President Obama has devoted a lot of time to foreign policy this past week, focusing like a laser beam on three countries that begin with the letter “I.” He gave star billing in Washington to the prime minister of Ireland (who was treated a lot better than British Prime Minister Gordon Brown), during the course of which each read the other’s prepared text, perhaps a new departure in international diplomacy. He also sent a letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano (a member of the now defunct Communist Party), expressing confidence that the United States and Italy would work together “to overcome the current global political and economic hardships and build a safer world.” The only problem with the letter was that the Italian president does not make policy; that power resides with the prime minister and his cabinet. Perhaps the White House czars have issued an ukaz stipulating that the American president writes only to his peers, and thus instead of addressing himself to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, President Obama wrote to a man who holds an almost entirely ceremonial position.
This imprecision produced the predictable kerfluffle in Rome, as the leftist media and intellectuals pondered the event and concluded that Obama had deliberately stiffed Berlusconi. The Italian prime minister thus joins his British counterpart in wondering what hope they are supposed to find in the recent change in diplomatic protocol in Washington.
Then the president turned his charm on the Iranian mullahs, releasing a video message to everyone celebrating Persian New Year, Norooz (or Nowrooz). He began by explaining the holiday to the Iranians:
“This holiday is both an ancient ritual and a moment of renewal, and I hope that you enjoy this special time of year with friends and family.”
If he was trying to make nice to the mullahs, he should have omitted the “ancient ritual” reference, since that ritual–featuring bonfires (symbols from the ancient Zoroastrian faith) through which people leap and around which they dance–is banned in Iran, and anyone who engages in the ancient ritual is subject to beatings, arrest, and torture. So, rather like the unfortunate “overcharge” button that Secretary of State Clinton gave the Russian foreign minister, the hoped-for change in our “relationship” with Iran got off to an unfortunate start.
The president continued with warm words for the Iranian people:
“Nowruz is just one part of your great and celebrated culture. Over many centuries your art, your music, literature and innovation have made the world a better and more beautiful place. “
True enough, but the whole idea of the Message to Iran was political, and he might have mentioned the long tradition of great and celebrated Persian political thought. After all, the first known human rights “document” came from Cyrus the Great, and its message is daily rejected by the regime of the Islamic Republic.
Then he provided his vision of the Iranian peoples’ belief in hope and change. “You will be celebrating your New Year in much the same way that we Americans mark our holidays,” he earnestly intoned, “by gathering with friends and family, exchanging gifts and stories, and looking to the future with a renewed sense of hope.”
NOT. Most Iranians look to the future with a deepening mood of despair. The mullahs have long since wrecked the economy, and things are getting worse now, what with the price of oil at one-third its recent highs. The single word that best describes the state of the Iranian people–to whom Obama explicitly directed these words–is “degradation.” The drop in Iranian birth rates during the reign of the mullahs is the most dramatic in the history of fertility statistics, and is now below replacement. The level of opiate addiction is five times that of China at the time of the Opium Wars. Any Iranian hearing the American president talk of renewed hope, would wonder if he was thinking of the Iranians in Beverly Hills, who rule the place.