Repeatedly, history likes to create for itself, an image of human tragedy. Then, it loves to transform itself, into a farce! Let's grasp the meaning of this anecdote, with a direct reference, to what had occurred between the U.S. and Iran-forty years ago. Today, those children who had taken over Iran's historic revolution, and the affairs in their hands, were today, expected to become 'respected elders', gifted with skills, to resolve humanitarian crisis!
Unfortunately, Iran lost these children of an era, that existed four decades ago. Over time these 'elders' of today, preferred to fade away into oblivion.
John Limbert, was senior US diplomat, stationed in Tehran in 1979. In his memoirs, published recently, he has related his misfortunes, after he came to grips with Tehran's turbulence, in the hands of Islamic revolutionaries. Forty years ago, he had seen Iran's children, left to run amok in the capital city. Defenceless, he was captured by Iran's revolutionaries, and tied to a chair in the ambassador's house. Outside the embassy walls, crowds had chanted; from the radio, John recalled, came the magnificent, mournful notes of Purcell's 'Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary.' Not a promising situation, indeed!
John's colleagues at the Tehran embassy could take some comfort in the fact that those captured inside the building, were still alive and unhurt. The only hope against hope, had laid in the possibility, that as soon as possible, the 'elders' in Tehran would take control of the situation, expel the 'Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line', from the embassy compound, and set the captives free, either to allow the diplomatic staff to continue service in Iran, or leave the country.
Vain hopes, it had turned out. There were no respectable elders in Tehran, to take charge of anything. Instead of doing what they should, and ending the outrage, those Iranians responsible for safety of foreign embassies-as protected persons in their country-chose to participate in the Islamic 'revolution' and exploit it. Therefore, they had encouraged the children to run wild.
As the hours became days, then weeks, and then months, the 'elders' never showed up. The last straw for the hostages, had come in early December, about a month into the occupation, when John received a care package from home. Among other things, it contained books: War and Peace, Brothers Karamazov, and Middlemarch. Average length about 1,000 pages.
The message was clear: 'While you're waiting for those elders to act, you will have plenty of time to read'. In the interest of full disclosure, he could never finish Eliot's massively boring Middlemarch, even, under those circumstances.
And this day, forty years later, that bizarre history is repeating itself, as a big farce. The world had watched the 'sanctioning' melodrama that starred the U.S. government and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad JavadZarif.
And, I wish to ask the exact same questions John, the diplomat in Tehran asked, some forty years ago: 'Where are those 'respected elders'?
By a stroke of coincidence, today, we happen to have the same answer: 'They do not exist anymore'. Anyone who spoke the obvious truth that the embassy occupation was a disgrace, had ended up silenced and denounced. Instead, many senior officials had joined the most popular of Iranian institutions-the hezb-e-baad, the 'party of the winds'-and became part of the chorus, that praised the wisdom of 'fanaticism and fallacies'.
My question has remained: Why did the Trump administration take the bizarre action of sanctioning the Iranian foreign minister? It is certainly not the action of a responsible 'elder'. It simply resembles the action of an impulsive, frustrated child, who likes to lash out, when he cannot have his way.
An 'elder' is required to deal with reasons and consequences, and to put forth the questions: 'What is the purpose of an action?' 'What will it accomplish?' 'What are its effects and implications?' Instead, we have an action based on spite, petty-mindedness, intemperate language, and thoughtlessness. The only justification is, 'It feels good'.
What are JavadZarif's sins, that earned him sanctions? In the view of this present administration, there are two:
First, he fell victim to President Trump's obsession with his predecessor. Zarif's crime was to have been a principal negotiator of the 2015 nuclear agreement, (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) between Iran and six other countries, including the United States. Unfortunately, the Trump administration had attacked the agreement, with special venom, not for its contents, but for its connection to former President Barack Obama. Zarif is only, the collateral damage. Period!
Since the administration can only denounce, but cannot act, against the JCPOA's American architects (Obama, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz), who are now private citizens, the Trump administration has vented its spleen against the main Iranian negotiator, who is still an official of his government. If Trump, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cannot act against Obama, they will be constrained only to go after Zarif, the scapegoat.
Second, like it or not, Zarif is an effective spokesperson for his country and his government. That government may be unsavoury, brutal, and repressive, but, in the end, he is doing what any diplomat is expected to do: argue his government's views as best he can. Like a defence lawyer with an obviously guilty client, he still has a professional responsibility to fulfil.
The fact that Zarif is articulate, is a real challenge to this administration. Contrast his style with that of Secretary Pompeo at the American University in Cairo, in January 2019 when, instead of laying out a policy, he ridiculed his predecessors in front of a baffled and embarrassed foreign audience. His only purpose was to tell the world that his boss is a master negotiator. A most unprofessional performance in an international forum!
The present US administration is not punishing an individual. It is rejecting the entire idea of diplomacy. Of course, it is no secret that Trump and company despise the practice of diplomacy, with its careful choice of language, and its emphasis on listening, empathy, and credibility. Perhaps, they don't know how to play the game and have chosen chest-beating and self-righteousness, instead. Zarif may have a terrible case to argue, but he has the capacity to do it as a professional. And, get acknowledged!
We learned that Senator Rand Paul recently invited Zarif to meet President Trump at the White House. As Alice would say, 'Curiouser and curiouser'. So far, there is no sign that the Iranians are ready for such a meeting. What did the president expect? Does he not realize the depth of mistrust that exists, when his Secretary of State issues surrender to the demands; and his national security advisor becomes a paid 'enticement' for the same Iranian opposite group, that paralyzed the supreme leader's right arm, in an assassination attempt?
Where are the respected elders, in the Trump administration? Nowhere to be found, apparently. Officials are competing to show their boss who can be the most childish.
One winner of that competition is a writer on the Department of State's Persian-language twitter account. He or she preferred to Zarif as "the supreme maaleh-kesh," using a coarse Persian term for "fixer" or "cleaner of messes." The term also conveys a connotation of "pimp."
Was there no educated adult, supervising this person writing for an official U.S. Government outlet? Was it wise to use such an insult against someone the president wants to meet? Obviously not. Without that supervision, the children were left free to run amok.
Such a vulgar phrase has no place in diplomacy or on an official U.S. government account. Furthermore, if someone is going to use such a phrase, they might consider how it could apply to someone like Roy Cohn, Michael Cohen, or even certain high officials in the current administration.
Our president says he wants to talk to Iran. If he does, he will need to use some basic diplomacy. However, publicly unloading on Zarif is not diplomacy. Words carry power, and elders must choose their words carefully. Contrary to our children, who do not. Good luck America in their efforts to fulfil great expectations!
The writer is a former educator based in Chicago
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