Monday, September 30, 2013


Besides asking himself "What is a Persian?" Montesquieu stated that "a nation may lose its liberties in a day and not miss them in a century."

Last week, Manhattan was again transformed into the usual NASCAR race wherein official limousines and SUVs invade the town with a total disregard for rules and pedestrians. It is always sociologically revealing to observe how the more obscure hide their irrelevance in a mass of bodyguards and an entourage more interested in shopping than in listening to the mostly forgettable utterances of speakers who get their 15 minutes of Warholian exposure.  The Iranian president stole the show.  Rouhani was able to double-talk and to take the media hostage to platitudes which were only noteworthy insofar as they were polite, contrary to the raging outbursts of his pathological predecessor.

Obama and his Iranian counterpart did not meet or indulge in the "handshake of the century." Their telephone call made more news than any escort call coming from hotel suites or the Glass House on First Avenue.  I find this Rouhani fever naive. His entourage supposedly was a composite of all opposites:  the token Jewish parliamentarian is a joke and the Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (U.S. educated) is catnip for "Orientalists."  Last but not least, the Iranian President, who was chief nuclear negotiator (2003/2005), knows all too well how to let talks drag on until they collapse under the weight of their unsubstantial affirmations. Nevertheless he received star treatment.

The tactic is always the same...tire the other side and gain time for the centrifuges to multiply. The lie in the Muslim philosophical pantheon is a capital player, rolling over good faith or gentleman's agreements like a Sisyphean stone.  Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the wizard behind:  the veil wields the hard power and lets the show go on.  Obama is right to engage but the chosen moment should have been his.  Debacles in- and outside are undermining the U.S. presidency lately. The sanctions against Iran are one of the few trump cards left and should not be reversed.  Here and there one already hears of sanctions"light."  Reversing or modulating now what has proven to "have teeth" would be a monumental mistake. The convoluted American ways in Iran or towards North Korea show too often a tendency to rush towards some ad hoc form of hybrid arrangement rather than sticking to principle. 

The rhetoric which comes out of Tehran has switched into a moderato mode but otherwise nothing has changed. Assad or Hezbollah remain Iran's protectorates and the path to Iranian nuclear maturity remains wide open, notwithstanding the fairy-tale denials of the Supreme Leader who uses religion as a veil (this garment has many uses).  Netanyahu might suggest some reality checks during his meeting with Obama.

Talking is generally better than ignoring, even if it makes the air one breathes polluted, but please let us not repeat a Kim Jung Un/Dennis Rodman farce for Page 6 readership. The Gipper or Nixon were not over-intellectualizing presidents but in verifying and negotiating from a position of strength they projected instinct and drive. Obama should  listen once in awhile to the infamous Nixon tapes.  In between the less attractive passages there are insights which remain valid.  After all, even Churchill sometimes sounded more like Falstaff than Hamlet. 

Returning to Montesquieu, it is remarkable to foresee in his treatises the seeds of the thoughts of Huntington or Fukuyama:  the tension between reason and custom.  Let him have the last word: "The success of most things depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed."
Bon voyage !

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