Iranian tension with U.S. requires an adult Reaganite

Ahmed Soliman

Posted Oct 24, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Iranian tension with U.S. requires an adult Reaganite

By Ahmed Soliman

I came of age in the 1980s. Back then I used to resolve my disputes on the playground with fists, because might was always right and the only way to resolve a dispute was with taking a tough stance until the other submit themselves to your will. Ronald Reagan was president then, someone I believe was a great president. I remember cheering him on as he went up against the “evil” soviets in a nuclear arms race that could have led to World War III. I was convinced that the soviets were the bad guys, because our president referred to them as “the evil empire.”

It’s funny how history sometimes repeats itself. Just this past week President Bush made reference to a possible World War 3 while addressing the current tensions with Iran over their nuclear power program. In the past President Bush has also referred to Iran as part of “an axis of evil,” and declared that he will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Asked if he is willing to use military force to stop Iran from developing their nuclear program, President Bush said that nothing is off the table. And when asked if he will talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, President Bush said that a dialogue with the Iranian leader was, indeed, off the table until he makes some changes in his policies (in other words, President Bush will not talk to the Iranian leader about their differences, until the Iranian leader stops being different).

I’m sure the Bush administration believes that Reagan would be proud. After all, it’s all so reminiscent of how their Republican hero used to deal with the Soviets, right? (The answer to that question will come a little later). 

President Bush is not alone in his stance against the advancement of Iran’s nuclear power program. This past week British and Israeli officials met to discuss their strategy for Iran, and subsequent sanctions against that country as a method through which to discourage their nuclear ambitions.

“We are absolutely clear that we are ready, and will push for, further sanctions against Iran,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at a joint news conference with Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert. He added, however, that military action was not necessary, and that the sanctions they are executing through the U.N. was working fine on its own.

For their part Iran says their nuclear power development program is for peaceful purposes only, and on Monday called on the international community to dismantle all chemical weapons. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki referred to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which called on all signatories to dismantle their chemical weapon stockpiles by 2012. “American officials have said they are not sure if United States will be able to meet the Chemical Weapons Convention deadline,” said Mottaki, thereby implying that the United States was being hypocritical.

Mottaki also described Israel as a significant threat to peace and security, pointing out that Israel is refusing to sign up to any disarmament or non-proliferation program, even though it possesses “very large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction”. The Iranians make a fair point.

Back to the question from earlier: would President Reagan be proud of Bush’s tough stance with Iran, and refusal to open a dialogue with them until they comply? I believe the answer is no. Reagan understood that the path to peace is not just muscling, but dialogue as well. Reagan met with the soviet leaders multiple times to discuss nuclear arms. By the end of his term, Reagan was retracting his prior statements which painted the Soviets as an “evil empire.” It’s true that Reagan took a tough stance and won the cold war, but part of the reason he won is because he was willing to have a dialogue with his opponent and compromise. 

If I were still the same adolescent I had been in the 80s, I would probably take President Bush’s comments at face value, and cheer him on as he refuses to back off his tough stance with the Iranians. But such is not the case, because I am older and wiser now. As an adult, I believe that disputes can never be resolved without dialogue. I also know that the soviets were not evil, and neither are the Iranians.

(Ahmed Soliman is a broadcast journalist and the author of “Born in the USA: Reflections of an Arab & Muslim-American Journalist.” Copyright Arab Writers Group