Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nicholas Burns on Charlie Rose 2-23-07 (William O. Beeman)

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, appeared on the Charlie Rose show on PBS on February 23, 2007. His appearance was a very revealing insight into what anthropologists call “magical thinking” on his part, and perhaps that of the State Department. The view Burns presented was that U.S. pressure on Iran was creating “cracks” in the Iranian political establishment. The “magical thinking” part of his formulation is to attribute causality to a series of irrelevant actions that have no causal force at all.

The story going around Washington, promulgated by the Bush administration, is that the December U.N. sanctions were more effective than anyone believed they would be, that they have created dissention among the leadership ranks in Iran, and that U.S. efforts to bring financial pressure on Iran has caused the power establishment in Iran to estrange itself from President Ahmadinejad.

In fact, the factional disagreement that Burns wants to take credit for far pre-dates the U.S. actions in December, or even the Presidential elections of 2005. It is as if Burns and company never heard of the reform movement, or listened to original Revolutionary Ibrahim Yazdi. Moreover, the estrangement of the Iranian leadership from President Ahmadinejad began almost instantaneously after his election.

These splits in the Iranian political scene have been growing continually. The real cause for their growth is the change in the Iranian electorate as the voting population gets younger and is more estranged from the original revolution. Certainly U.S. gunboats in the Gulf and the annoyances of silly and ineffective sanctions are going to be a topic of discussion in Iran, but there has been absolutely no sea change in Iranian political life, only a steady growth in divergence of opinion over a much longer period.

These long-term divisions in Iranian political life may seem to have appeared suddenly, but not because they didn’t exist before, but rather because the United States has so long presented Iran as a monolithic dictatorship where no political dissent is possible, and where elections are not “real.” When the truth about the growing diversity of Iranian political thought becomes undeniable, the impression is created that something the U.S. did brought it about.

Mr. Burns and his boss, Condoleezza Rice can delude themselves, and perhaps the American public into thinking that they are creating some kind of cataclysm in Iran through their ineffective diplomacy, but their posturing is simply laughable to anyone who follows Iranian politics with any care.

The real breakthrough will come when the United States decides to pursue mature diplomatic efforts with Iran, and stop demanding preconditions for talking to Tehran that they know Iran will always refuse. The canard that it is the Iranians are refusing to talk to the U.S, which Mr. Burns put forward once again in his appearance, is an absurdity given the numerous overtures made by Iran over the years that have been systematically ignored by the Bush administration.