Iran is a country that most Americans do not and probably can not understand. Its form of government is unlike what we know in America. Its religion is both different and its practices, especially towards women, strange and unfamiliar when compared to America as a whole. Iran is not an Arab country yet it is the force behind Hezbollah and Hamas, and a firm supporter of the Shiite majority in Iraq. The Iranian economy is struggling on top of all this. If this were not enough to try to understand, Iran is also pursuing the costly development of nuclear weapons and one wonders why?
It is normal in the US for the government and the press to paint foreign countries and their leaders either wearing a white hat (for good guy) or a black hat (for a bad hombre). George W Bush had no trouble coloring Iran’s hat dark black. Iran was a member of the exclusive “axis of evil” club and everything Iran said or did was unacceptable. Assuming everything Bush said was true, his rhetoric and policies towards Iran did nothing to improve relations or to bring about “regime change”.
Barack Obama campaigned on a different approach promising to open dialog with the Iranians. In 6 short months, he has changed his approach and one is left to wonder why?
Lecturing Iran from far across the Atlantic Ocean is like speaking into an empty barrel. Lecturing Iran on its internal affairs is a turn off for Russia and China whose help with surely be needed. The Iranian government is, also, well established, and no amount of American rhetoric will cause them to sway. There is no better example of futility than to criticize a country that is not listening and does not accept your views anyways.
President Obama’s change of heart towards Iran most likely reflects intense debate within the White House. The political advisors probably worried about Obama appearing too soft or indecisive. The AIPAC supporters are preoccupied with Iran’s potential for nuclear weapons and want the US on a war footing, and not just in case. The Saudis probably saw the early positive overtures towards Iran as dangerous and potentially helping the current Shiite regime to maintain power.
Strangely the Middle East (along with Russia and China) were more comfortable with the Bush/Cheney approach. It was clear and unambiguous. It was also dead wrong and would have lead to things getting much worse in a lot of other places because Bush/Cheney were playing a one note symphony.
The damage has been done. Obama has stepped down from the high road. No amount of words today will recapture the chance Obama had and used initially towards Iran. It is better now for him to speak of other matters and let the dust settle. The Iranian fundamentals will not change. The country’s demographics favor young people and they want more than they are getting. The Ayatollahs are enjoying their prosperity and are not anxious to give it up (read bargaining chips). The Revolutionary Guard is getting old and is unable to deal with economic shortages (including the lack of refinery capacity) that every day people are complaining about.
What is needed now is quiet, behind the scenes, diplomacy. It is in the US national interest that Iran cease interfering in Lebanon, Iraq, and supporting Hamas. It is also in US interest that Iran stop the development of nuclear weapons and for sure, do not spread the know-how to other less sophisticated states. (It is not necessary for regime change if measured in only America’s nation interest). But what does Iran want? And how will we ever know if we do not speak with them.
Already President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has begun to escalate his rhetoric showing his conservative colleagues he can be tougher than President Obama. The question is “who is fooling who”?