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Imagine there’s this guy you know, who totally wronged you and messed up part of your life. Did some real damage. It was a long time ago, you survived and have moved on. You haven’t talked to the guy in years, but he unsubtly calls you names to other people behind your back, says lots of terrible things about you. Also tells people how badly he’ll “fuck you up” one of these days.
Then, all of a sudden, he approaches you in a rational way, says he wants things to be right between you. He’s not offering apologies or wanting to make up for his past actions, but he seems to want peace between you going into the future.
Part of you thinks that this is a wonderful development, having this terrible weight lifted. And part of you is deeply cynical; he’s magically changing his ways overnight? Your response, then, is to take sort of a “wait and see” attitude. Words are words. You’re open to this reconciliation, but you’ll believe it when his actions start backing it up.
Of course, this is yet another of my attempted international relations analogies, regarding Obama’s recent video statement to Iran. It’s the first act of US diplomacy in Iran in several decades*. And to my surprise, it uses the exact phrase I’ve heard from every savvy Middle Eastern scholar, journalist, or intelligence analyst about Iran: “mutual respect.” The Iranian experts I’ve heard all say that Iran wants the US to deal with it as an equal, not as a disobedient child. They want to negotiate differences between the two states on terms of “mutual respect” (of course, the fact that Obama promises “mutual respect” one week after renewing economic sanctions on Iran does weaken things a bit).
So finally, this seems like a reasonable foreign policy, “hey, let’s try to talk things out instead of massacre each other”. But already, the conservatives have their “appeasement” knives sharpened. “Our enemy is Evil! We cannot talk to Evil! This is just as bad as England giving the Sudetenland to the Nazis in the 1930s.” I’ve noticed their angry/snarky/gleeful pronouncements that Iran’s response has been “lukewarm” to Obama’s groundbreaking move. Which again, looking at my anaolgy above, is a pretty fucking reasonable response. The US overthrew the Iranian government in the 1950s and supported their dictator until almost the 1980s. Less than a decade ago, the US president called them part of an “Axis of Evil” (after, history has now forgotten, Iran actually tried to help the US fight Al Qaeda shortly after 9/11), and when Iran, presumably frightened by the US show of power in Iraq, secretly offered open negotiations with the United States, Dick Cheney essentially told them to fuck off.
So Iran’s not dancing in the streets just because Barack Obama spent three minutes in front of a video camera and hit the right rhetorical notes. Which both infuriates and pleases the war-monger neocon crowd. The fact that these “inferior” people from a “lesser” nation aren’t falling down to kiss our feet because we deigned to talk to them is as offensive as if they were rubbing fresh shit on Grandmother’s wedding dress. But with this new offense, they have one more ball of muck to hurl at Obama as they try to heave him off his pedestal, so that does put a spring in their vicious step.
I truly hope that this is the beginning of some sort of talks and settlement between the US and Iran. As the Iraq war and economic collapse have show, the US simply does not have the force, power, or money to push everyone else around anymore. It would be nice of the US government didn’t continue to use bombs and terror in their continued efforts to deny reality (even if history shows that this is far, far too much to hope for).
*well, unless you count secretly selling the Iranians weapons in exchange for hostages “diplomacy”.