Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran and Obama

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”
Rabindranath Tagore

As recently as 2007, George Bush announced that the US was going to set aside $40 million to help support democracy in Iran, a noble cause but one that should have been done silently. It was immediately used as an excuse by Ahmadinejad to crack down on students and “dissidents” labeled agents of America and to vilify the US as an evil empire that interferes with the domestic affairs of countries to suit its own regional, economic and security needs. Of course, this was also preceded by years of the Bush administration naming Iran a part of the so called ‘axis of evil’ and a terrorist state; all of which served only to add fire and lend support to the madman Ahmadinejad’s argument while stifling the moderate voices within Iran.

Now, contrast all of the above with Obama’s outstretched hand and lack of pre-judgment, where he is willing to initiate dialogue with whoever is chosen by Iran to represent its people on the world stage. If you look beneath the surface of the rhetoric of Ahmanidejad and the Khamemei there has been a rapidly growing moderate and pro democratic movement within Iran for some years now. Largely among the youth, who number 30% of the total population, and have no memories of the Shah, America’s interference or the revolution and thus no baggage other than what is espoused by their leaders and American Presidents. Additionally, they have been hugely dissatisfied with Ahmadinejad’s handling of the economy, and most upset with his repeated assertions of denial of the Holocaust, which has served only to further isolate Iran. So from their perspective Obama’s outstretched hand further invigorates their cause by re-enforcing their belief that it is their own government which is the impediment to meaningful dialogue that could lead to peace in the region and prosperity for all Iranians.

At the same time the establishment in Iran, made up of the Supreme Leader, Supreme Council and Revolutionary Guard, realized that a friendly America would very quickly pull the rug out from under the feet of their revolution, because it has quite frankly been the only glue holding this passé ideology together in the 21st century. And the reality is that these ideologues no longer have any relevance or meaning to a new generation of Iranians. Granted, I do not have the benefit of NIE’s or CIA briefings each morning but in my estimation this fraudulent election result is a panicked miscalculation by the establishment to consolidate power and protect them from a friendly America. They believed that the only way to ensure their success was to make sure that their loyal horse Ahmadinejad (who was handpicked from obscurity by the Supreme Leader Khamenei a few years ago) won the election, and by a large majority so it would also seem to represent the will of the people. While this was a defensive reaction, to Obama’s overtures, they totally underestimated the spirit and resolve of their own people, not just the youth but also the majority of women - who clearly yearn for a more open, moderate and friendly Iran and are no longer willing to tolerate having the hijab pulled over their eyes.

So by publicly not taking a side, Obama has spoken volumes and helped the Iranian people in the greatest way that America can or ever has before. I can hear the voices on the right saying that his seemingly laissez faire attitude is a sign of weakness and one journalist even likened it to Obama voting “present.” But here’s the thing, if you have been listening, Obama has made it clear that US foreign policy is changing course. Unlike in 1953 when the United States and Great Britain orchestrated a coup, to overthrow the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mosaddeq and install the Shah of Iran; a tyrant who was more amenable to signing long term oil contracts with US and UK, instead of Russia. America under Obama has no interest in determining or charting the course of Iran. By making this clear, in both his speech to the Arab world in Egypt, and again re-iterating it this week, along with the promise of dialogue with whomever is chosen to represent Iran, by its people, he has taken away the most powerful tool that the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad have used to hold on to their repressive regime – evil America.

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