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ISSUE 120 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/23/2007

Addressing Iran overdue

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, March 23, 2007

Recently the United States of America conducted its first high-level diplomatic contacts with the Republic of Iran since 2004. On one level, this is a huge step forward in relations between America and Iran, especially since if you listen to the Bush administration, the possibility of Iran acquiring a nuclear program and thus the capacity to produce unconventional weapons of the nuclear sort is one of our paramount concerns at the moment. Also, Iran allegedly is bankrolling and supporting many of the insurgents currently raising hell in Iraq, and it has definitely stepped into the power vacuum left in the Middle East by the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In sum, then, there are a lot of reasons to talk to Iran, rather than the alternative. Given the Bush administration’s recent flip-flop on North Korea (to wit: after years of foreswearing talking to Kim Jong-Il and his merry men, America emerged from the six-party talks last month with an agreement to buy off North Korea’s nascent nuclear program for 50 thousand tons of fuel and other assorted goodies), it seems that a new spirit of cooperation and multilateralism, or at least a desperate desire not to leave office having screwed up America's foreign policy absolutely everywhere around the globe, has gripped the White House. Thus, our recent stepping back onto the dance floor with Iran should be applauded.

And yet in this case, one can’t help but feel slightly disappointed with President Bush and company (in others, “slightly” doesn't even begin to cover it). If there’s one thing history has shown, it’s that history is in love with grandiose, over-the-top gestures. Moreover, this sort of foreign policy legerdemain can serve to counterbalance even the most heinous of domestic political records.

What am I talking about? Well, there’s a great moment in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” when Spock tells Kirk that “only Nixon could go to China.” If President Bush wants to put a permanent shine on his legacy, perhaps the most expedient way to do so would be to take a page out of the book of his most comparable predecessor, Richard Milhous Nixon, and conduct a surprise summit with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Teheran. Doesn’t the picture of the American flag flying in Teheran for the first time since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 just make you swoon? It should be enough to make even the most die-hard anti-Iranian ideologue’s heart beat fast.

Of course, it’s been more than 30 years since Nixon’s surprise trip to China in 1972, and it’s undeniable that there's a certain diminishment of scale operating here as well. Our relations with Iran now are probably not as constrained as ours were with China before 1972. Conservative Holocaust-denier though he is, Ahmadinejad is no Chairman Mao, a smiling ideologue whose policies were responsible for the death of millions of his countrymen, to say nothing of the division of Korea or other assorted tragedies. Whether George W. Bush can really be compared to Nixon will have to wait for the declassification of documents related to his administration decades from now. In the repetition of history, we may be able to skip tragedy and go right to farce.

It’s impossible to say whether anyone in the administration has considered this possibility, but the example of North Korea readily demonstrates that it’s much easier to deal with so-called “rogue states” if said states are not completely isolated on the international scene but at least selectively engaged by their fellow nations. In other words, when we talk to Kim Jong-Il, we generally, after a while anyway, get some positive results. It doesn’t seem too much to extrapolate that we might have similarly positive experiences if we stopped trying to isolate Iran – or, even more so, Syria – and started engaging them. If there's one thing for sure, it’s that President Bush certainly has nothing to lose, and no anti-American ideologue would mind having the United States on its doorstep with hat in hand either.

Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a senior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics and in Asian studies with a concentration in Japan studies.

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