Sundays at 9.10am, repeated Tuesdays at 7.10pm
Sunday 3 April 2005
Produced by Stan Correy
Stan Correy: The music is Brahms’ Opus 108 in D Minor; playing the piano is Dr Condoleezza Rice, today the most powerful woman in the world, Secretary of State to George W. Bush.
The cellist is Yo Yo Ma and the event was in Washington in 2002. Condoleezza Rice doesn’t have time to play at concerts these days.
Hello, I’m Stan Correy and you’re with Background Briefing.
The sleeve note on a recent CD reads that this Brahms was associated with ‘tragedy accompanied by an element of defiance and a driving rhythmic momentum’.
That’s actually not a bad description of the history of United States foreign policy on the Middle East. And today, Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State will need all her performance and diplomatic skills to handle the defiance and tragic momentum of Middle East politics.
Condoleezza Rice was interviewed on WNYC Radio New York about her love of the piano.
Condoleezza Rice: Brahms, someone once described to me, as passionate without being sentimental, and that’s how I think of Brahms, and I just love… Brahms is probably my favourite composer at this stage in my life. And I’ve always been much more attracted to Brahms, to Schumann, to a certain extent to Schubert. I don’t particularly like programmatic music, and Liszt of course is sort of father of that school, has never been particularly interesting to me.
Gilbert Kaplan: Passionate without being sentimental; could that be a description of you?
Condoleezza Rice: Oh, now that’s a good question. I suppose I’d like to think of myself as passionate about life, I’m certainly passionate about music, I’m passionate about my work, passionate about family and about my faith. I can be sentimental as well, but I prefer my composers pretty straight.
Gilbert Kaplan: You know, I wonder if you have two personalities: the music personality and your regular personality, if I can call it that. I read somewhere that Secretary of State, Colin Powell, once said you were raised first and foremost to be a lady, and the media accounts always mention that you’re impeccably dressed, which I can testify to today, tidy and disciplined. My question is, what happens when you sit down at the keyboard? Is there a different Rice lurking beneath the surface?
Condoleezza Rice: When I sit down at the keyboard, I think it’s the same Rice, but it’s a Rice that has to be really disciplined.
Gilbert Kaplan: What about just playing with abandon and disregarding all that tidiness, organisation, discipline, and just going for it?
Condoleezza Rice: Well one reason that I love Brahms and Mozart is one can’t play with abandon, you have to be pretty disciplined. "If you put it in front of me I can read it, but if you ask me to play it by ear I have a much harder time." I’m one of those people now if you put it in front of me, I can read it, but if you ask me to play it by ear, or with improvisation, I have a much harder time, so I guess I’m tidy and disciplined, even when I’m playing the piano.
Stan Correy: Condoleezza Rice talking to Gilbert Kaplan on The Mad About Music Show on WNYC radio in New York.
Condoleezza Rice is striding the world stage, setting a new agenda for US foreign policy. She’s a bit of an enigma, setting a frantic pace with steely charm, and highly disciplined diplomacy that’s winning a new respect for the Bush Administration.
In the past two months she’s visited nearly 20 countries. Among the journalists travelling with her was The Washington Times’ Nicholas Kralev.
Nicholas Kralev: Well she’s different from Powell. Powell was very informal. He used to walk on the plane without shoes, just in his socks, and she doesn’t do that. He used to spend more time with us in the back of the plane, just talking off the record about things that sometimes are nothing to do with foreign policy. It might be that she will do that later, I don’t know, but so far, she has been briefing on the record on major legs of trips, and of course the first trip was Europe and the Middle East, and it was ten stops in a week, so not necessarily very pleasant in terms of spending time on the ground trip. But we got a lot of news on that trip, and I think she would probably continue to hit many places on the single trips. She really hasn’t spent more than one night, except for London, where we went for this Palestinian Conference a couple of weeks ago. And we were there for two nights, and on this Asia trip she doesn’t plan to spend more than one night in a country, and of course sometimes we do three countries in one day. So the pace is very fast. She likes to hit the ground and really have meeting after meeting after meeting. She does a lot of press, she gives a lot of interviews to local TV stations in the country we go. She sometimes does print interviews. So I think she, at least at the beginning when she’s not exhausted yet from all that travel, she has committed to visit many countries, and very soon she will most likely be going to Latin America and Africa.
