Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Iranian President Ahmadinejad is right...

...when he says the U. S. should apologize. In 1953, the CIA backed a coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Mossadegh had been threatening to nationalize the West's oil interests in Iran and the Shah, it was thought, would make a more reliable ally in the region. The U. S. was engaged in the Cold War with the Soviets and needed to ensure the security of Israel and the free flow of oil through the Gulf. The Shah, however, proved to be a brutal dictator and was ousted in the 1979 Islamic revolution. While most Americans are only vaguely aware of these events, Iranians are profoundly bitter.

With the benefit of hindsight, Americans are now ready to see their mistakes. If the U. S. is really the greatest country in history--and I think it is--then it should surely be big enough to admit when it was wrong and harmed others, no matter how well-intentioned its actions were at the time. Given the terrible state of relations with the Muslim world, an apology would go a long way to easing tensions. The Iranian people, unlike their leaders, find much to admire in the U. S. and the West. Any sign of conciliation on our part might bring them closer to us. Obama has said he wants to reach out to the Muslim world. This would be a good first step.


James said...

While I think engagement with Iran is absolutely the way to go, apologizing to Ahmadinejad right now seems a bit of a slippery slope. First of all, apologizing sets a prescident that the United States will apologize for all of the governments that it has overthrown in order to install a leader sympathetic with U.S. interests. Obama wouldn't have time for anything else!
Plus, while America does owe an apology to Iran the country, the current president is as much of a grandstander as Bush on the "Mission Accomplished" battleship and might not use the apology to allow for healing among ordinary Iranians but rather to stoke resentment.
A better country to apologize to would be Iraq. How many thousands of their civilians have we killed because of the lies and mistakes of our government? People say that the place is much better without Saddam Hussein (who the U.S. propped up in the Iran/Iraq war, by the way)but from the reports I've read Iraqis are struggling as they go without basic needs like water and electricity. For the 800 millionth time, nobody liked Saddam, but what has been left in his wake is not better, it's just bad in a different way.
But back to engaging with Iran. I think it is not only good in the sense that it gives us the moral high ground (something I think even hawks recognize as a strategic advantage) but also it forces Ahmadinejad to deal with the responsibilities of being respected. When he and his country are both shunned and exploited by the United States it is easy to make wild claims like 'wiping Israel off the map' because he assumes no one is really paying attention to him. If the U.S. shows some respect (which, despite what "realists" will say, does not mean rolling over blindly) then Ahmadinejad will have to respond with respect or run the risk of looking too small-time to hang with the big boys.
This idea of respecting the tantrum throwing child also seems to relate to Obama's bipartisanship. The way I ended up coping with some of the hate spewing rants of Christian Conservatives was realizing that these guys must just feel like nobody is listening to them. It's hard to believe that if they thought their words would have an impact (except on those already in their camp) that they would be able to spit them out with such vitriol. Or maybe it's the reverse. Maybe if the audiences listening to these demigogues thought that they had a political leader who would at least listen to their ideas, then the hate preachers would have a less enthusiastic audience. Hard to say, I guess.

MTracy said...

I totally agree with you about Iraq.

As far as Iran is concerned, I didn't mean we should apologize to Ahmadinejad personally, but to the Iranian people in general. I've felt this way for a long time; he just spurred me on to write this posting.I think we should apologize for two reasons, morally and strategically. The first is self-evident. The second would be in an effort to go over the heads of the Iranian leaders (of which Ahmadinejad is just the face, from what I've read). While Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East and Afghanistan/Pakistan could be the greatest flashpoint going forward, Iran is incredibly influential in the region. Not only do they seek a nuclear weapon and control a vast amount of oil, they also are a huge trouble-maker in Iraq and Palestine/Israel. If the U. S. hopes to stabilize the region at all, its relationship with Iran is crucial. We can all now agree that confrontation hasn't worked very well; let's try engagement, just like we did with the Soviets and China (and what we should do with Cuba, but that's a subject for another post). And if we can't make any progress with Iran's leaders (and many of them are nuts), let's appeal directly to the populace. From what I understand, they are very sympathetic to the U. S. and the West in general (everybody loves jeans and rock 'n roll). So to paraphrase Spike Lee, let's start the peace offensive by Doing the Right Thing.

James said...

That's an interesting idea about finding a way to engage the Iranian populace directly. If you can inspire people to fight the leaders that you don't like then you're already half way home.