When President Barack Obama first made it clear that he wanted to engage Iran in dialogue without preconditions, it sent shockwaves through conservative circles in the United States, fuelling criticism and having him labelled, by his critics, as naïve and inexperienced. But did these words actually have an effect in Iran?
Some have begun to float the idea that they did, and were actually a contributing factor to the internal strife and crisis that came to pass on June 12 in Iran.
So where can one begin? How can one establish links between the two?
To help, the relationship between Iran and the US, should be examined, and then the underlying internal causes of the recent crisis in Iran.
One can argue that there is a correlation between the two, though it may be difficult to establish a direct causative relationship in a situation that is so complex. It would help to try and find the most influential events and trends that came together to cause the recent crisis and, hopefully, determine exactly what influence, if any, Obama’s change in policy had on Iran.
The relationship between the Islamic Republic and the US has improved, as they are now communicating for the first time in almost 30 years. This is only the first step, and it is one of the lone bright spots in the last five years.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made several overtures, insinuating that the United States government lies to its people and did not tell its citizens the truth about the events of September 11, and in 2006, he invited then president George W. Bush to a debate Iran’s nuclear programme, which was flatly rejected by the White House spokesperson Tony Snow.
The United States had allegations of its own, saying that Tehran was supporting Shiite militants inside Iraq.
So, if Ahmadinejad wanted dialogue with the Bush administration, why has he shied away from talks with the Obama administration?
Obama’s statements reaching out to Iran would suit what Ahmadinejad said he wanted, which is an open dialogue with the US. It now seems that this was purely posturing.
As for the internal causes of the crisis in Iran, there are many pressures working against Ahmadinejad, among them rising unemployment and inflation since he became president in 2005. Iran is not isolated from the global financial crisis, but the exaggerated economic problems in the country, with close to one in five citizens living below the poverty line, have become fuel for his critics of his economic policies.
Ahmadinejad seems to be focusing too much on international politics and his country’s nascent nuclear programme, to the detriment of his country’s economy and social welfare. Moreover, one should remember that engaging with the United States will imply compromises that Ahmadinejad and his conservative circles cannot afford to make.
Is there, again, a connection between Obama’s offer to normalise relations and the events that came to pass in Iran?
At most, the offer seems to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. If there was internal discord building for a while, a growing feeling that Ahmadinejad’s posturing and opposition to the United States was distracting him from domestic problems, Obama’s proposal may have weakened the logic that underpinned Ahamdinejad’s foreign policy and decisively discredited him among moderate Iranians.
Is this the true nature of things?
Jordan Times, 3 September 2009