Stan Correy: Demonstrations and coups are breaking out in many countries in the Middle East and Central Asia. Condoleezza speaks about the universal desire for freedom, and America’s role in spearheading democracy across the world. Big ideas, and nothing ambiguous about it, Condoleezza is bringing it right up to the autocratic, dictatorial regimes.
In America, a recent opinion poll gave Condi 61% support, much higher than that of George W. Bush.
However, in US foreign policy, the influence of the legendary Neocons, Rumsfeld and Cheney, still looms large. According to Nicholas Kralev, Condoleezza Rice took the job of Secretary of State with conditions attached.
Nicholas Kralev: When she was offered the job, she made it very clear to the President and to the rest of the team, that if she were to accept the job, she would have the authority and the independence to make decisions, and to advise the President the way that she thinks best, and I believe however strong a figure Dick Cheney might be at the White House, and whatever influence Donald Rumsfeld might exert, I believe that at the end of the day, it’s Condi Rice’s opinion that the President values most. "Whatever influence Donald Rumsfeld might exert, I believe that at the end of the day, it’s Condi Rice’s opinion that the President values most." And he had four years to test her views and opinions in the White House, and I think he’s very comfortable with her. They spend a lot of time together outside official meetings and discussions at Camp David, at the White House, in the residence where Condi Rice spends quite a bit of time, including with the First Lady.
Stan Correy: It’s interesting, there seems to be this personal relationship doesn’t there, Condoleezza Rice really has great admiration for George Bush, and George Bush has great admiration and affection for Condoleezza Rice.
Nicholas Kralev: Well of course most of what George Bush knows about the world and foreign policy he knows from her, because he never travelled extensively overseas before he was President, he’d only been to a couple of countries in his life. And we all know that he didn’t have foreign policy experience. So if you’re talking about George Bush’s view of the world, you’re really talking about Condi Rice’s view of the world.
Stan Correy: Condoleezza Rice is tougher than Colin Powell ever was, but so far she’s no hawk, strongly arguing that the power of ideas, negotiation an diplomacy will with the day, be it Lebanon, Kyrgistan or Iran.
But it’s early days. Taking a back seat in Washington for the moment, are the grumpy old men, the Neocons, the transformationalists, people like Rumsfeld and Cheney. They have little patience with too much talk: take action and sort out problems later. There are long-held tensions between these people and those called traditionalists, those who maintain faith in the role of the United Nations, in diplomacy, and careful strategies. These two groups will clash in future as they have in the past.
A former Managing Director of Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm, and a former Clinton Administration official, David Rothkopf.
David Rothkopf: Condoleezza Rice, who is certainly sort of the rising star within the national security constellations here in the United States, tries to walk the line between these two groups. She is seen as a member of both, by some people. She was a cipher during the first term, no-one was sure which side she was on. The reality is that she was very careful not to have her view be known outside the White House, as if she felt that would be in a way, sort of disloyal to the President. Now she’s obligated to have her views known.
Stan Correy: David Rothkopf isn’t certain that Condi’s views are causing a shift in US foreign policy away from the influence of the neocons.
David Rothkopf: It is arguable that perhaps a third way is forming which may become the consensus for the Bush Administration’s second term, and that is one which acknowledges the goals of the transformationalists and the need to sometimes use methods preferred by the transformationalists, but will attempt to do so within the context of the international system whenever possible.
Jon Stewart: They say that politics makes strange bedfellows, but what happens when those bedfellows are bed ladies? We’ll explore that tonight with our special Capitol Report: Ladies Night.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a quick study, In her brief tenure as Secretary of State, she’s learned that the Muslim world are not particularly big fans of the United States. But yesterday Rice donned her best Star Trek Enterprise uniform to announce the solution to all our image problems in the Middle East.
Condoleezza Rice: I can think of no individual more suited for this task of telling America’s story to the world, of nurturing America’s dialogue with the world, and advancing universal values for the world, than Karen Hughes.
Jon Stewart: Really? Not even someone who, I don’t know... speaks Arabic?
Stan Correy: The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart with a recent comment on Condimania in Washington. Condi has come out of the shadows of being the President’s personal tutor on foreign policy to become a force in her own right. But David Rothkopf wonders if she can survive.
