[lg policy] Foreign Policy 101: What President Obama Could Learn From the Release of Roxana Saberi! (fwd)
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Tue Jun 2 21:39:38 UTC 2009
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Date: Mon, 1 Jun 2009 16:46:01 -0400
From: Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com>
Reply-To: Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
To: lp <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
Subject: [lg policy] Foreign Policy 101: What President Obama Could Learn From
the Release of Roxana Saberi!
Foreign Policy 101: What President Obama Could Learn From the Release
of Roxana Saberi!
Filed under Huffington Post Pieces
May 31, 2009
For President Obama, who already has shown his desire to talk to
Iranian leaders, there is no foreign policy lesson more helpful than
that of Roxana Saberi’s case of arrest and release. It shows how the
Iranian government functions and could teach the United States how to
speak to hard-liners in Tehran. These lessons are:
1- Everything in Iran is impossible, and at the same time, anything is
possible. One day you can be accused of espionage for no apparent
reason, go to prison and three months later you could walk free,
simple as that. On the contrary, you can go to prison under the same
conditions and reason (like the case of Silva Harotonian who has been
jailed since June 2008, simply, for working for an American NGO) and
stay in prison for years. It all depends on many different factors.
Uncertainty rules!2- The Iranian political system is a modern
structure, yet, it functions tribally. It has a modern constitution
and a separation of powers. Everyone is due legal council and a fair
and just trial. According to the Iranian constitution Saberi should
never have been arrested, charged with espionage or been sentenced to
8 years in prison. In addition, according to the same constitution,
the President has no authority to interfere in the judiciary’s cases.
However, it seems that president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bends this very
constitution in situations that serve him politically.
3- Just in case there was a belief that the Iranian intelligence
services were actually operating efficiently, the truth is out.
Nothing more than the arrest and release process of Roxana Saberi’s
case, the way in which Iran’s intelligence services and judiciary
operates, reveals their incompetency, lack of intelligence,
inefficiency and lacking rule of law. There is a secret about the
Iranian society; it is that there are no secrets in Iran. Culturally,
Iranians cannot keep secrets. So, there is no need to send spies to
Iran; it’s a wasted investment.
4- Things get done in Iran when there is a camera before President
Ahmadinejad. Back channels never work with the Iranian government, at
least with the current administration. But put Ahmadinejad on
centerstage and expect unbelievable results; like the release of the
15 British naval personnel in 2007 that were captured in the Persian
Gulf and released when Ahmadinejad stepped in.
5- The U.S. and Iran are in a love-hate relationship. Iranians love
the U.S, no doubt about it. They’ll do whatever they can to get the
U.S. government to talk with them. President Obama did not respond to
Ahmadinejad’s courageous congratulatory letter he sent to him upon his
election to presidency. The Obama administration also did not even
speak to Iranians when Obama shook hand with Ahmadinejad’s buddies
Hugo Chavez, or Evo Morales when lifting part of the embargo against
Cuba. Mr. President (Obama) you should respond to Ahmadinejad’s
letter. Just send a response that opens with a poem of Hafiz or Rumi,
and see how it goes. When you do not pay attention to these gestures,
somethings could go wrong in this world. That’s why direct talks with
Tehran are the best way to keep harm to a minimum.
6- Negotiating with the Iranian government is tough. Not because of
the complexity of the issues involved, but because of the differences
in the very style of the languages in which these two parties
converse. The Persian language is like poetry. It’s ambiguous, vague,
and multi-directional, and more importantly, dramatic. Therefore, it
is not always clear to distinguish what they mean from what they say.
This combined with an obsessive sense of bargaining among Iranians
makes any negotiations torturous for those non-Persian speakers.
Because of this you can’t anticipate anything; so it’s best to just
7- In Iran, unlike many Western countries, going to prison based on
politically motivated charges is an honor and prisoners are treated as
heroes in their society. Most of the distinguished and popular
politicians, academics and human rights activists who have voices
within the Iranian society have tasted prison. Even Iran’s 2003 Noble
Peace Prize Laureate spent 23 days in prison in 2000, all the while
regularly receiving death threats.
8- The more the Obama administration engages with Iran, the more it
puts pressure on the Iranian government to act responsibly. The more
the light is shown on the Iranian officials heads, the less recklessly
they will act. The Iranian government is sensitive to international
embarrassment. Particularly when their actions glean nothing in
9- The Iranian government is smart on it’s own terms. The Roxana
Saberi case diverted the attentions of the international community
from the increasing number of arrested activists and students in Iran.
These individuals have faced much more unfair and unjust trials and
have spent more time in prison than Saberi. Today there are at least 4
Iranians imprisoned because of their involvement with U.S. agencies or
universities, like the Alaie Brothers and Silva Harotonian, all of
whom have been held for 7 months to a year for nothing but cooperating
with and or working for projects that were funded by the U.S. State
Department. Yet, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, never
mentioned their names over the course of these past two months. So,
“The Iranian gesture and the relief for Ms. Saberi and her family
should not be overstated.”
Ahmadinejad’s role in the game of Roxana Saberi’s case has not only
forced President Obama to engage in talks with Iran, but it also
forced his praise for their humanitarian gesture.
10- And the last lesson; Iran, regardless of its obsessive and
narcissistic President, does act logically under certain conditions.
Yes, they want to be in charge, yet they can and will compromise on
some major issues. The language of threat and force has never worked
with Iranians it is apparent and yes, Amadinejad’s government has
fostered bad PR for the Iranians through the reckless actions of the
Iranian government damaging the image of their country. But remember,
there is a presence of wise men among Iranian authorities that made
the release of Roxana Saberi possible. They know that the more the
U.S. engages itself with one of the most vibrant societies in the
Middle East, the more the wise voices of Iran will be heard.
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