David Calling

Understanding Iran

Whoever drafted President Obama’s public appeal to Iran has little or no idea about the way minds work out there. This gust of hot air spouting from the president of the United States was disconnected from reality, and so more than enough to make the heart sink. Obama invited Iran to “take its rightful place in the community of nations.” This, he went on, “cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.”
Oh yes it can. The ayatollahs are certain that terror and arms will advance the greatness of Iran better than anything else. History, culture, daily experience, assures them that this is a fact of life, and that peaceful action is only for the weak. Centuries of fighting, much of it unsuccessful, have formed their identity, and now they believe that they are on a winning streak, with a victorious Islam for inspiration. What need have they of the ruins of Persepolis or the poetry of Saadi and Rumi when they are developing nuclear bombs and missile-delivery systems? Appeals like Obama’s merely sound patronizing. Who the devil is he to be burbling at them about their rightful place and true greatness?
The patronization is not the worst of the damage, however. Here is the president of the United States, occupying the position hitherto openly acknowledged as speaking for the West, turning himself of his own free will into a petitioner. The ayatollahs are bound to treat this approach as a humiliation for Obama, and broad evidence that victory is in their grasp. Over and above that, Obama has shown that he is willing to pay a price to come to terms with Iran, and naturally they will want to find out how much more he might be forced to pay. They will therefore scorn any element of good will, and continually raise the stakes to test out how far to go in cashing in on their perception of American weakness and humiliation. And sure enough, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lost no time at all brushing aside Obama’s appeal as a mere slogan, while a crowd of tens of thousands were out in the streets chanting their well-practised refrain of “Death to America.”  Many epithets are applicable to the ayatollahs ruling Tehran, but naïve and sentimental are not among them.

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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