Fraternising with the Enemy

Since the beginning of his first term in office, President Barack Obama has preferred a diplomatic approach to resolving animosities with countries in the Middle East. This has been a tactic that was universally condemned by his opponents, and even by some members of the Democratic Party, as being naive and ineffective. Now, well into his second term, he has once again favoured dialogue when handling relations with Iran and he has once again been lambasted by his critics. After all, Iran cannot be trusted under any circumstances, even if its current President is a blatant moderate who has been trying to change his nation’s policies, with varying levels of success.

As far as the White House is concerned, Iran is no longer the same country as it was under Obama’s predecessor. After all, George W. Bush referred to it as one of the countries of the “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address. Even if Iran went through a regime change during Bush’s years in power, it would have been unthinkable for a man with such specific views to extend the olive branch. However, Obama made moves towards better relations before Rouhani had come to power in Iran. In this case, it was the superpower that took the first conciliatory step.

This placating stance has largely been seen as positive around the world, but for people at home, it was not as popular. As far as his foreign policy credentials were concerned, his “soft” stance against “tyranny” was seen as his biggest weakness. Far be it for Obama to be the only leader to face such criticism. Politicians in India and Pakistan have a long history of trading war rhetoric for votes and popularity. It is an unspoken rule that if you want to ensure re-election, include criticism of your neighbour in your manifesto. In Bangladesh, it is the two political parties at each other’s necks, constantly bickering to the point that any policy, good or bad, implemented by the outgoing administration is inevitably scrapped or at least challenged by the incoming one.

Politics seems to thrive on this self versus other dichotomy. Within the same country, this is not such a bad thing. While bipartisanship is good for passing positive legislation, partisanship is what keeps democracy alive and functioning. If channelled correctly – itself a whole different issue – it allows the minority voice to be heard and prevents the ones in power from becoming complacent. Countries with problems of governance, whether it be the USA’s recent shutdown or Bangladesh’s ongoing clashes, are not facing these problems because there is an Opposition to the Government but because the dialogue between the two is damaged.

While partisan dialogue is positive in one country however, it is extremely damaging in international relations. If the ultimate goal is peace, then diplomacy is the best way to go about it. Ignoring another country’s circumstances or its reforms is the deadliest challenge to global stability, far more than terrorism and the nuclear threat. When countries choose not to recognise Kosovo or criticise the UN for giving legitimacy to Palestine, simply because it is the accepted thing to do when considering belligerent states, it is nothing less than short-sightedness and idiocy. Similarly, if countries continue to harangue Iran for its flaws without recognising the fact that the current administration is the best shot at diplomatic progress in decades, it can only lead to disaster.

I am glad that Obama is smart enough to recognise Iran’s evolution. While there is a need to be cautious, it is excellent news that the criticism he is facing is not getting in the way of engaging positively with a nation that has been seen as unreachable for so long. One can only hope that other leaders recognise the merits of dialogue and follow suit.

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