The Current Discussion: With the U.S. presidential primary season in full swing, there's a lot of talk here about "change" vs. "competence" in leadership. Which does your country have more of? Is that a good thing?
The U.S. presidential primaries are mind-numbing for most foreigners. It appears to be a media jamboree and a quest to get a 30-second clip out of a day’s worth of talk, discussion and speeches. And the most baffling part is that it is a process very different from the actual job of presiding over a powerful and complex country.
When trying to explain the process to a novice, it is as confusing and difficult as explaining the sport of American football. An ordinary football (soccer) fan in the rest of the world is perplexed about different groups of players that come on and off the field. Why the three hours of stop-and-go and how is it that the clock runs on some occasions, but stops on others? Why are there different referees and judges on the field? What is the purpose of those cheerleaders, mascots and massive loads of statistics in a blurring, high energy discussion? Moreover, why do Americans call that oddly-shaped object “the ball,” which is usually a round object elsewhere in the world? Nevertheless, it is a uniquely American event. It is best left to Americans to find their own definitions of change or yardsticks for competence. All can be shrugged off -- live and let live!
It is refreshing to see more debate and dialogue, even though the American political spectrum is narrow. Slowly, a greater awareness about other continents seems to have started a glacial move forward, but the bias continues to be firmly stuck in a virtual world and a few shallow one-liners set the theme: Iraq, 9/11, China, India, Al-Qaeda, the catch-all vague reference to “the economy” mixed with jazz, jive and jabs at personalities (and not policies) of the opponent in an atmosphere of celebrity culture. Have any of the candidates realized that some 3 million people in Gaza had no food, medicine, power or fuel-- in a region where a million taxpayer dollars are spent every minute? A fair observer might frame this talk of change and the gauntlet of competence within a struggle for relevance.
The world is always changing. Former blood enemies of France, Germany and Britain convened in London yesterday to work out a common economic understanding about the recession that is staring them in the face. The state visit of the Greek prime minister to Ankara is another sign of change in this region. Ditto for warmer relations between Iran and its Sunni neighbor and official visits of Iranian and Egyptian politicians.
And what does change mean for Iran? Historically, we are in change central and in the middle of a cyclone mixed with a tsunami in a tough neighborhood! Over the last 29 years, Iran has been the epicenter of change in politics and doctrines, anti-democratic foreign pressure aside. No part of Iranian commerce, social structures, industry and agriculture, stem cell research or demographics resembles the 1970s or the Iran of 1950s preferred by the U.S. Alas, we have not stopped learning basic science against the decreed wishes of Bush, “The Decider.”
Are Iranians different from American, Swedish, Japanese or Argentines? Hardly. As stakeholders in their society, and following their own traditions and customs, there are many voices in Iran within a wide spectrum of approval, dissent and other opinions, views, proffered solutions, mild suggestions or harsh reflexive feelings. And like Americans, they all crave change for the better and a more dignified tomorrow. Absurd calls for unconditional capitulation by Iranians merely amplify the struggle for relevance of daydreamers who tend to talk before they think. They ought to remind themselves that the world has changed -- a lot. They should also recall that the use of a nuclear bomb and Hirohito’s surrender to an American soldier was a one-time event in history. Nations in the global village, especially those with millennia of history behind them, are mature and competent enough to make their own choices and define their own versions of self-government. But only if they are left alone to live and let live!
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