Barack Obama and the Mullahs
The presumptive Democratic nominee at the moment is Barack Obama. He is coming in for a great deal of criticism for what one website has called his determination to run for John F. Kennedy's second term.
I think that there is a great deal in that observation, by the way. It is a cliche to say that, in the bloody mess of Dallas in November 1963, America lost its sense of confidence and savoir-faire and began a long engagement with a grudging and darker side which had always been present in the republic. Like most cliches, the observation has some core of truth around which a lot of rubbish has gathered.
However, Kennedy's wise observation--probably in form Ted Sorensen's--that America should not negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate is a wise one for our time. Kennedy after all talked to Khruschev, just as Nixon talked to Mao. I think that the very deadly game which is being played in the Middle East right now could do with a bit of talking, but not necessarily for pacific reasons.
Let me explain. Tonight, Israel and Turkey are wrapped up in an attempt to talk peace with Syria. Syria has recently ostensibly withdrawn from attempting to undermine Lebanon. The mullahs of Iran have been fomenting chaos in that latter country, and have won something of a victory because their satraps, the despicable Hezbollah, have now been incorporated into the government of Lebanon on threat of Civil War. In the darkness, far from ignorant bodies are maneuvering, and slithering things are upon the midnight earth.
What is the worst case? That Syria and the Iranian government are playing in a tag-team, one talking peace and attempting to place the Israelis in an embarrassing corner whilst the other foments war and prepares Hezbollah for battle. But ask yourself; aren't those smart, brave Israelis right, if they suspect a trap, to walk into it and spring it?. They cannot, after all, be so silly as to really think peace with Syria's present regime anything more than an accomodation.
Egypt is now a threat to Palestinian militants; Syria stands equally capable of international isolation should it break a deal and isolation from its very deadly chosen associates if it accepts one; and, trapped in the Lebanon government, perhaps Hezbollah could be steadily eroded as a force. Peace only works if there is a percentage in it.
Equally, if the Iranian mullahs are as unpopular as every censored piece of information from Persia--that ancient, civilised country--suggests, isn't the best way to tap and spread the acid of discontent to remove the pressure of imminent apparent war? If they are determined on war, and pain, and insane destruction, let them be drawn out to say it. If their people are not, let them be free enough of the need to rally against an opponent to say it.
This is the wisdom, because it seems wise, of talking. Talking can't hurt. In the worst case, it can actually undermine enemies provided the wrong things are not conceded. Over the desert, Saudi Arabia's oil and grain are running out, and soon with them their capacity to poison wells with their sponsorship of hate. They too may turn against the Mullahs. Talking may give time for an alliance of convenience.
By contrast, directly confronting Iran at high decibels, and bombing it will have the same effect as attacking China over Taiwan. My American readers should understand how rational European fear of the Mullahs is. Attack Iran if you have the capacity; we can, in that event, say good-bye to the city of Rome and expect a 9-11 every Tuesday. This is why the White House's non-denial tonight that it wants to attack Iran before 2009 chills some Europeans to what is left of their backbones.
Better to corrode, undermine, and draw them in, and give the Persians and others no reason to rally round their government. Equally, condemn those who would talk to Syria and Egypt and Lebanon if you want; but understand that words matched with an unspoken determination to bring bad men to an end quietly are in some ways more powerful than bombs strapped to quick rockets.
I suppose my main point is that we should not think all talk appeasement and all warlike resistance noble and Roman. When Varus marched proud into the Tuetoborg forest, after all, he lost his legions. Imagine what he could have done with whispers and with a strategy of division, or with a well-timed and brave decision to walk into the trap and spring it. The forests of the once-fertile crescent are now made up of lies and car bombs detritus, but they are just as dangerous and just as susceptible to intelligence.
Obama, who seems very stable and wise, can I think see that. John McCain is choosing to go back on his 2006 observations about the wisdom that Eisenhower, with Lincoln the best of republican presidents, would have recognised. I don't think intelligent people should criticise Obama for wanting to talk with Iran. Th criticism should come when we know what he wants to say.
The picture accompanying this post is a Poussin's Dance to the Music of Time from 1640. It contains within it a message of how some human moods and confusions never change. Here's Dylan's Ballad of a Thin Man. I initially thought it was a good, trippy take on Obama; but since it is officially a song about a 'clueless poser in a dangerous world who doesn't really know what is going on' I thought it may apply equally to me.