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Editorials ask if go-it-alone U.S. will attack Iran

COMMENTARY | May 15, 2006

Writes the Guardian: “Just as (Ahmadinejad) is Bush’s ideal raving Islamicist, so Bush is (Ahmadinejad’s) ideal raving western imperialist…”

By John Burke


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s letter to George Bush last week aroused two primary sentiments from foreign papers:

That the United States should open up talks with Iran.

That it won’t.

Remembering the way in which Bush handled Iraq as well as the talk of “bunker busters” and the advancement of American nuclear technology, the rest of the world is pretty much convinced that the administration will happily attack Iran without ever sitting down face to face with its leaders.

Despite the fact that European powers tried and failed to negotiate with Iran about its nuclear ambitions, the rest of the world does not see this as an excuse for Washington to skip the summit stage.

A sampling of the international press makes it clear that many nations feel their own opinion and input into the situation matter not at all to the White House. Now they can only hold their breath, write editorials and hope that somehow fears of another war in the Middle East aren’t realized.

The Guardian says Bush should call the bluff

The Guardian opines in “If this is Ahmadinejad’s bluff, it is bluff worth calling,” that the Bush administration needs to modify its approach in dealing with Iran; instead of intimidating its regime and trumpeting the joys of democracy to its people, it should engage in serious face-to-face negotiations… or even take more extreme measures:

“Just as (Ahmadinejad) is Bush’s ideal raving Islamicist, so Bush is (Ahmadinejad’s) ideal raving western imperialist…”

“The trouble with big-stick diplomacy in this case is that its implied deterrence is implausible… Bombing factories might impede (the development of nukes) but not stop it from happening sooner or later, and would clearly induce Tehran to (develop them) sooner…

“Washington can spend millions on pirate Tehran broadcasts, but moderate Iranians are crying to the west to stop bolstering Ahmadinejad. It is doing to him what it did to Saddam, putting him on television every night as a global champion of Islam. The one hope of curbing his rhetorical excesses is for his own people to rein him in, and that cannot happen when the west continues to make him regional hero number one. Bush seems unable to comprehend that his castigating a Muslim leader is not an insult but an accolade…

“The realpolitik of this part of the world is that the US and Britain badly need Iran's cooperation… So when Ahmadinejad, at whoever's instigation, writes a letter inviting talks, it is a good idea to reply. If it is bluff, it is bluff worth calling.

“There is, of course, one thing that Britain and America could do that would wholly disorientate Ahmadinejad and have him rushing troops to his borders. It would be a sudden end to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan… Unfortunately such a step seems too clever by half for the west's present leadership.”

Bush seen as too weak to negotiate

A columnist in Britain’s Telegraph contends that Bush’s plummeting popularity and recent nuclear deal with India has shattered any hopes of him being able to negotiate with Iran:

“…Sabre-rattling threats can work even if they are bluff. The key, as Ahmadinejad has seen, is that weak opponents are unnerved when they fear they are dealing with a madman. In this respect, the long and nutty letter sent by Ahmadinejad to President Bush last week was exemplary…

“Four years ago, George W. Bush would have binned such drivel with a snort of "WBUH" (War Be Upon Him) and told his generals to launch air strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, to activate special forces already in Iran and to put Iranian opposition leaders on stand-by for regime change…

“But those days are gone. President Bush is now almost as unpopular a president as Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter at the nadirs of their political fortunes…

“As if these weaknesses were not sufficient, Mr. Bush has added one of his own. By agreeing to help India with its nuclear energy programme, despite India's not being a signatory of the NPT, the President has undermined the very principle of the treaty.”

Le Monde: Pursue talks

France’s left-leaning Le Monde doesn’t think that Ahmadinejad’s letter did any good, but it is a sign that “America should pursue talks”:

“A tedious moral lesson: that is the impression left by the letter Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent to his counterpart, the disciple of Jesus Christ, George W. Bush… After such a statement, can anyone imagine that Washington will be more inclined to enter into direct talks with the Islamic Republic?

“…Is refusing to enter into direct negotiations the most efficient way of handling the situation?... Can the U.S. refuse (acknowledgment), knowing that this stance will bring the prospect of a military confrontation closer, and with dramatic regional and international consequences?

“In the face of Iranian blackmail, the choice is not between the right and wrong response, but between a risky response and an even riskier response. At this stage, the U.S. cannot - and should not - refuse to explore options that would put a stop to the escalation.

Open communications, says Figaro

The French bastion of conservatism, Le Figaro, had a similar request to its more liberal sister, but argues that Iranian rhetoric is making negotiations next to impossible:

“In its trial of strength over the nuclear issue with the international community, Iran has always sought to divide its opponents. Setting Americans, Russians, Chinese and Europeans against one another is the best way for the Islamic Republic to avoid sanctions or any kind of military operation.

“Sent on the eve of the U.N. discussions, the letter of President Ahmadinejad to George W. Bush certainly follows this pattern…

“…Ahmadinejad's letter shows that Iran wants to force Washington to recognize the Islamic Republic, despite its belonging to the axis of evil.

“With his previous foul pronouncements, such as asking for the eradication of Israel or denying the reality of the Holocaust, Iran's President has managed to make it very difficult for George W. Bush to answer favorably to his call for dialogue.

“For several reasons (nuclear deterrence, current American strategies are not working, and a war in Iran would be worse than Iraq), and despite these unacceptable words, America must talk to Iran… Establishing a direct line of communication between Washington and Teheran will reinforce the existing weak international consensus, which will matter a great deal if the option of dialogue ultimately fails.”