David Rothkopf: The influence of any member of a President’s inner circle, changes in a daily, weekly set of transactions with the President. "I think it would be a mistake to pigeonhole her …She’s quite capable of transcending people’s expectations, both for better or for worse." If you deliver, if you are proven to be loyal, if events are going your way, if you’re politically popular, and the President gives you more of his trust, you have more power. If things go wrong, if the President becomes sceptical, if there’s some reason that you are unable to deliver on what you promised, if your agency proves a drag on the Administration he withdraws some of that power, and so there is always an ebb and flow throughout Administrations, and the rise and fall of the fortunes of people like Rumsfeld, or Powell, illustrate that fairly well in this Administration. I think it would be a mistake to pigeonhole her and say ‘Oh, she’s a transformationalist’ or ‘She’s just a quiet little mouse who was running the National Security Council and she’s not going to really assert herself in this process’, or ‘She has no world view and we’re not going to see her articulate a world view’. She’s quite capable of transcending people’s expectations both for better or for worse, it’s just too early to say.
Stan Correy: But it’s undeniable that she is popular, perhaps for having already helped to give the American Administration a slightly better press around the world. Inside America there’s already been talk that she may run for President next time around, against Hilary Clinton, in 2008. There’s a Condi for President website, and a Condi for President song. ON the NBC Network, Tim Russert talked to Condoleezza about this rush to power last month.
Tim Russert: Before you go, let me show you some photographs on the screen. Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Van Buren, Buchanan. What do those six men have in common?
Condoleezza Rice: Oh Tim, that’s too tough for a Sunday morning.
Tim Russert: They’re all Presidents of the United States, that were at one time Secretaries of States.
Condoleezza Rice: Oh, OK, all right.
Tim Russert: In light of that, I was up on the internet last night and found this website: www.americansforrice.com and it features these bumper stickers and this song.
Stan Correy: Jon Stewart thinks the song may have been written by the torturers of Abu Ghraib prison.
Jon Stewart: Speaking of Rice, she’s been the subject of a lot of a speculation lately, concerning a possible Presidential run. A small grassroots movement has emerged, including several new websites like this one called americansforrice.com which features this peppy song.
Jon Stewart: And they say she doesn’t condone torture. No!!
Stan Correy: Her popularity is not universal. Just last week Chinese officials allowed racist and sexist comments about Condoleezza Rice to be posted on an internet site. This was just after her visit to China. One comment read:
How come the United States selects a female chimpanzee as Secretary of State? She’s so ugly she’s losing face; even a dog would be put off its dinner while she’s being fed.
Stan Correy: The Chinese dislike her because of her comments in China about extending democracy in the one-party state. And needless to say, inside several Middle Eastern countries, she is also feared and loathed for her talk of freedom and democracy. In Iran, for instance, the Intelligence Minister, Ali Yunesi had this to say last month.
Ali Yunesi (translated): Condoleezza Rice is the queen of violence and war. She herself is a terrorist. Many of the crimes committed in Iraq, Palestine and other places were committed with her support. Indeed, if justice were served, Ms Rice, Bush and their cohorts would be judged in the International Court of Justice for their crimes against the Iraqi people and others.
Stan Correy: The next President of America, Queen of Violence and War, A Monkey, and because of her snappy pop idol stagey dressing, The Thinking Man’s Madonna? Condoleezza Rice was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother was a teacher, and her father a Presbyterian Minister, and the backdrop to her early days was one of the most traumatic struggles in American history, the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Stan Correy: There were demonstrations and violence, and in the churches, talk of freedom. For example, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, a civil rights leader in Birmingham.
Ralph Abernathy: We have already won a victory here in Birmingham, and all we’ve got to do is to keep marching. Do tomorrow what we did today, and do it the next day, and then the next day we won’t have to do it at all because the day before yesterday we filled up the jails, and then today we filled up the jail yard, and on the morrow, when they look up and see that number coming, I don’t know what they’re going to do.
Stan Correy: It was 1963, and Condoleezza Rice was 8 years old. Violence raged outside her front door. But Condoleezza wasn’t allowed to go to demonstrations because children were often set upon by dogs and water cannons by the local police. But many years later, having grown up, achieved several degrees, and become National Security Advisor in the Bush Administration, Condoleezza told university students in Nashville, Tennessee, last year that she was all too aware of what was going on in Alabama at the time. She was in her father’s church in September 1963, when white supremacists bombed another church some streets away.
