Sunday, April 19, 2009

Detente with Iran

I want to do a further piece about Obama's recent address to the Iranian nation. I covered this three weeks ago but didn't have the time to elaborate as it was during my exams. Here's a quick reminder.

I have said many times before on Gubu World that the Iranian nation craves respect. All Iranians whether they be a mullah or Marxist, loyalist or dissident intensely resent the way the western world particularly America appear to treat Iran like nothing more than a banana republic. There are many examples of this. But perhaps the most important to note is the circumstances surrounding the coming to power of the Shah (King) of Iran in 1953. In a very murky episode the CIA in what was to prove the first of many cold war ventures decided to remove the popular leader of Iran whom they feared was getting to cozy with Moscow and reinstate the pro western Shah who had been deposed several years earlier. The Shah went on to rule for a further 26 years until he himself was deposed by Ayatollah Khomeini. It is impossible to understate just how personally Iranians took this. That America felt entitled to infiltrate Iran and alter it politically to suit Washington's interests is a source of humiliation that is burned into the Iranian psyche. Iran, the great Persian civilisation that has contributed so much to world civilisation deserves more respect than to be a mere instrument of US foreign policy.

The 26 year rule of the Shah was relatively brutal but if the truth be told its not so much his authoritarianism that infuriated Iranians. It was the fact that he was such a blatant puppet of the US. Satisfying his American sponsors often seemed to be of greater concern to him than Iranian national interest. He even appeared to be ignorant of many ancient Persian customs instead favouring a western lifestyle. For such a proud people this was just too much.

The humiliation has continued in the eyes of the Iranians even after the Shah was ousted. An entire Iranian generation (600,000 dead) was wiped out in an 8 year war with Iraq that Saddam Hussein would never have been able to sustain had it not been for western support. An Iranian passenger jet was shot down by the US warship Vincennes in 1989 killing all 290 on board, the US has never apologised. And George W Bush publicly reserved the right to topple the regime through covert action in what would be a repeat of the 1953 episode. I doubt he was ever aware how this type of language really stung in Iran. Many Iranians that voted for Ahmadinejad in 2005 did so claiming that it was a rebuttal to Bush and a desire to to see the countries future decided by Iranians, not Americans.

The Iranian government officially site the two principle reasons that there is hostility between the two nations as being the presence of US forces in the Persian Gulf and the lack of respect that is shown toward the Iranian nation by the United States. The question now is how will Obama's words go down in Iran and might this new found respect that the US is showing result in a change in Iranian policy. There is no doubt that his acknowledgment of the Iranian new year and his praise for the ancient Persian civilisation and its culture will go down well in the Bazaars as will his few words of Farsi at the end. Worth noting also is his use of Iran's official post revolutionary title "the Islamic Republic of Iran" which appears to be an acknowledgement of the current regime as the legitimate leaders of the country, something no administration has ever done. His use of the words "mutual respect" and "committed to diplomacy" signal an intention to indeed treat Iran as a more mainstream nation and not a rogue state as Bush declared it.

This is fascinating stuff. Iran's response over the next year will indicate a lot about the true nature of the regime. What we are seeing here is the classic question of, do they hate us because of who we are or because of what we do? Iran's response to Obama's message will answer this controversial question. And as we have seen this week Iran has an opportunity to respond with the case of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi who has been jailed for 8 years for spying for the US. As ever Gubu World will keep its readers informed.

1 comment:

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