20 September 2013

Op-Ed Diplomacy, continued

Now it's the turn of President Rouhani of Iran, who writes to the Washington Post in advance of his first visit to the UN General Assembly. While criticizing unilateralism in international relations -- which he characterizes as an appeal to brute force -- the new executive's overall tone is both conciliatory and thoughtful, and less provocative than President Putin's last week. Rouhani is probably as eager to differentiate himself from his predecessor as President Obama was, and the comment below is as critical of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as it is of any American:

We and our international counterparts have spent a lot of time — perhaps too much time — discussing what we don’t want rather than what we do want. This is not unique to Iran’s international relations. In a climate where much of foreign policy is a direct function of domestic politics, focusing on what one doesn’t want is an easy way out of difficult conundrums for many world leaders.

In the Iranian context, this looks like an indictment of Ahmadinejad for using foreign-policy statements, as Senator McCain arguably did when writing for a Russian website this week, to pander to his domestic base instead of taking his global audience seriously.  Rouhani promises to take foreign policy more seriously and urges other leaders to do likewise. For him, that means "constructively work[ing] toward national dialogue" not just in Syria, where Iran supports the Assad government, but also in Bahrain, where (as Rouhani apparently expects people to remember) a Shiite protest movement was crushed early with nary a peep from the international community. Linking the two events makes when you see the Middle East divided into hostile Shiite and Sunni camps, though more people in the west ought to have recognized a struggle for freedom in Bahrain, too.

Rouhani writes that "global politics is no longer a zero-sum game," and that he wants to secure "win-win solutions," but he might have made his point more convincing had he mentioned Israel in his op-ed. The perception persists, fairly or not, that the dispute between Israel and its Muslim neighbors is the ultimate zero-sum game, with the Muslims allegedly seeking nothing less than the annihilation of the "Zionist entity." My point isn't that Rouhani should be proposing a peace settlement, but that he indicate to the world that Palestine is also a part of the world where a "win-win solution" is possible. It might be argued that we can infer that from his op-ed, but it's hard to justify not mentioning the main reason why so many nations oppose Iran acquiring nuclear power -- unless the deliberate omission is Rouhani's own way of pandering to his domestic base. That complaint aside, Rouhani's op-ed makes a pleasant first impression, and ought to earn him some benefit of the doubt from those not blinded by bigoted attitudes toward Iran or Islam.

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