neither would it forget the 1988 shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by a US warship in which all 290 people on board were killed. Iran would also not forget America's support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the american poison gaz of our beloved martyrs and the sanctions it levied against Iran nor its support for Iran's main militant opposition group, the People's Mujahideen of Iran and supporting terrorist in eastern Iran on the border with Pakistan.Obama's stance toward Iran is the same as Bush's stance, arrogant and baseless. All the phrase "new beginning" means is that he's changing the look on his face. Instead of frowning and demanding, he smiles and demands. But he still demands with no real authority to demand and he still makes charges without evidence. Iran's response that it's the US that needs to change is reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Talk is cheap.

About the only thing the American Empire can afford these days is talk. Maybe they realize this, and thus this new found optimism towards reconciliation with the Iranians.

But come on. This is America (and Israel) we're talking about. The hidden subtext within this seemingly "gracious" message is clear: "We control your nuclear ambitions, and don't you dare try to develop a nuclear program without our approval, you turbaned sand niggers."

This is merely putting the pieces in place for a preordained agenda. The good news is that the Iranians are too smart for this silly game that the Americans thinking they have mastered. Sure, they are masters of playing checkers, but the Persians practically invented Chess.



It seems to me that given the history involved, perhaps Iranians might look at the "offending" paragraph as boilerplate that they've seen countless times before. One would think that the parts that don't look like the "same old, same old" would draw the most attention, no?

Anonymous said...

This is just political CYA. A) It makes the US and Israel look good ("Hey, look at us, we're being nice to the Iranians"); B) When any subsequent talks inevitably breakdown due to the US' inability to let Iran assert regional authority, they will point to this and say, "We tried to be nice."

Adrian said...

@mortezaesavand: "The only source of instability in the region is the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Would you mind expanding on that statement? I'm really interested to see the logic that blames the American military for the Iran-Iraq War.

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