Condoleezza Rice: I remember the bombing of that Sunday School at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. I did not see it happen, but I heard it happen, and I felt it happen, just a few blocks away at my father’s church. It is a sound that I will never forget, that will forever reverberate in my ears. That bomb took the lives of 4 young girls, including my friend and playmate, Denise McNair. "The crime was calculated to suck the hope out of young
lives, bury their aspirations. But those fears were not propelled forward, those
terrorists failed." The crime was calculated, not random. It was meant to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations and ensure that all fears would be propelled forwa#rd into the next generation. But those fears were not propelled forward, those terrorists failed. They failed because of the poverty of their vision, a vision of hate and inequality and the primacy of difference, and they failed because of the courage and sacrifice of all who suffered and struggled for civil rights. Those brave men and women asked America to make a choice between living up to our founding ideas, or perpetuating State sanctioned racism.
Stan Correy: Dealing with terror, and with the passion for freedom and a fair place in society for black America has stayed with her, says Condoleezza Rice.
Condoleezza Rice: You may find this hard to believe, but I started school in 1960. I did not have a single white classmate, and I had one white teacher, until we moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1968. I remember too, my first trip to Nashville. I was 7 or so years old, and we travelled here to Fisk University to hear the Fisk Jubilee Singers. There would have been no thought of dinner in a restaurant, or lodging in a hotel. No, the American South was still quite separate and quite unequal.
Stan Correy: Unequal and violent, especially if you were black. In her speech to the Nashville students last year, Condoleezza Rice specifically linked the campaign for Civil Rights of African Americans to the present US foreign policy, which is being presented in the form of a world wide campaign for democracy.
Condoleezza Rice: All people are bound together by several common desires. Never make the mistake of assuming that some people do not share your desire to live freely; to think and believe as you would like to see fit; to raise a family and educate children, boys and girls; never make the mistake of assuming that some people do not desire the freedom to chart their own course in life. In my professional life I have listened as some explained why Russians would never embrace freedom, that military dictatorship would always be a way of life in Latin America, that Asian values were incompatible with democracy and that tyranny, corruption and one-party rule would always dominate Africa.
Today we hear these same doubts about possibility of freedom in the Middle East. We have to reject those doubts. Knowing what we know about the difficulties of our own history, knowing the history of Alabama and Mississippi and Tennessee, we should be humble in singing freedom’s praise, but our voice should never waver in speaking out on the side of those who seek freedom, and we should never indulge in the condescending voices that allege that some people are not interested in freedom, or aren’t ready for freedom’s responsibility. That view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham, and it’s wrong in 2004 in Baghdad.
Stan Correy: The connection between Birmingham 1963 and Baghdad 2004 is one that Condoleezza Rice makes with passion. But it’s fair to say that many African-Americans who also cherish the Civil Rights tradition and vote mainly for the Democratic Party, think her use of the rhetoric is cynical.
New York based African-American journalist, Margaret Kimberley, found her invoking the Birmingham bombing victims in the cause of the Iraq war ‘offensive’, and here’s a reading of her comment.
Poor Condi Rice and company are left unable to sing about freedom or little else because our Iraq policy was based on lies, and is now such an obvious failure. It is difficult for the Bush Administration to build democracy in Iraq because that was never their true intention.
Stan Correy: Condoleezza Rice is the second woman to be Secretary of State in American history. The first was Democrat Madeleine Albright. And there’s a fascinating link between them. Albright’s father, former Czech diplomat Josef Korbel, taught them both politics. Condoleezza had dreams of becoming a professional concert pianist, but eventually opted first for a degree in English Literature and American Politics, and then chose International Relations. She studied at the University of Denver, Colorado.
Condoleezza Rice: I fortunately walked into a course in International Politics, taught by a Soviet specialist, a man named Josef Korbel, who was of course Madeleine Albright’s father. So I have a very firm connection with the former Secretary-of-State. I really think I found my passion in the study of Russia.
Stan Correy: Albright’s father, Josef Korbel, was vehemently anti-totalitarian, anti-Nazi and anti-Communist. He had a traditionalist approach to foreign policy.
