by James M. Wall
On July 30, 2009, conservative columnist Pat Buchanan wrote a column in the American Conservative. He called it, “Tell Israel No”. Here is a key paragaph:
“Israel has been saying for years an Iranian bomb is months away. Where is the proof? Where is the evidence to justify a new U.S. war in the Middle East to destroy weapons of mass destruction that may not exist in Iran, as they did not exist in Iraq?”
This column appeared four years ago. Nothing has changed except the date. Israel continues to cry nuclear wolf. The U.S. consistently indulges Israel in its desire to make Iran a pariah among nations.
This indulgence could start to change this week when, and if, President Obama meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The two leaders are scheduled to speak to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday.
There are strong signs they will meet somewhere at the UN. The meeting could be serious, or it could just be accidentally on purpose. But it will happen.
Before he spoke to the General Assembly, President Rouhani had set the agenda for a thaw in relations, writing that “the world has changed”, in a column published in the Washington Post.
CNN reported on the column:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his case Thursday to the American people and the world for “a constructive approach” to contentious issues including his nation’s nuclear program, arguing that failing to engage “leads to everyone’s loss.”
“We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart,” Rouhani said in an op-ed published Thursday evening on the Washington Post’s website.
Letters had earlier been exchanged between Washington and Teheran, a correspondence Israel has greeted with its customary cries of dismay, followed by a call to action by Israel’s U.S. political/media troops.
This effort by Israel to arouse U.S. public opinion against Rouhani appears certain to bring a second defeat to Israel and its U.S. hardline backers. The first defeat came when the U.S. chose diplomacy over a military assault on Syria’s chemical weapons sites.
Assuming any sort of Rouhani-Obama meeting does take place, score this round: Diplomacy, two wins, War, zero wins.
Diplomacy as the better of the two options was highlighted in a recent interview on the Bill Moyers weekly television broadcast, September 6.
This interview was taped on the weekend before a joint U.S.–Russia diplomatic agreement postponed and hopefully derailed, any U.S. cruise missile strikes against Syria.
In this Moyers segment, which may be seen in its entirety by clicking above, guest host Phil Donahue interviewed historian and military scholar Andrew Bacevich about America’s role in the world and the possible repercussions of our current relationship to Syria.
In the interview, Bacevich tells Donahue,
“[T[ick off the number of military enterprises that we have been engaged in that part of the world, large and small, you know, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia — and on and on, and ask yourself, ‘What have we got done? What have we achieved? Is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more Democratic? Are we enhancing America’s standing in the eyes of the people of the Islamic world?’ ‘The answers are, ‘No, no, and no.’ “
Military solutions have failed in the region. Why has the U.S. ignored the failures of these “military enterprises” and continued to follow the lead of Israel’s demands?
Columnist–academic Juan Cole points to U.S. hawkish hubris as one culprit in The Hubris of the Interventionists:
The hawks who are deeply disappointed that diplomacy has likely forestalled a US military intervention in Syria in the foreseeable future often attempt to tug at our heart strings by pointing to the over 100,000 dead and the millions of displaced, implying that the US has a responsibility to intervene to stop the carnage on humanitarian grounds.
If the world were such that the US could in fact do so, perhaps they might have a point. The problem is that social engineering on that scale is currently beyond even a superpower. We need a humanitarian realism to forestall the utopians from taking us into quagmires. There is nothing wrong with doing good where you realistically can. Trying to do good by military means where you cannot, can be deadly to both you and the victims.
Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chair of the U.S. House Mideast Subcommittee, did her best to undermine any rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran. Writing in the Times of Israel Haviv Rettig Gur reported her story:
Within hours of the Obama administration’s tentative indication on Friday that President Barack Obama might be willing to meet with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, an influential Republican member of Congress cautioned that the administration should not put much faith in Tehran’s recent diplomatic overtures.
The congresswoman was harsh in her criticism of Rouhani. She issued a statement about the new Iranian president, which the Times of Israel reported. This is a part of her statement:
Rouhani is a master of deceit who has been putting on an all-out charm offensive since he took office.
In many ways Rouhani is much more dangerous than [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. At least with Ahmadinejad you get what you see – his hatred for Israel and the United States is not disguised with rhetoric or spurious gestures of goodwill,” added Ros-Lehtinen, who is considered a staunchly pro-Israel member of the House of Representatives. . . .
Rouhani will use any opportunity he can to try to fool the US and the West into offering concessions and to stall for time while Iran completes its nuclear weapons program, as he had bragged about doing once before. Believing that he has any other agenda is folly.
The Administration must not fall for this charm offensive, and must increase the pressure on the regime with more sanctions until Iran completely abandons its nuclear pursuit and dismantles its program.
What the congresswoman sees as a shallow “charm offensive” will have to be judged on President Rouhani’s words and, as President Obama insists, his actions. Meanwhile, the American public will want to reflect on what Rouhani calls “a constructive approach to diplomacy”.
With a possible meeting pending between Obama and Rouhani, these insights from Rouhani’s Washington Post column, demand our further attention:
Three months ago, my platform of “prudence and hope” gained a broad, popular mandate. Iranians embraced my approach to domestic and international affairs because they saw it as long overdue. I’m committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world.
The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.
The international community faces many challenges in this new world — terrorism, extremism, foreign military interference, drug trafficking, cybercrime and cultural encroachment — all within a framework that has emphasized hard power and the use of brute force.
We must pay attention to the complexities of the issues at hand to solve them. Enter my definition of constructive engagement. In a world where global politics is no longer a zero-sum game, it is — or should be — counterintuitive to pursue one’s interests without considering the interests of others. A constructive approach to diplomacy doesn’t mean relinquishing one’s rights.
It means engaging with one’s counterparts, on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect, to address shared concerns and achieve shared objectives. In other words, win-win outcomes are not just favorable but also achievable. A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone’s loss.
Time alone will tell what they mean for future Iranian actions, but these words sound like they might have come from a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama, way back in 2007. That was the state senator who promised change.
This week, the now-President Obama will have an opportunity to speak face to face with a world leader who sounds, for this moment at least, like a man who wants change.
The pictures above are by Rex/Sipa. They are from Reuters.