26 March 2009

Nomadicity on Khouri on Obama on Iran

I am not generally one of those travellers who seeks out familiar reminders of home whilst they are travelling; generally, I am adventurous and flexible, and not infrequently, the things other Americans travellers gravitate towards whilst abroad are a source of irritation and annoyance on my part. I certainly do not share the stereotypical American enthusiasm for Big Macs, over-chilled lager, or drinks with 85 ice cubes.

One exception is my appreciation for the International Herald Tribune (IHT). I love this newspaper, and try to read it every day, even if its reporting does sometimes reflect the narrow-minded arrogance that is typically associated with things American. One reason I am able to forgive this transgression is that it does often break with North American conventional wisdom and publish a piece more reflective of the majority view. Today was one of those days, when the IHT’s editors saw fit to publish an opinion piece by Rami G. Khouri of the Daily Star, who wrote about Obama’s outreach to Iran.

The invisible propaganda machine appears to be shifting gears with respect to Iran. Recently, PM Gordon Brown of the U.K. publicly noted something that the MSM has previously gone out of its way not to acknowledge – that Iran has the right (under the terms of the NPT, to which it is a signatory) to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Today’s opinion piece went ever further in bringing balance and objectivity to the discussion about Iran. Khouri noted some of the numerous positive aspects of Obama’s overture, not least of which was the “courage and self-confidence” it took for Obama to make his public appeal to Iran.

But Khouri also noted the “lingering streak of arrogance” inherent in “both the tone and substance” of the Obama message. Obama notes that Iran is “a great culture with proud traditions,” and then goes on to lecture Iran about the obligations of a leading member of the international community of nations. Khouri rightfully notes that this reflects a “lingering colonial tendency,” in which the West believes it is entitled to “write the rules of conduct for other nations.”

I congratulate the IHT for having the courage to print such candid observations, but also note what is missing from Khouri’s column. While the U.S.A. has engaged in lecturing, condescending language and arrogance towards Iran and other nations, it has also hypocritically ignored Iranian history.

At the time of the establishment of the United States in 1776, Iran had already passed its 200th year of peace with its western neighbour, Turkey, a peace that was not be broken until a successor state to the Turkish Empire, Iraq, under the leadership of a U.S. client by the name of Saddam Hussein and with U.S. encouragement, launched an unprovoked attack against Iran. Iran had also had a long and successful history of encouraging peace, stability, learning and trade, establishing friendly diplomatic relationships with numerous other powers to the East and West, despite its existence as a leading civilisation surrounded by less sophisticated, more brutal societies such as the Uzbeks to the north, the Afghans to the East, the Gulf pirates to the South and the Kurds to the West. The U.S.A would do well to emulate the enlightened, pragmatic approach taken by Persians in its effort to stabilise Afghanistan, and to heed its own advice about reliance on violence as a policy tool.

Thankfully, Condi Rice and her arrogant, non-negotiable pronouncements that frequently characterised her narrow, self-interested demands as something the “international community expects” (usually not the NAM, which represents a super-majority of the world’s people; their more legitmate articulations of the 'international community's' expectations were routinely ignored by "Doctor" Rice), have moved on, and Obama is attempting to put something more reasonable and pragmatic in their place, but the world should not relent on its demands for fairness and balance – as Khouri says, the choice is between attempting to “dictate rules,” or engage in honest, meaningful dialogue.

Over the North Atlantic

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