The tricky business of addressing or referring to an unsavory foreign leader
In his recent address at the U.N., President Obama referred to Ali Khamenei, the head ayatollah in Iran. Each time, he referred to him as “the Supreme Leader.” He did not even say his name: just “Supreme Leader.” Was that really necessary, for the president of the United States? Those who control Iran may refer to Khamenei as “Supreme Leader” — but do democratic leaders, such as Obama, have to follow suit?
Two months after he became president, in 2009, Obama sent Nowruz greetings to Iran. (Nowruz is the Persian new year.) His predecessor, George W. Bush, had sent such greetings too. But Bush made clear that he was sending them to the people. Obama sent them to “the people and leaders” of Iran. He also referred to the country — twice — as “the Islamic Republic of Iran,” as the mullahs style the country. Iranian democrats, many of whom are in jail, don’t see it that way.