Saturday, March 21, 2009
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed overtures from President Barack Obama on Saturday, saying Tehran does not see any change in U.S. policy under its new administration...
''They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice. We haven't seen any change,'' Khamenei said in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad...
Khamenei asked how Obama could congratulate Iranians on the new year and accuse the country of supporting terrorism and seeking nuclear weapons in the same message.
The Ayatollah Khamenei is, of course, lying. President Obama did not accuse Iran of anything in his message (transcript here). He did not mention these issues, or even allude to them. Then there is this bit, which had to be especially humiliating:
Khamenei said there has been no change even in Obama's language compared to that of his predecessor.
No hope, no change!
The Supreme Leader has, more or less, told Barack Obama to kiss his saggy ass. [UPDATE: FP Passport, hardly a hotbed of neoconservativism, says Iran "kicked him in the teeth." That too.]
This is exactly what happened with all previous attempts by American doves to reach out to the Islamic Republic. For more on that history, read this post. Going back almost twenty years, at each and every turn, the Iranians signalled that if only the United States bent over a little more they would sit down and negotiate with us. The response to each gesture from the United States has been the same, hostility and rejection. Now Khamenei has raised the bar again. Better relations now require acquiescence in Iran's nuclear weapons program (the allegedly "peaceful" nuclear power program betrays its real purposes in numerous ways) and our abandonment of Israel.
Iran is the place where foreign policy "realism" goes to die. Yes, there are many reasons why it is in the interests of Iran as a nation-state and Iranians as a people to make common cause with the United States, not the least of which is the resurgent Russian Bear to the north and Tehran's closing window of influence over Iraq. All these reasons pale in comparison to the founding raison d'etre of the Islamic Republic, however, which is to export its revolution as widely as possible.
Americans, in the end, should understand this and be realistic about it. We have, with fits and starts, been exporting our own revolution -- founded on individual liberty and popular sovereignty -- for more than two centuries. The Islamic Republic understands this, and is going to do everything possible to keep us from winning. As long as the Islamic Republic rules Iran, our only policy is sustained and coercive containment and, if necessary, interdiction. Appeasement will do nothing but make us look helpless, which will erode, rather than enhance, American power.
Sometimes "soft power" is not power at all. It is just softness.
MORE: Curious logic at the Booman Tribune:
Iran's response was tepid. It didn't help that Shimon Peres sent his own message that called for the toppling of the Iranian government. What do you think?
Actually, Barack Obama opened up a significant and overt policy difference between the United States and Israel -- he explicitly rejected the objective of regime change while Israel still pursues it -- a point of no small agitation among Israel's staunch supporters in the United States. It is rather hard to believe that Iran, which has a first rate intelligence service, did not understand that, and still the Ayatollah led the mob. When your purpose is to extend a revolution (whether for cynical or genuine reasons), facts hardly matter.
In any case, Booman Tribune's post exposes the huge gulf in perceptions of Iran within the United States. Khamenei could have used even more confrontational rhetoric, but if leading a mob in chants of "death to America" and comparing Obama to the hated George W. Bush is "tepid" one wonders what would be "hostile" on the same scale.
It would be interesting to know what the actual expectations of the Obama Administration were to this message.
Will they be unhappy at this response?
For years, various political and religious leaders (in some ways, both!) of this authoritarian Republic have villainized the United States on a daily basis. Did the Obama Administration expect them to turn on a dime?
Acts performed by various agencies of the Iranian government in Iraq could easily be interpreted as acts of war against us. They have state that they are, as such, at war against the Great Satan, and have been since 1979.
What did Obama expect?
And when the have a handful of nuclear weapons, what can we then expect, because Iran becoming a nuclear power is now just about a fait acompli. There will be much talk, but nothing will be done by us or by Israel.
Tigerhawk, you misunderestimate the extreme brilliance of Obama's teleprompter.
It knew that the Iranian leadership would reasonably interpret Obama's words as evidence of weakness, and that the Iranian leadership would then kick him while he was down. This would get the sympathy of every good liberal in Iran, and destabilize the Iranian autocrats -- that was the plan.
Of course, the Teleprompter suffers from the same deficiency as you & me, Tigerhawk: it had to rely on the US State Department to translate Obama's words into Farsi. The same State Department that cannot translate "Reset" into Russian.
We don't know what the Iranians heard, but it is a fair bet that they did not hear the Teleprompter's intended words.
Peace is not now, nor has it ever been, the objective of Islam. They want one thing, and one thing only, that is to spread their faith across the world. Terror and
technology are doing a very good job of it.
Political correctness and apathy are doing their part as well.
Willingness to change our laws and overlook outrageous behavior on the part of those whose express desire it is to completely change our world is doing the rest.
They see us as weak and ineffectual. We need to change that before it's too late.
Iran's answer was pretty straightforward, I thought, and entirely consistent with it's past responses to American efforts. I've written the Iranians off, myself. To hell with them. Spengler seems to think they're headed for a massive internal collapse, and if he's right then I guess the only question is will they blow up Tel Aviv before the fatal convulsions begin, or not.
"Their efforts to isolate Iran from the cultural degradation of the American "great Satan" have produced social pathologies worse than those in any Western country. With oil at barely one-fifth of its 2008 peak price, they will run out of money some time in late 2009 or early 2010. Game theory would predict that Iran's leaders will gamble on a strategic long shot. That is not a comforting thought for Iran's neighbors."
I'm not sure what writing the Iranians off entails, but I'd advise against purposely alienating the Iranian people, who may very well still be our ace in the hole.
