What’s an Iranian to do?

Bill Clinton returns from North Korea with two American reporters who’ve been released from captivity.  I’m happy that the two reporters are coming home safely.

But let’s not forget how well this plays out for Kim Jong-Il.  In another blog entry, about an underground nuclear test, I had this to say about North Korea:

“The brinksmanship games that North Korea plays only feed the mythology propagated throughout the North Korean populace.  The six-party talks are characterized in such a way that renowned nations such as South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States, all come crawling to North Korea on hands and knees begging for some small concessions.  Sometimes the North Koreans indulge the petty requests of those beggars, and sometimes not.  See how the current methods of dealing with North Korea only enable them?”

Did you notice how it appeared that the former President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, came crawling  to North Korea on hands and knees begging for the release of the reporters?  This is fantastic propaganda for North Korea.  Kim Jong-Il gets to appear magnanimous in indulging Bill Clinton’s “petty” request, because the North Korean population has already been convinced that the two reporters were spies deserving of a harsh criminal sentence.  That Kim Jong-Il can just let the two “spies” walk away communicates to the North Koreans that they have no need to fear us and our trivial attempts at espionage, but that they are feared, even by the United States, who whimperingly must acknowledge that North Korea had the upper hand.

I don’t begrudge Clinton or Obama any bump in the polls that result from the good news of the reporters’ release.   However, what concessions did we gain from North Korea on other fronts?  We just singlehandedly helped the smooth transition of power from Kim Jong-Il to his successor, when a turbulent transition would have given us much more leverage.

The leverage we have lost is not just leverage with North Korea.  We continue to lose leverage all over the globe.

We’ve allowed the Russians to cavort with the Venezuelans, carrying out joint military exercises in our own hemisphere.  Did Kennedy allow the Russians to cavort with Cuba in our own hemisphere?  Did Reagan allow the Russians to cavort with Grenada in our own hemisphere?  Russian attack submarines are prowling the ocean close enough to our Eastern Seaboard that we’ve had to keep a close eye on them.  South Ossetia is attempting to make false claims again about being disturbed by Georgia, with Russian “peacekeepers” set to wreak havoc in Georgia all over again.  The Russians are toying with us.  Obama is Carter to them.

Mexican drug gangs have no respect for our borders, and take hostages with impunity both here and in Mexico.  Are our enforcement efforts against illegal immigration slackening?  Are we slackening in our interdiction of the drug trade?  Why do these Mexican thugs have no fear of us?  Why do they toy with us?

And what about Iran?  They have three Americans in custody now who hiked into their territory from the Kurdish-dominated region of Iraq.  Did we have grand goals in mind of what major concessions we might be able to leverage from Iran?  If so, have our goals now shrunk down to securing the release of three Americans?  Haven’t we played this game already?  Didn’t we just exert political capital to release an American journalist from Iran?  Today, we get release of two journalists from North Korea, with nothing else immediately gained on that front, and, for an encore, will we be groveling for the release of three more Americans from Iran?

How many people live in Israel that continue to be threatened by Iran’s provocations?  How many people live in America and in the West that may be drawn into warfare over Iran’s continued provocations?  How many people live in Iran who are threatened with surveillance, arrest, torture, and death because they voted for a reformist candidate who gave them hope of living in a nation that wasn’t going to continue the provocations that put Iran on a collision coarse with war against the West?  Are we going to let millions of people down by squandering our political capital on 3 captive Americans?

I had an internet chat with an Iranian many weeks ago.  The Iranian and I have had multiple online chats over time.  The Iranian has been alarmed by the warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which border Iran.  The Iranian wants peace.  The Iranian doesn’t want war to come to Iran the way it did to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Iranian understood that the current government has been provoking the West.  The Iranian was ready to vote for a change of leadership.

During our chats, we’ve often been in disagreement with each other.  The Iranian had believed that the American journalist was, indeed, a spy, because a confession had been broadcast.  I disagreed.

I voted for John McCain.  The Iranian disagreed.  The Iranian was flabbergasted to learn of my vote for McCain.  The Iranian thought I should have voted for Barack Obama.  To the Iranian, McCain would surely plunge headlong into war with Iran, while Obama surely signaled that he would not do so, and that there would be peace for Iran once a new, reformist government was voted into office in Iran.

Very recently, for the first time since the Iranian elections, I had another chat with the Iranian.  This time, there was no disagreement.  I expressed my deepest sympathies as the Iranian told chilling tales of surveillance, of violence against those who wanted reform, of arrests, and of deaths while in government custody.  The Iranian sees that there was no intention on the part of the government to hold a fair election.  The Iranian sees that “confessions” of dastardly plots are coerced from fellow citizens who have done nothing wrong.  Every time the Iranian joins with others to take to the streets to  show support for reform, they are clamped down upon by the current government.  More terrifying than the clampdowns on assembling in the streets, though, are the interruptions in communications, with cell phone use interrupted, websites being blocked, even huge websites like Yahoo.  It’s terrifying because it demonstrates how much control the government has over everything.  The Iranian feels that leading a religion and simultaneously leading a nation are incompatible tasks.

What more can an ordinary Iranian citizen do to change the course of a nation?  It’s a question that was posed to me, but all I could do was listen and acknowledge.  I had no suggestion, and I find that heart-breaking.  I worry for the Iranian’s safety.

And so I wonder, with so much at stake in the world at large, will America be toyed with?  Will America enable these malevolent regimes?  Will Obama be content with the bump in popularity polls he gets from securing the release of captive Americans, while peace-loving Iranians die?

Will we see a revolving door of hostage crises, so that all we can do is tread water as we focus on releasing captives?  Will malevolent leaders ever get the message that America is a force to be reckoned with and we won’t be toyed with anymore?

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