Is Ahmadinejad Hopeful?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dr. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, MP

The congratulatory message sent by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to US President-elect Barack Obama was unprecedented, particularly because the two countries do not have formal relations. Is Mr. Ahmadinejad taking the possibility of a change in US policies seriously? Could this message lay the foundation for détente in Tehran-Washington relations? Basically does the Iranian government have a plan for interaction and détente with the United States? Or is it just trying to address the world public opinion at the cost of breaking the “taboo” in interacting with the Western power?

In Ahmadinejad-Obama interaction, the first message was sent from the current elected president in Iran to yesterday’s candidate in the US elections. Obama had announced in an election debate with his Republican rival John McCain that if elected he would open negotiations with the Iranian government and even with President Ahmadinejad because he prefers “negotiation” to “war”. Of course, Obama’s Iran strategy would be to take the most advantage of the weapon of sanctions as he believes it would be effective without needing to use force.

Therefore, unlike Ahmadinejad’s previous message to George Bush which I (as a member of parliament) had opposed in my address at the Majlis and rightly predicted that the US president would not respond to it, I think the IRI president’s message to Obama is defendable. Because Ahmadinejad has tried to at least regard the hopes for “change” in the US foreign policy particularly in the Middle East region an opportunity. In other words, contrary to the procedure over the past eight years, Obama before being involved with powerful opposition lobbies could place change or at least adjustment in foreign policy on his agenda. More importantly, the people of America now better remember the slogan of “change” put forward by Obama.

The experience of confrontation with the five former US presidents tells the public opinion in Iran that the Democrats and the Republicans have adopted identical positions vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran. They (Iranians) know that change of parties would not bring about change of policy towards Iran and that the utmost change would be in tactic not in strategy.

Amidst all this, concentration of the US policies over the past eight years on the Iranian influence region (the Middle East) disclosed some realities which led to adoption of realistic approaches by some American policymakers and strategists. The stance adopted by five former US secretaries of state was the most obvious analysis in this respect. Interestingly, these persons were the executives of hostile US policies against Iran over the past three decades. Now by admitting their past mistakes, they believe “negotiation” is the best option in dealing with Iran. They are now convinced that the US “must” change its policy towards Iran.

In the meantime, the taboo of negotiations with Iran had been broken at the time of Bush and the Republicans. In response to the warmongering slogans of McCain, the Democrats mentioned three rounds of talks between the US and Iran at the request of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This writer believes that even if the Republicans ruled over the White House again, they would not be less eager than the Democrats to follow up negotiation and détente with IRI. The idea of opening a US interest section in Tehran by the Republicans as well as holding regional talks, etc. can be mentioned as evidences here.

Of course, there are serious doubts as to the likelihood of a change in US foreign policy. Compared to the warmongering nature of George Bush, today most of the world people may find Obama a person who would never initiate a war and instead be inspiring to those who are fed up with eight years of war waged by Bush. Nevertheless, the quiet and smiling face of Obama is already under pressure from those professional US politicians who consider war and sanctions imperative to remain a superpower. They recognize international organizations as protectors and justifiers of “power order”; owners of huge arms manufacturing plants who receive $200 billion from the US administration in just one transaction to build a new generation of bombers; contracts which would make future wars and prolongation of wars and ongoing interventions inevitable. Few presidents in the US history have been able to maintain the personality of their election campaign under these pressures.

The US economic, cultural, religious and military lobbies follow different aims at the time of elections. For instance, the Democrat Zionist lobby supports their own party and nominee against the Republican Zionist lobby. However, after the election result is out, it is the natural interests of the lobbies which would lead to their unity of action in giving direction to the elected president and his government. Usually a major part of the power lobbies in the US would follow up the Middle East issues by focusing on restrictions on Iran. Principally 30 years of hostility and rupture of relations has prevented formation of pro-Iran lobbies in the US.

Therefore, if Obama wants to look at Iran relations through traditional channels of power and policymaking the most he could do is a return to the era of overseas sanctions of the D’Amato and Helms-Burton laws unless advocates of détente with Iran in the Democratic Party or moderate Republicans do some lobbying to this end. This is something that has not happened yet. Nevertheless the lobbies opposed to interaction with Iran are trying, in line with the Republicans in the camp of the minority faction, to prevent any constructive action in this connection.  

In Iran, however, the question of relations with the US is national not partisan and for the same reason we should not show partisan and non-national reactions to positive and negative gestures in that country. To prove this claim let’s go back to the history of hostilities between the two countries. The fatal blow to Iran-US relations came when Washington failed to recognize Iran’s Islamic Revolution. The American presidents even sent their interventionist messages not to the government but to the people of Iran. Today, if Barack Obama fails to respond to Ahmadinejad’s message or addresses the Iranian nation in his message, this would mean that the Democrats are not ready to define a new relationship with Tehran. In other words, Obama too would follow the same course of killing opportunities that Bill Clinton did. The result would be strong criticism by Iranian political elites against President Ahmadinejad. Yet this could be effective somehow because it would clarify the foreign policy direction of the other party before his inauguration and exonerate the Iranian side of any charge of wasting opportunities. Although the areas and issues of Iran-US test of strength in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, and the nuclear issue together with some inevitable synchronization of the two sides in countering certain extremist groups and thoughts, energy security and its transit would put the contents of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s message to a test of applicability of interaction or confrontation.


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