President Obama’s message to the people of Iran left me puzzled. What was its purpose?
Taken at face value, the message was an attempt to induce the Iranian public to press its leaders to accept a nuclear deal. But Obama knows that the Iranian public has no say on the matter. Obama is naive about foreign affairs, but not that naive.
Eli Lake suggests a better explanation. Iran, he notes, has a “legitimacy problem.” Deep down, Ayatollah Khamenei must realize that millions of his own people quietly loathe him. Thus, he demands the legitimacy he lacks at home from the outside.
By pretending that the Iranian people have a say in the nuclear negotiations, Obama publicly buys into the notion that the regime isn’t the tyranny we know it to be. Obama’s message is, in effect, a form of appeasement.
I assume that the message was also addressed to the American public. Here, Obama’s purpose probably was his usual one — to take cheap shots and score political points. Obama intones that “there are people in both our countries and beyond who oppose a diplomatic resolution.” Thus, he not so subtly places Republicans and the Israelis in the same camp as Iranian hard liners. Never mind that both Republicans and Prime Minister Netanyahu are on record as favoring a diplomatic resolution, assuming the deal is favorable.
Finally, in looking for Obama’s purpose, we should not discount the extent to which he likes the sound of his own voice, especially when it’s addressed to foreigners, and above all when he’s showing off his mastery of exotic pronunciations (if you can stand to watch his address you will see what I mean).
The downside of the address from Obama’s standpoint is that it becomes part of the historical record. As I listened to it, I wondered whether 20 years from now it will be viewed as the multicultural version of Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” sound bite, with bad poetry thrown in.