It was little more than a week ago that the US seemed on the verge of bombing Syria, an action that threatened to spread to Iran and thus open yet another front in the perpetual war against Muslim countries. This was something that was hoped for by the neoconservatives, the liberal war hawks, Israel and its US lobby, and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that thrive on instability and chaos.
But amazingly we seem to have retreated from that precipice. It seems highly unlikely that the drive to attack Syria can be resurrected and the possibility of an attack on Iran seems even more remote. What is more, there seems to be an active effort to create a rapprochement between the US and Iran, something that is long overdue.
The new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani even had an op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday appealing for engagement and dialogue rather than saber-rattling and unilateral uses of brute force. In it, he said:
We must pay attention to the complexities of the issues at hand to solve them. Enter my definition of constructive engagement. In a world where global politics is no longer a zero-sum game, it is — or should be — counterintuitive to pursue one’s interests without considering the interests of others. A constructive approach to diplomacy doesn’t mean relinquishing one’s rights. It means engaging with one’s counterparts, on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect, to address shared concerns and achieve shared objectives. In other words, win-win outcomes are not just favorable but also achievable. A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone’s loss.
Sadly, unilateralism often continues to overshadow constructive approaches. Security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences. More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc. Syria, a jewel of civilization, has become the scene of heartbreaking violence, including chemical weapons attacks, which we strongly condemn. In Iraq, 10 years after the American-led invasion, dozens still lose their lives to violence every day. Afghanistan endures similar, endemic bloodshed.
The unilateral approach, which glorifies brute force and breeds violence, is clearly incapable of solving issues we all face, such as terrorism and extremism. I say all because nobody is immune to extremist-fueled violence, even though it might rage thousands of miles away. Americans woke up to this reality 12 years ago.
My approach to foreign policy seeks to resolve these issues by addressing their underlying causes. We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart. We must also pay attention to the issue of identity as a key driver of tension in, and beyond, the Middle East.
In an interview with NBC News, Rouhani denied that Iran has any ambitions to manufacture nuclear weapons and revealed that he and Obama had exchanged letters in which the tone was “positive and constructive” and gave Obama some cover from those who have accused him of looking weak for not attacking Syria.
Asked whether he thought Obama looked weak when he backed off the air-strike threat, Rouhani replied, “We consider war a weakness. Any government or administration that decides to wage a war, we consider a weakness. And any government that decides on peace, we look on it with respect to peace.”
There seems to be a good chance that president Obama and Rouhani may even meet next week on the sidelines during the UN General Assembly. The leaders of the two countries have not met since the US embassy takeover in 1979. The French president will also meet with Rouhani.
These are all positive developments that I hope will not be derailed by those who seek war between the two countries.