ESSAY- Mutual respect? Iran gets but never gives

While the focus last week was on the failure of President Obama's campaigning to help Democratic candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, a much more important presidential issue was taking place on the other side of the world. With the beatings of Iran's pro-democracy demonstrators while that country's supreme leader was totally rejecting President Obama's overtures, we were witnessing the destruction of the president's "audacity of hope" foreign policy on our own election day. 

Calling negotiating with the United States "naïve and perverted" even after several personal messages from Obama, the 70-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei– whose word is both political and religious law in Iran–- demanded that Iranian politicians not be "deceived" by American good will at the same moment that Democrats were discovering the president has lost his coattails and Khamenei's security forces were yielding batons and tear gas on a few hundred, and maybe thousand, demonstrators still holding out hope over last spring's questionable Iranian election.

 With wishes of engaging Iranian powers, like Khamenei, President Obama had expressed only lukewarm support for those pro-democracy demonstrators when they numbered in the hundreds of thousands and before many of them were jailed and murdered. Even as Khamenei spoke, demonstrators were being beaten and the Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey were emerging victorious, the president said he still wanted "the U.S. and Iran to move beyond suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation" and is still seeking a "relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect."

In thumbing its nose at President Obama's continuous outreach, it's almost as if the Iranian government is doing everything possible to prove President Bush's claim that the country is a member of the "axis of evil." Bush's confrontational approach, however, did little to alter Iranian behavior, and President Obama's appeasement method is obviously failing in both word and deed.

Besides the attack on demonstrators, Iranian negotiators backed away from the deal to ship low-level uranium abroad for processing into fuel for a research reactor– instead of keeping it handy for a potential Iranian nuclear bomb– and Israel reported capturing 600 tons of Iranian arms shipped in violation of the U.N. embargo.

Just before we went to the polls, meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received scorn from Arabs for not aggressively confronting Israel when Israel agreed to limit, not completely halt, settlements in the West Bank as a pre-condition to resuming talks. Instead of taking the opportunity to get back into negotiations, the Arab governments turned their backs on the only true democracy in the Middle East– and on U.S. diplomacy in the process.

After the election, demonstrators in Pakistan blamed not the Taliban or al-Queda for two bombings– and 130 dead– in a women's and children's market in Peshawar, shouting instead that America was forcing Muslims to murder themselves.

Meanwhile, after pushing "our man in Kabul" into a run-off he didn't want, the administration spent the week after his challenger dropped out trying to legitimize Afghanistan's initial election which we had loudly claimed was fraudulent.

At the same time, President Obama can't decide between two bad options to produce an Afghan policy while his pull-out of Iraq is stalling due to fears that that country will crumble into an all-out, three-sided civil war.

Wouldn't it be great if, like Pontius Pilate, President Obama had the option of simply washing his hands of the Middle East?

But he doesn't. The Middle East is where the oil is. And we Americans use the oil like nobody's business.

With 4.5 percent of the world's population, we annually burn 26 percent of the world's petroleum production, most in our personal cars and trucks. With our 251 million vehicles, we also produce 45 percent of the world's automotive greenhouse emissions. 

It really doesn't make any difference who wins the gubernatorial elections– or even the presidential elections. Until we individual Americans begin thinking beyond our gasoline tanks, we are dooming our children to generations of confrontations and failures in the most volatile region of the world. To paraphrase the Bible, "there will be resource wars and rumors of resource wars" until we get a handle on our driving of 2.9 trillion miles annually.

As President Obama is unfortunately proving, there is no policy that works for an addict trying to appease the wishes of his crazed dealer.

Thank God– or Allah– that the Saudi Arabian dictatorship right now is fairly happy to quietly rake in hundreds of billions in oil revenue instead of opening its repressive society to international scrutiny. If that changes, we'll see President Obama, ala President Bush, holding hands with the Saudi king.


A former journalism teacher at Virginia Union University, Randy Salzman is a transportation researcher who lives in Charlottesville and writes about transportation when his transportation ideas aren't being written about.