Small World: Dig out facts — don’t demonize

 

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Diplomats are normally seen as mild, perhaps timid people associated with tea sipping and good manners. I suppose I could have (barely) passed for one when I was working on Iran in the State Department during the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis. About midway in that seemingly endless contest of national wills, the Carter administration decided to severe relations with Iran.

I called the chief of the Iranian embassy into my office to get the expulsion order, but had to make conversation with him while the official papers were being finished. Tense talk was climaxed by my referring to his argument with a foul, barnyard adjective.

The incident got into the national nightly news (after the Iranian told CBS I had insulted him). In a flash, I became a hero to thousands of Americans who were frustrated by the administration’s inability to resolve the crisis. Tons of mail descended on me, including two proposals of marriage from California and a medal from the National Police Sssociation. Fifteen minutes of fame for a plain-speaking tough guy! Finally, someone who would stand up for the USA!

I tell this tale to make a mild-mannered point: The public usually has a strong preference for a show of pointless strength in our foreign relations rather than for the quiet, persistent negotiator who might achieve positive, long-term results. The latter is weak; folks say he wasn’t rough; he didn’t make the enemy angry.

Look around the globe: Who are our enemies? North Korea is a good starting place for despicable targets. Then, there’re — except when we need their help — China and Russia. Skip over to Syria despite the fact it’s on our side fighting a terrible enemy, ISIS. Always, decade after decade, it seems, Iran is near the top of the list. We customarily use nasty talk when referring to deceitful, hostile Iranians. Although we are having great difficulty with ISIS, Hillary rejects the idea of Iranian troops joining in: “Would you ask an arsonist to help put out the fire.”

The Republicans are as one in attacking the nuclear accord Secretary Kerry negotiated even though it prevents Iran from going after nukes for 10 to 15 years. They criticize the swap of prisoners, rather than being pleased that our men are free and some minor Iranian offenders are exchanged for them. When the United States agreed to pay an old debt as approved by arbitrators, Republicans condemned the agreement (even though the administration negotiated substantial savings). Iran quickly released American sailors who strayed into Persian Gulf territorial waters. Relief and thanks from Trump and Co.? Nope. Just the usual accusatory bile.

The tough truth is that Iran is a convenient soccer ball for our politicians to kick around, even though such kicking scores few points. The other side of that truth is that Iran on many issues is closer to American ideas than are other “allies” in the region. Certainly Iran’s human rights record is terrible; but contrast it with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and our other friends and Tehran excels. The imperfect Iranian democracy is far advanced over our Arab buddies. Same for the treatment of women compared to the Arab monarchies. Same for popular attitudes toward the United States; Iranians outdo most Arabs in their regard for our people (if not our government’s policies).

Iranian leaders have said some harsh things about Israel (e.g., the nation will disappear from the pages of history), but — despite Israeli propaganda — have never threatened the Jewish state with attack or destruction. Iranian missile tests are provocative, but so are the threats of violence that remain on the table of Israeli and American leaders.

President Rouhani and his group of liberal reformers are working to transform Iranian society and politics and weaken the out-of-date revolutionary hard liners — turning Iran into a more normal country integrated into the world community. Americans ought to welcome his efforts and goal. It is contrary to our interests for politicians and pundits constantly to demonize our former enemy. It is also usually in error.

I believe we should commend President Obama for many — not all — of the things he has planned or accomplished in his foreign relations. Cuba is another example like Iran — he persisted despite the “tough-minded” haters. He is a problem solver, not one to aggravate old wounds. I dread to think what a Republican successor might do to his achievements ­— unless they learn to enjoy a cup of tea.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer. This column appeared in LobeLog.

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