Nicholas Kralev: He was a Democrat. At the same time he probably didn’t share much of Jimmy Carter’s views on being soft on the Soviet Union, even though his daughter worked for Jimmy Carter in the White House, as a Congressional liaison person during the Carter Presidency. And so I think that he really didn’t buy these labels, and relied basically on his personal experience, and personal knowledge of how things work. Which is why I think, that both Albright and Rice drew different conclusions about what he taught them.
Stan Correy: It was a chance meeting with Josef Korbel in a university corridor that began Condoleezza Rice’s path to Washington.
Nicholas Kralev: She was very interested in what she heard in his classes, she said that he was a very good storyteller. And so her interest in the Soviet Union, in the Russian language and Eastern Europe was in fact what made her switch majors. And she got her Doctorate in International Relations back at Denver. In terms of Joseph Korbel, it’s really interesting that this man who was a Czech diplomat, raised his daughter to be a Democrat, and then taught Condi Rice, who by the way, he said that she was his favourite student. I suppose he told the same things to both women, but one of them became a Democrat, the other a Republican. That said, Condoleezza Rice actually was a Democrat once. She actually voted for Jimmy Carter, and then apparently she disapproved of what he did in Afghanistan in ’79 when the Soviets invaded, and then the hostage situation in Teheran in ’79 after the revolution there. So she switched to the Republican party and was very interested in what Ronald Reagan was doing in foreign policy, and admired him, and that’s how she changed her party membership. But to this day in fact we had an interview with her the other day, and she to this day is a pro-choice Republican. She says mildly pro-choice, but the fact is she does support abortion in certain circumstances.
Stan Correy: During the ‘70s and ‘80s Afghanistan and Iran were in the cross hairs of American foreign policy, and of Condoleezza Rice’s life as a political operator.
The Middle East, and Iran in particular, has a special place in American political memory. This documentary about Iran was made in 1953, the same year that the CIA overthrew the democratically elected nationalist government of Iran and replaced it with an autocratic monarchy under the Shah.
Voiceover: Iran knew greatness in the days when it was known as Persia. From this vast throne room, part of his renowned Persepolis, King Darius ruled over the first great empire in history. The Hall of 100 Columns, the Harem for the many Royal wives, and a wonderful sculptured stone stairway, are among the marvels here. East and West lie other Moslem lands, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan; north, the Soviet Union lies beyond the Alberz Mountains.
Stan Correy: The countries surrounding Iran, listed in that 1950s documentary, are now all caught in yet another geopolitical war.
The Americans installed the Shah in Iran but it all came undone when the conservatives rebelled against his western ways, and the Shah had to flee. There was the US hostage crisis, and a series of humiliations for America.
There are many people in Washington today for whom Iran burns as unfinished business for America, the Hawks who would like to go back in and try again to change the regime.
Of course, Iran also has 10% of total global crude oil reserves, and Iran is refusing to rule out that it will go ahead and develop nuclear power stations.
The impatience with the rhetoric of Condoleezza Rice, who so far is talking the talk of a political moderate, has caused a flurry of irritation in the American press. In The Wall Street Journal last month a headline read:
When Dealing with Iran,
No Love, just Toughness.
Stan Correy: The No Love, Tough approach favoured by the Hawks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions has also revived another unpleasant historical memory for US foreign policy makers. Thirty years ago, when the Shah of Iran wanted to build nuclear power stations, there were no complaints from Gerald Ford’s Republican Administration. After Israel, Iran was America’s closest ally in the region and there were lucrative contracts to be had for American corporations.
The Washington Post reported last week:
Lacking direct evidence, Bush Administration officials argue that Iran’s nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said ‘They’re already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas, nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy.’ Yet Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, held key national security posts when the Ford Administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago. Iran, a US ally then, had deep pockets, and close ties to Washington.
Stan Correy: When stories like this surface in the Washington media, it’s a clear sign of the many conflicting views and fierce debates about Iran within the Bush Administration. Just what the Bush Administration is going to do about Iran is of intense interest around the world. The President himself had a bet both ways a few weeks ago.
George W. Bush: Iran is not Iraq. This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous.
Stan Correy: There was a pause, and then this:
George W. Bush: Having said that, all options are on the table.
Stan Correy: Such was the international consternation and the ambiguity of Bush’s throwaway comments, that Condoleezza Rice had to step in and calm things down.
