Mutual Respect

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has responded to President Obama’s message to the Islamic world, delivered in an interview with al Arabiyah this week:

The US should apologise for “crimes” it has committed against Iran if it wants a better relationship with Tehran, the Iranian president said today, after recent overtures to the Muslim world from the new administration in Washington.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s uncompromising tone followed a conciliatory message from Barack Obama, the US president, earlier this week when he told the Islamic world: “We are not your enemies.” In his inauguration last week, Obama offered to extend a hand of peace if Iran “unclenched its fist”.

At a rally in western Iran today, broadcast live on national television, Ahmadinejad said Iran would welcome a change in US policy provided it involved a withdrawal of American troops from abroad and an apology to Iran.

“Those who say they want to make change, this is the change they should make: they should apologise to the Iranian nation and try to make up for their dark background and the crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation,” he said.

The Iranian leader listed a range of “crimes”, such as trying to block what Tehran says is a peaceful nuclear power programme, hindering Iran’s development since the 1979 revolution and other actions by US administrations dating back more than 60 years.

It seems to me there’s more than one way to think about this. How do nations interact on the basic of mutual respect? Is it by apologizing for past injuries or by recognizing that nations don’t apologize to each other? Is a call for conciliation itself a way to smooth the waters or like throwing chum into the water, to be interpeted as weakness and the time to exact concessions or humiliate the party offering conciliation?

It may be a way to separate those in the Islamic world who are open to a relationship of mutual respect from those who aren’t. Or it may be a teachable moment for the Obama Administration.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Sabre-rattling and calling them part of the “axis of evil” has made things worse. That’s part of the reason Ahmadinejad was elected.

    It’s time for a new approach. The only thing we know for sure is that the old approach didn’t work.

    Elections in Iran are in June; let’s just see if offering a little bit of respect undermines their hard-liners’ message.




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  2. anjin-san says:

    It may be a way to separate those in the Islamic world who are open to a relationship of mutual respect from those who aren’t. Or it may be a teachable moment for the Obama Administration.

    And it may be that Obama will reach millions of people in Iran and other nations we don’t have good relationships with.

    Obama has been able to out think and outmaneuver his domestic political opponents, and he has a track record of thinking and acting successfully outside of the box. Perhaps he can do the same to opponents on the international front. It is certainly far, far to early to pronounce this effort a failure.

    Perhaps we will have a teachable moment for the neo-cons, though it is doubtful as they apparently learned nothing from W’s long series of failures.




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  3. PD Shaw says:

    How quickly they forget. Albright apologized to Iran for Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. The result was more anti-Americanism and less moderation from the Iranians because the apology inflamed anti-American passions, it was useful to the mullahs to waive the bloody shirt of its revolution, and it communicated weakness and lack of resolve.

    I can see why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would want that. What’s the price of oil?




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  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Respect is earned.

    When will the appeasement proponents begin to understand the Middle Eastern way of thinking. Strength leads to respect and weakness leads to insults. It’s all about perceived insults over there. In reality we are dealing with child like leaders who use playground rules.




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  5. anjin-san says:

    When will the appeasement proponents begin to understand

    Steve,

    Why not fire up the ol’ brain try and contribute something meaningful and move beyond warmed over talking points from the election?




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  6. tom p says:

    Did any one seriously expect any other response? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez got elected by demonizing America and blaming us for all of their internal ills. To stop now would delegitimize their claims to power. Bush’s policies and rhetoric only fed into these dynamics and strngthened them.

    I suspect this is exactly what Obama expected (taking note of the recent declaration by UN Amb Susan Rice that: “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,”)

    In other words, he is trying to change the tone of the negotiations, not necessarily the substance of them.




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  7. Rick DeMent says:

    Strength leads to respect and weakness leads to insults.

    This is right … look how much respect the Israelis have in the Arab world




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  8. PD Shaw says:

    anjin-san, are you being sarcastic?

    Perhaps we will have a teachable moment for the neo-cons, though it is doubtful as they apparently learned nothing from W’s long series of failures.

    Why not fire up the ol’ brain try and contribute something meaningful and move beyond warmed over talking points from the election?




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  9. Michael says:

    If Obama wanted to extend an invitation to dialog to Ahmadinejad, I suspect he would have done it directly. Al Arabiyah reaches millions of people, not just him.

    What his did do, I hope, was to re-frame the internal dialog from “our lives suck because of American policy towards our country” to “our lives suck because of American policy towards our leader”. The anthropomorphic reference to a “fist”, enforces that idea.




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  10. Michael says:

    This is right … look how much respect the Israelis have in the Arab world

    Israel is respected, just not liked.




