Monday, March 23, 2009

Obama's Norouz Message

Kamran and I have guest posts up at Harry's Place. (Mine is Naivety, Diplomacy, and Threats and Kamran's is Obama’s positive New Year message to Iran, even though Kamran originally called it a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.

Here are excerpts:

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing:

The Iranian regime wants us Iranians to believe that President Obama is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This message is their response to Obama’s election and policies regarding talks with Iran. Don’t forget that Ahmadinejad said that a black man could never be president of America. That means they were not prepared to deal with someone who would publicly offer a hand for dialogue and a better relationship.

Is President Obama sincere in his attempts to start a better relationship with Iran? We still need to wait and see. What is clear by now, is that if his policy of engagement fails it won’t be the fault of the US alone. It is fine if Obama want to quote our beloved poet, Saadi, to show respect and understanding of our long history, but we have heard this before, we have been there, and we know that game very well,

The US needs to come up with concrete steps and let us Iranians know what they are offering publicly. The one thing that Iranians from all walks of life agree on is our desire to be an independent nation. We won’t accept anything less.

There are a lot of measures that the US government can take to build trust. Not all of those have to do with the Iranian government’s willingness to start dialogue with the US. I see Obama’s New Year message as positive, but we need more than that.

At the same time the response of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, can be understood as nothing other than asking the US to go down on its knees and beg for forgiveness and take responsibility for the manipulation of the last 500 years of Iranian society. His demand for changes without discussion is the same as the American policy of demanding preconditions for talks.
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Diplomacy, Naivety, and Threats

Everywhere I went in Iran, I met people who claimed to despise the actions of their government and the clerical regime. Taxi drivers, hotel clerks, waiters, government employees, mothers, fathers, accountants and butchers all expressed dismay and disgust at the Iranian government. Yet after four years living there I realized that despising the regime is a kind of national sport in Iran. It’s not new or even confined to the current regime. A nineteenth century French diplomat described Persians as “full of adoration for the country itself, they do not believe in any means of running it.” (You can read that quote in Fariba Adelkhah’s great book Being Modern in Iran.) The only politicians Iranians respect are those, like Mossadeq, who never had the opportunity to screw up because they were removed from office forcibly. While the actions of their government have very real consequences for the daily life of every single citizen of Iran, in reality most Iranians see it as superfluous: at best, defenders of Iran’s national interests; at worst, another tyranny to survive.

Since my stay in Iran, I have come to see the sanctions and the lack of diplomacy as counter-productive. The lack of official diplomacy with Iran since the revolution has, on one hand, been a boon for America’s image in that country. It meant that I was welcomed and beloved in every corner of Iran, despite what you might think if you are a viewer of Fox News. It’s fantastic to be an American in Iran. In fact, I doubt there is a more pro-American population outside of Texas. Why? Because we have not compromised with a corrupt and despised regime as we have in other parts of the world. That said, I don’t see that the lack of diplomacy and the sanctions have done any favors for Iran’s opposition or its people. The sanctions have strengthened the most powerful supporters of the regime who now have a stranglehold on the economy; read Abbas Milani’s article “U.S. Foreign Policy and the Future of Democracy in Iran.” (pdf). They have forced millions of Iranians into dependency on the government itself for work, food and basic necessities.

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