Condoleezza Rice: The question is simply not on the agenda at this point in time. We have diplomatic means to do this. We believe, particularly in regard to the nuclear issue, that while no-one ever asked the American President to take all of his options, take any option off the table, that there are plenty of diplomatic means at our disposal to get the Iranians to finally live up to their international obligations.
Stan Correy: So what will happen about Iran? There’s ferment both inside and outside the country. While the mullahs inside are steadfast in their defiance and refusal to bow to American demands, they are themselves facing deep unrest from reformist movements within. The Middle East is in upheaval, with huge changes from Lebanon to Palestine, to Central Asia. North Korea is a dangerous mystery. Israel already has nuclear weapons.
There are several arms to American foreign policy, ranging from containment (that is, surrounding Iran in some way), to just bombing them into submission. Perhaps the Israelis will take out a nuclear facility just to show who’s boss. And then there’s diplomacy, and various covert operations. Something is almost certain to blow over Iran, it’s a matter of ‘Watch this Space’. Maybe, as you’ll hear, ‘industrial accidents do happen’.
Patrick Clawson: If the United States decides that it has to step up its pressure on Iran’s nuclear program, there are whole lots of rather nuanced things that can be done, well short of invading the country. "If there were to be a whole series of industrial accidents which incapacitated Iran’s program, well, that could have many advantages." For instance, containment and deterrence can take the form of an increased presence of US forces around Iran, pledges to come to the assistance of any country that’s threatened by Iran’s nuclear program. Helping regional countries acquire anti-missile systems to protect them against Iranian missiles, And even if it comes to using more direct force against Iran, there too, there are more nuanced things that can be done. For instance, the nuclear program is a highly sophisticated and complicated industrial process, and industrial accidents happen, and if in fact there were to be a whole series of industrial accidents which incapacitated Iran’s program, well, that could have many advantages.
Stan Correy: Patrick Clawson is one of the people quoted in Seymour Hersh’s famous scoop article in The New Yorker, about America’s covert operations in Iran. Clawson is very much a hawk, more likely to support Cheney and Rumsfeld than to support Condoleezza Rice.
Patrick Clawson also speaks Farsi, the language of Iran, and knows its history well.
Patrick Clawson: For about a century, Iranian nationalism was tied up with resentment about foreign influence: first British and Russian and their competition for controlling the country, and then American. But there’s been a very interesting shift in the last few years, so where so many ordinary Iranians who decided that there’s no way that they can bring about change in the government, are actually looking for some external saviour, who can come in and help change things, and have unrealistic expectations that outsiders can just wave this magic wand and solve all their problems, and hope that they will. I think that the American government is particularly aware after its experiences in Iraq, how hard it is in fact to do that, and how the determined opposition of a small minority can in fact cause instabilities; it causes the whole process of reconstruction after a regime change, to go completely off-whack, and then for ordinary people, to get sick and tired of these people when they initially changed the regime, many were initially happy with.
Stan Correy: Patrick Clawson says it would be wrong to describe the current Washington debate about foreign policy as a battle between the Neocons in the Defense Department, and the more diplomatic approach of Condoleezza Rice and the State Department.
Patrick Clawson: I think the debate is actually much richer and more nuanced than that. That it is, for instance the Defense Department is going to be interested in collecting lots of information about Iran’s nuclear program, and prepared to take risks about, for instance, using US covert operations teams in order to collect the information about Iran’s nuclear program. For instance, by introducing into Iran sensing devices, that will collect information. Whereas diplomats may be worried about what will happen if they get exposed. So the debate’s going to be more nuanced than a ‘Bomb them back to the Stone Age’ camp, and ‘Let’s bribe them into helping us’ camp.
Stan Correy: But the volume and polemics about Iran are hotting up. The ‘Bomb them back to the Stone Age’ faction is still around, and the ‘Bribe them to help us change the government’ faction is also alive and well.
Condoleezza Rice is on an immensely sensitive and wobbly tightrope. Things are not standing still inside Iran either.
Stan Correy: That’s the cheering as Iran gets a goal in the World Cup qualifying match in Teheran two weeks ago. Iran won against Japan, 2-1.
