Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Iranian "olive branch" goes public

As you may know by now, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently sent a letter to President Bush, the first such correspondence between an Iranian president and a U.S. president in 27 years. Joe Gandelman wrote about it here.

Well, the letter is now public. Here's The New York Times:

In his letter to President Bush, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared that Western-style democracy had failed and that the use of secret prisons in Europe and aspects of the war in Iraq could not be reconciled with Mr. Bush's Christian values. But it did not address directly the central issue that divides the two countries: Iran's nuclear ambitions.

In his wide-ranging letter, written in Farsi with an English translation, Mr. Ahmadinejad at times challenges and concedes as he directs question after question to Mr. Bush but offers no concrete proposals. In Iran today, the Iranian president portrayed it as a blueprint of "suggestions for resolving the many problems facing humanity," the Iranian news agency Irna reported.

State Department officials who read the letter suggested that it offered an interesting window into the mentality and thinking of Iran, especially because it seemed to reflect a inclination to dwell on myriad grievances of the past rather than on the problem at hand, namely Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Here's a bit more:

The letter provides at times a striking insight into the Iranian president's vision of double standards in American foreign policy, criticizing what he portrays as a lack of support for elected Palestinian and Latin American governments...

The Iranian president also extends to Mr. Bush an "invitation" to return to governing the United States based on the values of Jesus Christ, whose name in the letter is followed each time by the letters "PBUH," which stands for "Peace Be Upon Him."

Frequently quoting passages from the Koran, Mr. Ahmadinejad calls for a return to a religious basis of government.

You can find the full text of the letter at France's Le Monde newspaper

There's a lot in there, from a denunciation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to bigoted comments on Israel and the Holocaust, but here's the line that most struck me: "Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed."

No, they haven't, President Ahmadinejad. No, they haven't. You may, in your delusional state, be able to hear "the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems," but we liberal democrats, we who find in the union of democracy and liberty the last, best hope for humanity, know better.

We may disagree over how best to deal with your nuclear program, but we are not about to give in and reject our way of life and our system of government.

You underestimate us at your peril.


Over at The Moderate Voice, where this post first appeared earlier today, Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye asked if I was "being ironic with the 'olive branch' characterization". After all, the letter is just "a list of grievances".

My answer: Hugely ironic, yes. I realize it's not a serious olive branch. After all, there's no mention of Iran's nuclear program anywhere in the letter. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad's rhetoric ought not be divorced from its context. Much of what he says, all that fist-clenching nationalist bluster, is meant for domestic consumption, whereas I suspect that this letter is meant largely for international consumption. Bush rejected it and the U.S. will generally look unfavorably upon it, but it may be enough to buy Iran some time (and perhaps even some support). After all, some of the views elaborated in the letter are shared, at least to some degree, even by America's European allies.

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