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Communication Breakdown

I just read an online article by Barbara Slavin in this morning’s Washington Times; EXCLUSIVE; U.S. contacted Iran’s ayatolla before election

At one level, it’s an interesting story about Obama’s letter of outreach to Khamenei, (conveyed by the Swiss ambassador  — because formal diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States don’t officially exist –) in which the Supreme Leader of Iran found doubletalk.

The intent of the mid-May letter (according to an Iranian with knowledge of the overture) was to present the prospect of “cooperation in regional and bilateral relations” and a resolution of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. 

The letter was delivered about a month in advance of the disputed June 12th re-election of President Ahmadinejad; an election result that has led to massive, widespread Iranian citizen protest in the streets, the deaths of at least 17 protestors, and  “a violent crackdown on demonstrators by Iranian security forces.”

The letter isn’t quoted in the article, but Ayatollah Khamenei found both an Obama invitation to significant improvement in Iranian/American relations AND a threat that American agents in Iran would use the election-event as a pretext to incite the Iranian people to riot.  From his recent sermon:

“On the one hand, they [the Obama administration] write a letter to us to express their respect for the Islamic Republic and for re-establishment of ties, and on the other hand they make these remarks. Which one of these remarks are we supposed to believe? Inside the country, their agents were activated. Vandalism started. Sabotaging and setting fires on the streets started. Some shops were looted. They wanted to create chaos. Public security was violated. The violators are not the public or the supporters of the candidates. They are the ill-wishers, mercenaries and agents of the Western intelligence services and the Zionists.”

The primary story reads like a communications clusterfuck, but additionally, nearly all of the people Barbara Slavin interviewed wished to remain anonymous. 

Something (I don’t understand) must motivate  “a senior Obama administration official” to confirm the existence of the midMay letter, while refusing to confirm the possibility of a letter in response.

“Past U.S. efforts to engage Iran have foundered, in part because the overture was addressed to Iran’s president rather than the supreme leader. This was the case in the late 1990s when then-President Clinton wrote a letter to then-President Mohammed Khatami seeking cooperation against terrorism in the aftermath of a bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans. The 1996 bombing at Khobar Towers, thought to have been committed by Iran-backed Saudi Shi’ites, took place before Mr. Khatami took office.”

Is it just me? 

The history of Iran/U.S. failures to communicate seem to suggest special effort be invested in doing better.  While it may not be entirely relevant, I think there also needs to be a dialing-down of the number of  anonymous sources, unconfirmed reports and unaccountable, semi-transparent leaks of meaningful information that dribbles out of journalism.

If the press can still perform its function (as the fourth [and most citizen-informative] branch of government) the transparency and accountability of news stories seems in desperate need of profound refurbishment. 

For starters, I’d really like the Obama administration to invite the press to hold their anonymous sources to a significantly higher standard of responsibility for information leaked to journalists.  If the information imparted is valuable, then the reasons to obscure identities, protect careers and cover vulnerable butts suggest that a fundamental improvement in the laws governing the exchange of inside information have to be Target One enroute to a meaningful exercise in governmental transparency and accountability.  Unscrupulous journalism and coercive interrogation very vaguely define similar practices.  I think the restoration of the American democracy requires important repairs to the ways we gather and distribute information necessary to properly-informed voters.

Just to drop the other shoe (in a well that might be bottomless):


Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Obama administration would do better to “avoid any talk of engagement” with Iran until the outcome of the current political ferment is clearer.  The fact is, we will by necessity engage, but not at the moment,” he said. “I don’t think we want to suggest it will be business as usual, regardless of the outcome” of the political struggle in Iran.”

Patrick Clawson, an Iran specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Obama’s tougher remarks on Tuesday showed that he understands that “the prospects for a successful engagement are declining.”

 The article ends with the portentous remarks of people who went on record.  I think that’s a nifty step in an appropriate direction. 

The thing is, that I have no proof that the Ayatollah is definitively incorrect in his professed belief that American covert agents initiated these protests. 

We’ve entered an age in which faith in the lowest, meanest, most-unethical practices of adversaries is to be expected.  Likewise, my faith in government functionaries and the journalists who interview them needs to be refreshed.

24 Jun 09 - Posted by | Uncategorized


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