Five people died in crowd violence after the match. Iranian opposition groups and blogs based in the US, claimed that the crowd celebrations turned into anti-government demonstrations, with protesters chanting pro-American and anti-clerical slogans. This portrayal of crowd celebrations of football victories seems to confirm that Iran is next in line for the US-backed pro-democracy push in the region, and a ripe candidate for regime change.
Well what do people well-versed in Iranian politics think of what’s happening on the ground and what America might do.
Karim Sadjadpour is an analyst with the International Crisis Group, based in Teheran. I asked him via email if these demonstrations have been more intense than previous years because of the American campaign for democratisation in the Middle East.
Here’s a reading of his answer.
Karim Sadjadpour: Popular discontent in Iran is deep and pervasive, and will remain a constant. But there is little evidence to suggest that anti-government demonstrations are growing in intensity are posing a threat to the stability of the regime. Popular unrest has been sporadic and contained since the student-led protest in the Summer of 2003. I wouldn’t make any connection between the intensity of demonstration and America’s campaign for democracy in the region. In fact, the spontaneous post mass demonstrations were more intense in previous years.
Stan Correy: Background Briefing also telephoned Teheran to get more perspectives on how American pressure is affecting Iranian politics.
Ebrahim Yazdi is a former foreign minister in the early days of the Islamic revolution. He’s now planning to run for President of Iran in the next elections. He’d like the pro-democracy push in the Middle East and Iran to succeed. But he’s concerned that American pressure could be counter-productive.
Ebrahim Yazdi: Iran is feeling such a pressure, but however, in order to bring some democratisation in Iran, it has top come from inside, it has to be indigenous, it cannot be imported from the outside. "Any direct pressure that the United States is showing against the Iranian authorities, is counter-productive, because it will give an excuse to the rightists to suppress the freedom." But however, I have to say that any direct pressure that the United States is showing against the Iranian authorities, is counter-productive, because it will give an excuse to the rightists to suppress the freedom and the free election. And in the context of American pressure, I don’t think that this kind of policy that the Americans are pursuing, would help the cause of democracy in Iran.
Stan Correy: It’s possible that change may yet come from within. The Iranian film, ‘The Lizard’ is in circulation among the Iranian diaspora, and was shown in Iran.
Stan Correy: The film tells the story of the adventures of Reza, a petty criminal who escapes from jail disguised as a cleric. Once he’s on the outside, he finds being a cleric is not an occupation that ordinary Iranians admire. Afshin Molavi, an Iranian-American journalist, says that while the film is satirical, it’s a very accurate portrayal of how Iranians feel about the clerics who rule their land.
Afshin Molavi: Clerics have a very difficult time getting taxis to stop for them on the street. When I was in Iran, I would often see this sign, I would see a cleric standing on the side of the road, and I would see one taxi, two taxis, three, four, five, six, seven, eight taxis refusing to stop for this cleric. And finally one would stop and the cleric would get in. and I was in one of these taxis at one point, and it was a taxi that actually picked up people along the way, so it would pick up four or five people along the way. And there was a cleric who had his hand in the air, and the taxi stopped about 30 metres in front of him, and as the cleric approached the cab, the taxi driver gunned it and put it into gear and blew away, leaving the cleric in the dust fumes of his car. Frankly, I thought that wasn’t necessarily a nice thing for him to do, and I told him so. And he said, ‘Look, these guys have’ (and he had a very Persian saying) he said, ‘These guys have eaten enough, it’s time for them to run a little bit’. So there’s this extraordinary amount of anti-clericalism. This year, the best grossing film in Iran was a film called ‘The Lizard’, which was a highly satirical depiction of Iran’s clerical class, and the fact that it even made it into the cinema tells you something about Iran. It tells you that there are these civil society spaces that you can operate in. But it also tells you something that three to four weeks after it made it to the cinema, after it was sold out every night, after Iranians were talking about this all the time, the hardline clerics in power cut the lights on that film, and it was never shown again on Iranian cinema screens.
Stan Correy: Molavi is a former correspondent for The Washington Post. Like many Iranian-Americans, he’d like to see the end of the clerical rule in Iran. But Molavi feels the goodwill of many ordinary Iranians towards America could disappear if the Bush Administration forgets the lessons of history.