I'm in the process of reading Jason Elliot's excellent treatise on Iran, Mirrors of the Unseen. Time and again he writes of meeting ordinary Iranian people who detest the mullahs and the entire Islamic Revolutionary movement.
Of course, predictably enough, they detest as well interference from foreign interlopers just as much.
So I don't pretend to have any good answer to this quandary, except perhaps to suggest we tell the Iranian government to go to hell meanwhile continuing to press the message of liberty and freedom for all.
But I'm sure *our* liberals and moderates won't like that much, any more than will *their* hard-liners.
sirius, I mostly agree with your point that we should distinguish the Iranian government from the Iranian people. I often have wondered why Bush did not do more to highlight the human rights atrocities of the regime there.
There's one thing, though. Many of us have been devoutly hoping that the Iranian people would take matters into their own hands and get rid of the mullahs. This would obviously be greatly preferable to the US or Israel having to take military action. But it just has not been happening. We keep hearing that the people there are fed up but there are no signs of many of them trying to do anything about it.
The problem is that most people in most countries do not have the American attitude that they are responsible for their own destiny but rather just "go along to get along". This is where I think there is truly "American exceptionalism", even the Europeans do not have this as strongly as we do. I hope I'm wrong and the Iranian people will eventually rise up but I am skeptical.
Gary Rosen, I appreciate your response and agree that waiting for the Iranian people to rise up and take things into their own hands has, to this point, been nothing but an exercise in frustration.
It is a point that Elliot makes too, in fact asking one of the persons he meets why no-one does anything to overtly oppose the ruling elites. The man of whom he asks the question gives a mute response, raising a finger and drawing it horizontally across his throat.
No doubt, given the prior examples of Mossadeq and the Shah, the mullahs have learned a few lessons about maintaining power in the interim. In fact, it is my understanding that the revolutionary regime is far more oppressive and reactionary in its response to opposition than the Shah ever even thought to be, which seems strikingly ironic given the way the mullahs keep continually harping about the atrocities committed by SAVAK.
It suddenly occurs to me that rather than groveling, confessing and apologizing (ala Madelaine Albright, and others) we should point out to the Iranians that they owe us a debt of gratitude, inasmuch as we did remove both Saddam 'Husayn' and the Taliban, both of which were committed enemies of, if not quite (at least to that point) existential threats to, Iran.
I think the alacrity of the response, its acerbity, and the fact it was delivered by the Supreme Leader himself, are all telling that Obama's message hit the mark rather cleanly.
The most important difference is that whereas Khamenei was addressing the Iranian people, Obama's message was directed at the same audience, and I think that was Khamenei's primary concern.
Obama and wife think Americans should kiss his behind while Iran thinks Obama should kiss it's behind. This is gettin' perverted. Wasn't the god/messiah Obama gonna be swave and debonaire and silver tongue devil the international world ? This Obama doesn't bare any resemblance to the pre-election day one.
I'm not quite sure if posters and commentors here are intelligent or stupid, perhaps the "intelligently stupid" applies.
For one, TigerH should observe that Obama did in fact directly accuse Iranians of terrorism, in as much as he imbedded the following obviously insulting bombshell into what was otherwise basically a very culturally-sensitive love-note:
"You, too, have a choice. 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."
This insert was meant to be a terror-bad behavior proviso effecting the appearance of political condescension to the Iranian populace.
He obviously meant to discredit his overall message to the typical Iranian populace who, like the general American populace, are not familiar with intra-government dialogue which often contrevenes public statements. Khatemi simply obliged by pointing out the discrepancy, in puzzlement.
Readers should recognize the Obama Noruz message as an obvious start to a major new attitude toward Iran's government, contrasting what President Cheney advocated, in a way that would be tenable to both the Iranian populace and the American populace.
Imagine Iranians hearing Obama's message without the condescension-proviso--they would think we are setting them up! Imagine Americans hearing Obama saying all these goochy thoughts without the proviso--that was obviously to make this outgoing message digestible to the still-skeptical Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike.
Not hard to figure out.
Regarding the Iranian in general, they first and formost majorlly intelligent and makeshift. They are like a major diverse Roman metropolis under one religious umbrella. They are not much different from us in the West with respect to their ethnic stock- mostly Arians with dark hair and some suntan and a little bit of Mongolian impregnation. Not much different from our Jewish-Kazhar-Mongolian-Turk mingling we've got going here in Eastern Europe and beyond. There are Tehranians who look absolutely no different than the most white-faced blue-eyed red-lipped Irishmen/women. It is constantly foolish to keep talking of them as though they were no different from Wahabbi Arabs.
Whatever the supposed religous iniquities, all their civilizational talents have been preserved. This includes their 5000+ year history of diplomatic excercise across a wide array of geographical and ethnic and religous boundaries. The Iranians helped if not caused the Shiites to stand down during the Iraq occupation. The Arab-controlled sunnis were promised bribes by the CENTCOM to go home during the invasion, but then reacted violently to their firing from positions by the Provisional Government. They were eventually bribed down with real money. The IUDs are left over simpleton devices from Saddam or were easily remade in metal shops. In other words, Iran made it possible for the US to do the invasion, and used the "mismanagement" to win influence into the Iraqi populace. They know how to do this very well.
Iran's cultural and historical experience and societal capability has military implications.
It would be no simple thing to try Iran as other countries(y) would have us do. An attacked-or-invaded Iran is different from an attacked-or--invaded Iraq, as is an integrated 70-million populace is from a terror training camp.
President Obama is more American than was President Cheney, as he is dealing with Iran for American's best interests, not for another nameless country or some self-dilusioned military contractor crowd.