In Teheran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word. But is the “No” of Iran’s spiritual leader really his last word when it comes to negotiating directly with the U.S. in the conflict over his country’s nuclear program?
Maybe not. His position must be seen in the context of Iran’s domestic politics - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is not in Khamenei’s good books, only has four more months in office. Taking such a huge step as starting to reconcile with the U.S. - something most Iranians want - is not going to take place while Ahmadinejad is in office.
In this conflict, now over a decade old, so many red lines have been crossed, so many opportunities wasted, so many deadlines frittered away, that there is no longer such a thing as “never.” Israeli leaders have been seeing the imminent advent of an Iranian bomb since the mid-1990s.
On the other hand, a few years ago Khamenei himself said that if it served Iran to cultivate relations with the U.S., he would be the first to do so. And if things get that far he wants the credit to go to him, not to reformers or populists. Now however, the Americans have tightened sanctions against Teheran so from his standpoint talk is useless. “I’m not a diplomat, I’m a revolutionary,” he says.
A solution to the conflict is possible despite Khamenei’s deep-rooted mistrust of the Americans. Settling the exasperating dispute about uranium and centrifuges would end economic sanctions - and then nothing more would stand in the way of broader reconciliation between the two countries. But here’s the rub - the spiritual leader fears nothing as much as he fears free exchange between people, free exchange of thought and goods. Every chance he gets, he warns of “cultural invasion.”
In Khamenei’s view, the spread of cultural values would lead to moral corruption, promiscuity and the destruction of social fabric. In that sense such values are far more dangerous to him than military attack. Washington pundits are credited with saying that mini-skirts would be more effective than bombs in Iran. This fear is what has led to the recent increase of pressure on Iranian journalists, artists and intellectuals, and the demonization of opposition leaders as “deviants.” For Khamenei, economic sanctions are the lesser of two evils.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” - John F Kennedy
Eleven years later and nothing has changed for most Americans. It is true that many Americans are without direction and still others are so self hating they wish with all their might we fail our destiny.
This nation is still the greatest nation in the history of mankind.
This nation has contributed to the deliverance of more people from oppression to freedom than any other nation in history.
This nation is home to a citizenship that enjoys more freedoms than any other nation on earth.
This nation, over all others, is the preferred destination for more people seeking freedom and opportunity than any other nation in the world.
This nation did not change on September 11, 2001. On that day, who and what we are as a nation became clear. Contrast our identity, values and morality with those who sought to harm us.
This nation does not fear vigorous debate, free speech or disagreement.
This nation welcomes immigrants and offers them opportunities for success that can be found nowhere else.
This nation, home to the world’s ‘wretched refuse’ is home to the most successful immigrant classes in history…
…terror is not brought on by poverty. Hostages are not taken and held, to be traded for economic aid. Planes aren’t flown into buildings in response to GDP of the free markets of the western world versus the GDP of the many tyrannies of the Muslim world.
Terrorists aims are deliberately misrepresented by those with agendas. The terrorists don’t want to see western values and successes brought into their world, because success lessens the hold they have on entire populations. The terrorists have much on common with the failed and dysfunctional leaders they claim to hate. They are fighting to prevent an empowered and educated population. Religious freedoms, individual rights and human rights are anathema to radical ideologies. Those ideologies demands the murder of those whose behavior they find offensive, best administered in a cruel and brutal fashion.
Terror has never had anything to do with economics or even politics, per se. Terror has always been about power and ideologies that the terrorists and their supporters and apologists want to impose. It is true that the terrorists will use the terms to distract from that reality, terms like ‘economic disadvantages’ or whatever else they believe will sound plausible as part of their justification for their outrage, but that is all for show. If they really cared about the politically and economically oppressed and disadvantaged, they would build businesses and fund opportunities. They would not build bombs and fund terror.
When it comes to offering a vision to guide American foreign policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s latest book, unlike so much other literature of this type, refuses to lament or exaggerate the alleged decline in American power and influence. Instead Strategic Vision offers a kind of blueprint—a path that Washington must take, in Brzezinski’s view, to ensure a secure international order, in which free markets and democratic principles can thrive. Brzezinski calls for the creation of a “Greater West,” uniting Turkey and Russia with America and Europe in a grand political alliance based on Western values. It would stretch from the Pacific Coast of the United States and Canada across North America and the Atlantic Ocean to encompass the countries of the European Union and Ukraine, and across Russia to its historic Pacific port of Vladivostok. Now that’s “the vision thing.” Unfortunately, important parts of the book’s analysis seem overtaken by events, and Brzezinski’s overarching idea—he has a weakness for overarching ideas—is divorced from the realities that Washington policymakers will confront in the coming years.
One year ago, Egyptian Internet activist Wael Ghonim quickly became the face of the uprising. But he was never comfortable with the role and would still prefer to retreat into the crowd. The digital world is his comfort zone.
He has stuck his white headphones into his ears so that no one talks to him, he is looking at the ground so that no one recognizes him, and he is walking briskly so that no one stops him. But everyone in Egypt knows Wael Ghonim, and some call him the face of the revolution. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and Time counts him among the 100 most influential people in the world.
But Ghonim doesn’t like all the attention. It makes him feel uncomfortable, and he believes that it is bad for him. He starts walking faster. It’s only a few blocks from his parents’ apartment in Cairo’s Muhandisin neighborhood to the offices of a PR company he has hired to keep the press at bay.
It is the period surrounding the anniversary of the revolution that began on Jan. 25, 2011, the day Ghonim had spent so much time and effort working to achieve, a day that ultimately led to the revolution. There is a strange tension in the air over Cairo. On the one hand, the first freely elected parliamentmet for the first time in this last week of January. On the other hand, it is dominated by Islamists. On the one hand, the military council lifted Egypt’s emergency laws, in place since 1981, to mark the anniversary of the revolution. On the other hand, there are angry demonstrations against the military government almost every day. Ghonim has a lot on his plate — and then he has written a book, which has just been published.
It’s called “Revolution 2.0.” In it, Ghonim describes how he came to the revolution, how he guided the protests through the Internet, and how agents working for then President Hosni Mubarak’s state security service tracked him down, jailed, isolated and interrogated him. By the time he was released, the country was no longer the same. And then Ghonim found out that he was partly responsible for it.
The book is interesting because it finally tells the story behind sayings like the “Internet revolution” and the “Facebook youth,” which the West has used to explain the toppling of the regime in Egypt. Until it was published, no one but a few computer nerds truly understood the significance of people coordinating their plans on the Internet and then taking to the streets to protest.
Lack of an Icon
Besides, to this day the Arab revolutions lack an icon, a figure with whom we can identify its stories so that we can understand them better.
Stories without characters are not as compelling, which is one reason why people in the West have now somewhat lost their sense of connection to the Arab spring. There is no Danton, no Gandhi, no Dutschke, no Che Guevara, and not even someone like the former East German artist and activist Bärbel Bohley. The revolution has no face.
For the West, Ghonim was the most appealing candidate for the role of symbolic figure. He seemed modern, well-educated, morally upright and not overly radical — living proof, in other words, that Western values could indeed bring down an Arab dictatorship.