Afshin Molavi: I think what we could have is another generation growing up similar to that 1953-1979 generation, as a generation who thought highly of America and then was disillusioned and embittered by America. But one thing that’s interesting is that there is this sense that America has to do something. America must either invade, or America must engage, or America must offer economic incentives. But my own view is that a policy of relatively benign neglect, could achieve the same goals of regime change as a policy of aggressive efforts at promoting regime change. And the reason I say that is because of the demographics. Two-thirds of Iran’s population is under the age of 30 as I said; half are under the age of 21. This is a population that is widely discontented, widely disillusioned. Iran now has 70-million people. In the year 2020, Iran’s going to have a population of 120-million people, with 100-million people either not born or unwitting children at the time of the revolution. This generation is going to change the system in Iran, with or without the United States.
Stan Correy: In Washington, the debates swirl on. How to win the centuries-old battles of the Middle East, the battles for oil, for strategic presence and for hearts and minds.
David Rothkopf: The sense among many of the transformationalists is that you can’t win in the Middle East without producing change in Iran, and in all likelihood producing change in Syria. The likelihood that the United States goes and wages a military campaign against either one of those States is fairly limited by the fact that we’re already quite overstretched in terms of our resources in Iraq, and the situation there is not all tied up. Were the situation to stabilise further in Iraq, those States might be a little bit more risk. But I think for now the Bush Administration would like to see international pressure brought to bear, and I think they think they have a card to play, and that is that the whole world, including their opponents in the Arab world, and the people who opposed them in Europe, believe that the Bush Administration is capable of acting alone, capable of flying in the face of world opinion, capable of imposing their will in a way that is destructive and forceful, and consequently when they jawbone about what kind of activities they’re likely to do, people listen in a different way. So even if you’re the most ardent opponent of the policies of the Bush Administration, you have to acknowledge that at least for the moment, they’ve got somewhat more leverage, because frankly, the world has seen them follow through on their rhetoric.
Stan Correy: But, says David Rothkopf, there’s a long way to go before anyone, the hawks or the moderates, can say they know the best way forward.
David Rothkopf: The history of the Middle East over the course of the past couple of thousand years, is one of unending instability. It is the height of narcissism to suggest that because we take action now, we are going to solve the problems that have bedevilled this region throughout history. We are not addressing underlying cultural issues, we have not yet addressed tribalism, we have not yet addressed the lack of education for men and especially for women, we have not yet addressed the inability of the masses of young people there to be trained so that they can be competitive in the global economy. These are the things that ultimately are going to contribute to stability in this part of the world, and only if we advance in those areas, will the transformationalist legacy be the one that they want. But right now, things are looking good enough that they’re able to say to their critics, ‘You said it wasn’t possible, and it is possible.’ And for them right now, that’s enough.
Stan Correy: Condoleezza Rice believes she has something new to offer. So far she’s employed the weapon of mass democracy as a diplomatic bargaining chip. And the shift from the rhetoric of armed intervention to public diplomacy has helped the Bush administration. Especially after the bad news of the Iraq insurgency, and intelligence failures of weapons of mass destruction.
In Nashville last year, talking to graduating students, Condi told them, ‘Forget the images of bombs and tanks. It’s a war of ideas. Go forth and spread the word about the vision of American democracy.
Condoleezza Rice: With all of the images of troops and tanks and military operations, it’s hard to remember that this is primarily a war of ideas, not armies. It will be won by visionaries who can look past the moment, see a world in which freedom is not only the birthright of all, but a reality for all, and who will work to make that day come true. Liberty is forgiving of many feelings, but it forgives neither apathy, nor neglect. Its continued health makes demands on us all, and its greatest victories are won over decades. "With all of the images of troops and tanks and military operations, it’s hard to remember that this is primarily a war of ideas, not armies." It took America centuries to get to where we are today, a fact that should make us humble as well as hopeful. When the Founding Fathers said ‘We the people’, they didn’t mean me. My ancestors were considered three-fifths of a man, but we’ve made great strides. Our democracy is still a work in progress, not a finished product. The hard work begins anew each day, and there is plenty of work to do. Congratulations, roll up your sleeves, and let the work begin. Thank you.
Stan Correy: Background Briefing’s Co-ordinating Producer is Angus Kingston. Webmaster is Paul Bolger. Thanks to Mansour Razaghi for research and translations, and also to Jason Racki in ABC Washington. Our Executive Producer is Kirsten Garrett. I’m Stan Correy, and you’re listening to ABC Radio National.
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