International diplomacy is a dance that requires light, nimble footwork. Unfortunately when it comes to Iran, the USA stuck its own foot into a bear trap, and we don’t know how to get it out.
Why does it matter? I hear people asking. Here’s a rundown:
- Iran just elected a moderate for president, Hassan Rouhani, who took office last weekend. Now, the last time Iran elected a moderate (President Khatami), he tried to mend fences with the USA and the USA snubbed him. The result was that in the next election, Iranians chose Ahmadinejad. Do we really want another Ahmadinejad in four years’ time?
- In 2003 Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, made an offer to the USA to recognize Israel and settle the nuclear-bomb question. Yes, really. We not only failed to answer his letter (it wasn’t even reported in the news until several years later), but we criticized the Swiss Embassy for passing it to us. Why? Because it seems President Bush was feeling so successful in Iraq. By the way, Hassan Rouhani was chief nuclear negotiator in 2003-05, during which time he was nicknamed “the diplomat sheikh.” Yeah, we can talk to Rouhani.
- A successful and peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem would create a more stable Middle East. Any objections to that?
- If we ever manage to get the sanctions lifted, it would open up a large and eager market in Iran for American manufacturing. Iran gets American-style goods from China, but American names have status in the Iranian market. For example, they can get cheaper chocolate, but one of the things my friends always wanted me to send them at their New Year was Hershey bars. Go figure. Below is a picture of me in the Isfahan bazaar, standing between two stalls. I like to think it shows the two poles of their consumer orientation. The shop on one side is full of traditional Iranian handicrafts with delicate designs and tasteful colors. The other one is full of brash plastic stuff, from Christmas tree lights to a Minnie Mouse purse.
There’s a myth going round Washington that Rouhani won the election because Iranians blamed their leaders for the sanctions, which is poppycock. They blame the USA. Besides, “the diplomat sheikh” makes a nice change from loose-cannon loudmouth Ahmadinejad.
So, what kind of a beartrap is keeping us from doing things that would benefit America? One jaw of the trap is our own successful propaganda. The other jaw is our own military might.
The propaganda: Ever since the hostage crisis, America has been busy demonizing Iran. We’ve done it so long, and so well, that we’ve forgotten it started as hurt pride and now we believe it. So now that it’s in our interests to talk to Iran as if they were members of the same planet, we’re frozen into our stance.
The military power: We are the most powerful nation on Earth. No one has as much military clout as we do. What happens when a nation gets that strong? They sort of forget there are solutions other than brute strength. I can’t remember whether it was Rumsfeld or Colin Powell who said he wanted America to be “the biggest bully on the block,” but that’s what we are. The trouble with relying on nothing but muscle is that if we don’t exercise our grey cells we can make some dumb decisions.
However, after Iraq and Afghanistan, our nation is nearly broke and our military is saying a war with Iran would be disastrous. Their word, not mine (though I agree). At this point, I’ve repeated myself so often I’m giving you readers a choice. If (A) you don’t know, don’t believe, or don’t remember what our military and intelligence have said on the subject of Iran, the lack of necessity for war with them, and the reasons we CAN talk to them, check (B) my past blogs (see list at end). If (C) you know, believe, or remember, go to (D) the next paragraph.
But our hawks in Congress haven’t got the message. Some of them are pursuing the same line they did in the run-up to the Iraq war: increased sanctions, bills to allow the USA to declare war simply if we feel like it, and a slavish reverence for Israel, who wants to be allowed to bomb Iran and drag us into a war whether we want it or not.
Oh yeah, and there’s another drawback of being the biggest bully: Not only do we tend to rely on it to the exclusion of other options, our so-called friends (like Israel) want to use our power for their benefit.
The situation with Iran is like a running sore we’ve had for over 30 years. Doctors know when you have a wound that doesn’t heal it can lead to infections that weren’t part of the problem to begin with.
We have young soldiers dying in Afghanistan that weren’t even born 30 years ago. Do we want more of them to die because our nation has forgotten how to use any method other than force? Let’s pry off the beartrap, recognize that our bully-boy stance is actually hurting us, cultivate some smarts, put some diplomatic salve on our wounds and get on with some real negotiations instead of just parroting the bluster and threats that have gotten us nowhere in the past.