President Bush leaves the White House for the last time as president with Barack Obama on the way to the swearing in of the 44th president on Jan. 20.
By brushing aside the official government of Iran last week, President Obama in a video message reached out to the Iranian people by offering them "the promise of a new beginning." Composed in the style of Bin Laden, this is quite primitive and not a tasty "diplomatic effort" on the part of the "newly hopeful" President.
Would Mr. Obama dare to address his "wishes" to the people of Russia, France, or China, dismissing the officially elected governments of those countries? The narcissism of Mr. Obama is just beginning to bloom.
Nevertheless, it was a very honorable approach from a U.S president who promised a positive change. Sending his initial message at the beginning of spring and the Persian New Year is definitely an auspicious moment and an intelligent move but President Obama is speaking in one way, and acting in another.
Currently, the U.S. Navy is engaged in a massive build-up of forces in the Persian Gulf. For the first time in many months we have two carriers attached to the 5th fleet. The nuclear carrier Eisenhower has joined the Roosevelt, and the helicopter assault ship Boxer. The rest of the world, but not the U.S. or Israeli press, noted the collision between the nuclear attack submarine Hartford and the amphibious assault ship New Orleans in the Straits of Hormuz last Friday. Further, he just renewed executive sanctions, wants to prevent Iran from having its NPT rights, and at the same time sent this nice message which has zero diplomatic value.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Iran is asking for actions which match the words instead of actions which belie the words. It's obvious the Iranians haven't gotten over the role we played when Iran's prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq was overthrown in a coup in 1953, nor would they probably forget the 1988 shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by a U.S. warship in which all 290 people on board were killed, or our support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and the poison gas we supplied him to kill their people, or the sanctions we levied against them, or our support of Iran's main militant opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, or supporting terrorist activity in eastern Iran on the border with Pakistan.
Dismissing foreign policy with appeasement and depending on the good will of human nature can't be successful. Obama's stance toward Iran is the same as Bush's stance, arrogant and baseless. All the phrase "new beginning" means is that he's changing the look on his face. Instead of frowning and demanding, he smiles and demands. But he still demands, with no real authority to demand and he still makes charges without evidence.
Iran's response that it's the U.S. that needs to change is reasonable. To say we will change if you change is an invitation to engage. To characterize the Iranian response as a "rejection" is misleading and superficial. In 2003, Iran made a major diplomatic overture to the U.S. through the Swiss Embassy just after the invasion of Iraq. It offered to lay all cards on the table and to help with Iraq. The Bush administration, of course, would have none of it, not least of all because at the time, they thought Iraq would be a piece of cake.
We should not be surprised by the content of Khamenei's speech, since Iran has indicated numerous times that it will only judge behavior, not words. There is no secret that the most important thing to the Iranian leadership and the first action in the row of actions to be taken by the U.S. must be the removal of the unconditional support for Israel.
Naturally, Israel is not happy with Obama's approach to Iran; their policy is to drive a wedge between Iran and the West, to make life as difficult for Iran as they do for the Palestinian people. I find it more than a little "out of line" for Mr. Peres to urge the Iranian people to "reclaim their place among "enlightened nations," when in fact Israel has yet to initially "claim" its own. Israel has a long, long way to go before it can offer advice to any nation about enlightenment and "good neighborly relations." It is pitiful that Israel does not comprehend that improved U.S.-Iran relations are in Israel's interest.
Forecasting the future, it's unlikely the Iranians will give up any nuclear achievements which they have reached so far. Obama will not abandon Israel, so what can the Iranians really gain? Thus why assume that Obama wants a "new beginning" with Iran?
Actually, this plays perfectly into Obama's hands: now that Iran has "rejected" the message, Iran appears more negatively in the eyes of the world. Obama will then sell the notion to the world that the government of Iran is a rogue government, that he tried being nice to the mullahs but it was fruitless, just before we bomb the heck out of their nuclear sites.
Unless we stop supporting Israel unconditionally the Middle East will continue to be a mess. We know full well that we can't build a better world with threats, division and double standards. We build fruitful relationships based on common ground. President Obama's "feel-good" speeches are not going to amount to a hill of beans until he separates his administration's Mideast policies from those of previous U.S. administrations. Otherwise, his overture will become an empty gesture.
The writer is professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Toledo in Ohio.