Toronto Star sees political gains for Bush

In the U.S.’s neighbor to the north, the Toronto Star writes that despite his falling approval ratings, Bush continues with his double standards on international nuclear issues while ignoring the opinion of the rest of the world. When it comes down to it, the Star views Iran as just another potential vote winner for the administration, meaning Bush will not negotiate:

“The world is only marginally less polarized on Iran than it was on Iraq three years ago. But the big difference this time is that George W. Bush is doing his bullying more skillfully…

“There is, however, a method to this madness.

“Having seen North Korea go nuclear on his watch, Bush is determined to avoid a repeat in Iran, especially because Tehran is so ardently anti-Israel...

“The Iranians themselves constantly remind the world that Iran has never attacked anyone in 250 years.

“But Bush won't budge. Iran is the only card he holds in his fading presidency.”

U.S. said to need Tehran as an ally

Lebanon’s Daily Star has been waiting for a development such as the letter in US/Iranian relations for some time. Not only does it think that Washington needs to negotiate with Tehran about its nuclear ambitions, but that it needs Iran as an ally in the wars it has started in the region:

“This newspaper has long argued that the most effective way to resolve the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program - and one of the few remaining strategies that has not yet been tried - is through direct talks between Tehran and Washington…

“The fact that Iran has taken a first step (with Ahmadinejad’s letter) away from this pattern (of avoiding discussions on nukes) is a welcome development and both Iran and the United States must now follow up on this initiative.

“The U.S. would do well to respond positively to this initiative and to open channels for future diplomatic negotiations with Iran. Not only is it in America's interest to reach a peaceful solution to the nuclear dispute, but it is also necessary for Washington to open diplomatic channels to advance its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of its objectives in these two states can be achieved without the support of Iran, which as a neighboring country holds considerable influence over developments on the ground.”

Testing U.S. resolve

An opinion in the Middle East Times entitled “Iran and U.S.: Nuclear standoff or realpolitik” grants Iran the benefit of the doubt when it comes to political maneuvering saying that when it comes down to it, the Bush administration not only lacks the leverage it once had but that the reality of the shaky relations between the new nations is about black gold:

“U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice couldn't possibly have been more accurate when she accused Iran of ‘playing games’ with the international community…

“Iran is playing games in the sense that it is repeatedly testing U.S. resolve to see how far the Bush administration is willing to go to escalate the conflict…

“True, Iran is no empire and is unlikely to metamorphose into one. Moreover, the chances are that no balance of power - in the real sense - is possible between Iran and its Western nemesis, considering U.S. military might combined with that of "willing allies", no matter how hard Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad labors to create a fearsome aura around his nation's military force.

“But thanks to other factors - precisely President George W. Bush's low ratings at home and his embattled military in Iraq - Iran is finding itself in a much more comfortable state than that of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and his government, prior to the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

“Once again, it's not respect for the law - since Iran's nuclear enrichment is not in violation of its commitment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty - or respect for democracy - for Iran is much closer to an actual democracy than many corrupt and authoritative U.S. allies - or respect for human rights - since the U.S., as the effective ruler of Iraq, is the region's top human-rights violator - that stimulates such enthusiasm.

“Rather, it's realpolitik. Iran alone provides 5 percent of the world's oil exports…

“Whether it still genuinely believes in military options as decisive retorts to its many global challenges, the Bush administration must learn to deal with new political realities, and it must also accept that playing politics is no longer restricted to empires alone.”

A review of the Arab press

A review of the Arab press in The Middle East Times summarized opinions of two papers concerning Ahmadinejad’s letter:

An article in the Saudi-owned London-based Ash Sharq Al Awsat said that Arabs saw the letter “as evidence of reports in the region that Iran is ready to reach an understanding with the Americans.” Looking back, it said that Iran was never really an enemy of the US seeing as they have cooperated with the superpower since the war in Afghanistan.

But turning its view to the U.S., the paper wrote that “Washington was unlikely to make large compromises to Iran on its nuclear program or regional influence, no matter how many concessions Ahmadinejad makes to the Americans, because the United States does not trust the Iranian regime.”

In Lebanon, As Safir opined that the letter did not change Tehran’s policy on the States because “the Iranians have been the primary beneficiaries of American policy in the Arab and Muslim world,” but that it contradicted Iran’s “mobilization rhetoric” against the U.S.

The letter also “contributed to the ‘dissipation’ of the American campaign against Tehran in the U.N. Security Council and showed that Iran ‘was indeed scared’ of international sanctions.” However, according to As Safir, if the letter was meant to cause Bush embarrassment concerning his policies, it arrived too late: the “mismanagement of American foreign policy” is already “a cause of controversy within the United States.”

Morocco Times says ‘the Decider’ falls short of democracy

“USA The Decider,” an opinion in the Morocco Times written before Ahmadinejad’s letter, ties Bush’s imminent decision on Iran to how he defended his much-criticized Secretary of Defense; “I’m the decider, and I decide what is best”:

“If someone believes that his decisions are the best, does he need any kind of advice or does he care to listen to others?

“The U.S. often criticizes other nations for not having democratic values and promoting democracies around the world is its fundamental policy, but what is democracy? If someone like Bush, the President of the United States, says that he decides everything, then what is the difference between him and a dictator who is ruling a country with force?

“Many U.S. officials are still saying that attacking Iran is not in the agenda, but if the decider (Bush) has made a decision to attack, will anyone be able to stop him? He is claiming that his opinions are the best and if he believes that military solution is the best option, will he listen to others or change his mind?”

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