There is an interesting tendency among many on the political right in America, particularly those on the political right who do not tend towards Libertarianism. The tendency is to regard America as the most righteous country in the world and because of that, they believe that America is allowed to do things that other countries are not allowed to do.
The relationship that this group on the right would have between the US and the rest of the world is not unlike the relationship between a parent and child. The parent can stay up as late as it likes, but can dictate to the child what time the child should go to bed. The child has to ask the parent for money and get permission to spend the money. The parent can use its own judgment to make a decision on what to buy.
Similarly, the US has nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and in the last 30-40 years has gone to war when it chose and invaded and occupied other countries in several cases without UN authorization. However, if other countries want to develop nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, or if other countries want to invade other nations, that makes them bad.
Continuing the analogy, there are countries that this group of the American political right characterizes as older children, and others that they characterize as younger children. This group regards Western Europe and Israel as 17 year olds. They can make most decisions on their own, can go out on dates (invade other people) and to the prom (have a peaceful nuclear power program), they can drive an automobile (produce nuclear weapons), and can do all but the biggest of the big things (attack others with WMD) without checking with the parent first.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are North Korea and Iran who are regarded as three year olds. I have a friend who is a Doctor who says that children in the 2-4 year old range are in the "suicide ages" as they will promptly do things that will kill themselves if left to their own devices. You don't let a three year old out of your sight for a minute. You don't let a three-year-old get its hands on anything because they could be a danger to themselves or others.
The problem with this attitude is that it is difficult to have a good relationship with other people or other groups or other countries with a perceived difference in basic rights. This lack of fairness and difference in rights and privileges is a big issue in places like countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and South-East Asia, and why not. It is the "Do as I say and not as I do", approach, an approach that anyone with any training in psychiatry/psychology will tell you has a low success rate.
Obama's message where he reached out to Iran was a very good first step and first effort. The only issue with the speech is that he used a few words and phrases that were hard to miss by a people already on the lookout for efforts by the US attempting to assume a privileged role. He started out well, as this truthout article http://www.truthout.org/032509A by Phil Wilayto points out. Obama:
- referred to the country by its official name, the Islamic Republic of Iran, implicitly recognizing the legitimacy of that government. And he stated that the US wants Iran "to take its rightful place in the community of nations," acknowledging that "You have that right ..."
and Obama said
- "This process [pursuing constructive ties] will not be advanced by threats," he said. "We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."
Those were on the highlight reel as far as how the people in the region viewed the speech. However, on the other side of things, there was:
- "that place cannot be reached through terror or arms"
As an American, I know what Obama was trying to say, but to people who are already sensitive to this issue of privileged status, the phrase "that place cannot be reached through terror or arms" was one that suggested a continuation of accusation, attempts to control and lack of fairness.
That, among other issues, as Phil Wilayto points out, was why the response was lukewarm from some Iranian sources, and cool from others.
The part about "arms" was the most unfortunate in the context of this speech because a main point of disagreement between the US and Iran is Iran's POTENTIAL ability to seek to develop a nuclear weapon. There is no proof that Iran is trying to do this and in fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency has inspectors year round at all of Iran's nuclear sites who have been consistently reporting that there are no attempts to weaponize Iran's uranium. This assumption among some in the US that Iran is seeking these weapons lacks proof and strains credibility. We've been here before where some elements in the US government say that a country has WMD and on the ground UN inspectors say they can't find any.
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