Omid Memarian

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When Palin Meet Ahmadinejad in Tehran?
(First appeared on Huffington Post)

It was a meaningful moment this morning for Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be present in the General Assembly Hall to listen to President W. Bush's last speech to member states. But, is this a message to the United States? It certainly is. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the mood in Tehran and Washington has changed.

It might seem that Ahmadinejad's third appearance at the United Nations this week seemed to provide the Republican campaign with another chance to attack Obama over his previous promise that, should he become president, he will meet with U.S. adversaries, including the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the fact of the matter is that, regardless of who goes to the White House this January, the U.S. will start negotiations with the Iranian government, whether or not Ahmadinejad is Iran's new president.

However, due to the long history of hostility between the two states, politicians hesitate to acknowledge this fact. They continue to employ the carrot-stick style of foreign policy, first, in hope of gaining more in future negotiations with the Iranians and second, to save face before the American public, the administration has postponed something that it should have been done during the Iraq invasion in 2003, when Iranians felt extremely threatened and were ready to talk to the U.S. about any subject without any preconditions.

That's why no wise man in Washington or Tehran would take Palin's initial decision to participate in an Anti-Ahmadinejad protest seriously.

It was not surprising that few politicians supported the thought of a protest against the Iranian president. This fact might seem a little paradoxical, given that confronting Iran has been a centerpiece of the foreign policy agenda for much of the Bush administration.

Yet since 2007, even the Bush administration has come to the conclusion that, given the increasing amount of violence in Pakistan, an unstable situation in Afghanistan, the unfinished job to destroy Al-Qaeda, the disastrous peace process in the Middle East and, most recently, the bombing in Yemen, the U.S. has no choice but to talk with Iran, which now is arguably the most influential country in the region.

The United States has a long history of talking to adversaries -- most recently Libya and North Korea, but until this January, the government seemed to believe that it was better to postpone talking about the U.S's and Iran's joint strategic interests in the region.

The Republican campaign's current attack on Obama for his willingness to speak with Ahmadinjad is merely a poor attempt to suggest the naiveté of Obama's foreign policy judgment. It is based more on America's voting public's poor understanding about foreign policy than on specific facts.

For Ahmadinejad and conservatives in Tehran, however, it really does not make any difference whether the next U.S. president is a Democrat or a Republican, though Republicans historically have been friendlier with Iran.

So, forget Sarah Palin's suggestion to participate in a protest against Ahmadinejad in front of the United Nation's building. It is just a campaign fundraising tactic, Surprisingly, out of all the Middle Eastern leaders; no one is probably more similar to Palin than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Both Ahmadinejad and Sarah Palin were governors and mayors before running for national office. However, Ahmadinejad was the mayor of Tehran, with a population of 10 million while Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, with a population of just 7000.

Both ran for their mayoral positions on a very populist agenda: diminishing corruption, fighting against the party establishment, and speaking for the people.

Ahmadinejad's major foreign trip before become president was limited to a trip to Russia. Palin is also proud that she can see Russia from her house. Both were unknown on the national stage before running for presidency or vice presidency, and, more importantly, both are extremely ambitious.

Palin's tremendous sense of ambition might lead her to the extremes, such as bombing Iran or engaging in a comprehensive negotiation process, in order to solve America's messed up situation in the Middle East.

While there is no prospect for going to war with Iran, it's not far to imagine President Ahmadinejad and Sarah Palin, sitting and talking about their mutual concerns. She would be able to take such an extreme and necessary step for the United States. I did not consider Sen. McCain because two years from now, I do not think he will be healthy enough to leave the country.

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