Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
 
Arbitrary Bastardization

Here's a little serious note about the American way of regarding other countries. Over at Slate's Today's Papers, Eric Umansky was discussing the coverage of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's unprecedented letter to President Bush and lack of seriousness with which the Administration read it. I haven't fully read the relevant stories, but the lack of seriousness seems not entirely unreasonable, at least in the abstract--the letter apparently rambles. (On the other hand, it seems distinctly less reasonable to deride and dismiss such an unusual overture so quickly and so publicly, even if the letter was totally nonsensical.) This passing line by Umansky caught my eye:
USAT flags what seems to be a bit of little-appreciated history: Three years ago, Iran proposed wide-ranging negotiations, including over the nuclear issue. The Bush administration, according to one national-security official involved at the time, refused to talk.
I can't find the flagging in the three stories USAToday currently has on their website, but the link from Umansky leads to Council on Foreign Relations Interview with Brookings Scholar (and CIA and Bush II National Security Council Veteran) Flynt L. Leverett. The letter referenced was sent over as an unclassified fax (!) via the Swiss government in 2003 from the much more reformist President Khatami, and it seems to have been basically ignored. This chunk from the Leverett interview got me thinking:
Ultimately the president is, on this issue, very, very resistant to the idea of doing a deal, even a deal that would solve the nuclear problem. You don’t do a deal that would effectively legitimate this regime that he considers fundamentally illegitimate. I think that’s the real issue.

And he considers it illegitimate because of what? Because it overthrew the Shah in 1979?

No, in the president’s view you have this unelected set of clerical authorities, epitomized by the supreme leader, who are thwarting the clearly expressed will of the Iranian people for a more open, participatory political system, for more political, social, intellectual, and cultural freedom—all this kind of thing. And so it’s a system that in Bush’s mind is fundamentally illegitimate. It’s a system that needs to change, and he is not going to do a deal that lets this regime off the hook, even if that deal would solve our problem with them over the nuclear issue. [bold emphases mine; italics = interviewer's question.]

Something that a lot of Americans forget is that the Iranians actually have a democracy. It's a theocratic democracy that's missing a lot of what we would consider basic civil rights--it's not a Republic, let us say--but they do vote, and they do get to express their will a little bit. (And, interestingly enough, the women vote and the women even get elected, unlike the case with our dear friend Saudi Arabia.)And they voted for Khatami, and they voted for Ahmadinejad. It seems like a significantly more legitimate goverment than, say, the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, the dictatorships in Pakistan and Egypt, and the "Communist" party dictatorship in China--all governments that Bush deals with quite contentedly. In other words, we go around arbitrarily deciding whether or not a government is legitimate pretty much based on how we feel about it. It doesn't really matter what the facts are. It just matters what Bush's gut tells him. And that totally arbitrary bastardization matters more than anything--even more than solving our apparent national security problems.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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