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  11. anjin-san says:

    This is right … look how much respect the Israelis have in the Arab world

    Israel is respected, but it has brought them neither security or peace.

    We need to keep our powder dry, and be prepared to use force when necessary. But we also need to find a new approach to the problems of the middle east. I do not want our country to fall into the cycle of violence/retribution/more violence/more retribution that Israel is trapped in.

    Obama’s interview was clearly aimed at eroding public support for Al-Qaeda and regimes such as Iran’s. It is not a bad play. Can Obama extend his formidable skills to impact the situation in the middle east? Time will tell, but it is worth an attempt. His domestic political opponents got very unpleasant surprises when they underestimated him




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  12. Davebo says:

    Is it inappropriate to mention that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has about as much power in Iran as George W Bush has in the USA right now?




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  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    Sabre-rattling and calling them part of the “axis of evil” has made things worse. That’s part of the reason Ahmadinejad was elected.

    lol, dang lets not call crazy ass terror nations names and rattle our sabre at them things might get worse lol, Dude why?

    you get respect when you act like a human or human beings! thats why I don’t give liberals any!




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  14. Franklin says:

    Are you speaking English?




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  15. Franklin says:

    By the way, if you know anything about Iran, you would know that most of its population is quite moderate and open to Western culture. Calling the whole country evil alienates these people.

    Instead of driving a wedge between moderates and extremists, you bring them together. But I suppose that’s the goal for people like G.A. who want permanent war with Muslims.




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  16. Steve Plunk says:

    Anjin-san,

    It has become the refuge of scoundrels to avoid actual debate and label competing ideas “talking points”. You of all the esteemed opposition thinkers should know that.

    If I repeat previously voiced ideas it is because they are applicable to the topic and still correct.




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  17. Franklin says:

    When will the appeasement proponents begin to understand the Middle Eastern way of thinking. Strength leads to respect and weakness leads to insults. It’s all about perceived insults over there. In reality we are dealing with child like leaders who use playground rules.

    Even if all Middle Eastern people thought the exact same way, which you seem to assume, our strength and muscle-flexing has not only accomplished nothing, but moved us backwards in relation to our goals. Whether it has earned us any respect is highly debateable; the policies of the last 8 years has demonstrably resulted in less cooperation from foreign countries.

    I don’t know exactly what your definition of appeasement is, but nobody, especially Obama, is going to “appease” Iran, if you mean let them destroy Israel. Again, I think there’s a way to drive a wedge between the many moderates in Iran, who simply want to live in peace and prosperity, and the hard-liners who generally don’t.




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  18. tom p says:

    This is right … look how much respect the Israelis have in the Arab world

    Israel is respected, just not liked.

    A definition, Respect:3 a: high or special regard : esteem b: the quality or state of being esteemed cplural : expressions of respect or deference
    Somehow or other I doubt very much that anyone in the Arab world holds Israel in “high esteem”.

    Once again I think most people mistake “fear” for respect…

    fear: 4: to be afraid of : expect with alarm
    intransitive verb
    : to be afraid or apprehensive

    Except, fear is hardly what Hamas feels (take note of events over the past few days) or Hezbollah (and their sponsors, Iran)

    So, if respect is out the door (it could be argued that Egypt and Jordan “respect” Israel, but that is it) and fear is not working (Syria may “fear” Israel… but then again, maybe they are just biding their time?) what can be expected out of the present dynamics?

    More of the same. Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas respect Israel (they will not negotiate with Israel) nor do they fear them (kill as many civilians as you want, we will still be here).

    What is left?




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  19. anjin-san says:

    If I repeat previously voiced ideas it is because they are applicable to the topic and still correct.

    What you are repeating is not an idea. It is an emotionally charged buzzword designed to demonetize opposition. You know it, and I know it. If you don’t know it, you are simply a tool, and I think somewhat more of you than that.

    I could go around calling folks who supported Bush’s wiretap program “fascists”, but why bother? Its petty, it adds nothing to the discussion.




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  20. Brett says:

    What Obama should do is turn around and demand a complete apology from Iran’s President and Supreme Leader (Khamenei) for the seizure of its Embassy in 1979 and the resulting hostage situation.




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  21. Steve Plunk says:

    Anjin-san,

    I’m getting back to this late but what emotionally charged buzz word are we talking about? I didn’t call names but pointed out a fundamental problem with some of the thinking from the left. Those in the Middle East are culturally different in many ways from us and trying standard western diplomacy is a fools errand.

    Concessions can be taken as weakness and lead to further aggression. Strength can breed respect and cooperation. Many Middle Eastern scholars have pointed this out. The naive idea that we can just make friends by playing nice could very well lead to trouble.




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