Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran and US playing; the rest of the world is watching

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on June 20th, 2009-
-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 20 Haziran 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

The elections in Iran are turning out to be one of the historic episodes of our time, but we do not yet know whether this will be a once-in-a-lifetime event or a preparatory stage for another chapter. Undoubtedly, the elections in Iran gained much more weight after the change that occurred in the U.S. administration and the bold messages of that change that were subsequently reflected from Cairo. After U.S. President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, I came to believe that some of the equations in the Middle East would be shaken by it.

If only one single reason needs to be spelled out to underscore why the Cairo speech made such an impact on the Iranian elections, it is because, as anyone who follows Iran knows, the country has a young, erudite and increasingly Internet-savvy new generation. And for them to hear words of respect from an American president might have done much to get to this day. Otherwise, there is nothing unusual happening in Iran. Iranians, like citizens of any other nation, wish to evolve with the global community, and to rise up against any kind of dogmas that have been levied against them for too long. But their national pride makes them do this historic unlocking at a time of their own choosing.

With these thoughts, I went to the Washington, D.C., campus of Georgetown University to witness the Iranian-American students’ protests and reactions to the election results. Banuo, one of students I met, told me that she was able to follow the latest protests and communicate with her cousin Faraz, who lives in Tehran, through Twitter, a new social-networking Web site. She also said that she and her cousin have been exchanging e-mails for years and that these chats made it clear that her cousin’s ideas about equality, freedom of (or from) religion and many other issues in world politics are very similar to those held by her and many other American college students.

On the national level, the Obama administration has chosen to be surprisingly quiet about the events that are taking place in Iran. And this unfamiliar American tranquility is dividing politicians and commentators into two camps. One of these camps, which does not appreciate this stillness at all, claims that the American administration should openly defend the Iranian opposition and the street protests. For example, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal likened Obama to former President Jimmy Carter, an equation that strikes a heavy blow because Carter’s ineffective policies during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran are still fresh in many Americans’ recollections.

Despite of the pressure, Obama and his cabinet have been able to restrain themselves from meddling in Iran’s internal affairs. Obama seems to have taken necessary lessons from recent history: As recently as 2002, the U.S.-Venezuelan relationship was thrown over a cliff when America recognized the interim Venezuelan President Pedro Carmona, who replaced Hugo Chavez for less than two days in a coup d’Žtat. Iranians, with many worse memories of the U.S. jumbling their internal affairs, would have had no stomach for such an attitude. Hence the Obama administration, by not lending support to either side, is able to keep up hope for better relations with Iran in any scenario. So far, the other significant result of the Iranian elections has been to show the country’s ever-increasing importance in the region. Since the elections took place, the world media has focused on the affairs between Iran and the United States. Both in Europe and in the Middle East, commentators and policymakers spent more time on Obama’s reactions than anything else. However, a chilling result of Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been to open a new thriller sequence for autocratic leaders or those who have autocratic aspirations.

To these leaders, appearing as an important player on the world stage, as Ahmadinejad appears now, is an irreplaceable attraction. You can bet that they will surely take the necessary lessons from this excitement.

When George Bush was elected for the second time in 2004, the majority of the world could not believe the results they heard. This second time around, Bush, his administration and his policies departed further from the American people's positions, taking them far from their comfort zones to next choose a completely different president whose election, in many aspects, could be considered world-shattering. Iran is also going through a set of changes. Ahmadinejad and the status quo in Iran might brush off the current tumultuous days and start another term. But Iran today is not the same Iran of just a couple of weeks ago, even if the Turkish administration has already, happily and hastily, congratulated the rigged elections, victory and presidency.

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