To George With Love From Mahmoud


Iran & North Korea


Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has sent a letter to President George W Bush. The letter outlines "the Iranian nation’s views and comments on international issues as well as suggestions for resolving the many problems facing humanity" according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) of Iran. The United States has swiftly and unequivocally rejected the letter:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice swiftly rejected the letter, saying it didn’t resolve questions about Tehran’s suspect nuclear program.

"This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort," Rice told The Associated Press. "It isn’t addressing the issues that we’re dealing with in a concrete way."

The Bush Administration reacted predictably to this letter from Iran. Thus, in one calculated and nuanced gambit the Iranian Government has isolated the United States diplomatically.

I am reminded of similar letters from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to President John F. Kennedy at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy’s handling of the letters from Khrushchev stands today as a triumph of diplomacy and demonstrates the power of effective diplomacy in resolving high stakes conflicts. Kennedy understood what this Administration appears not to grasp: that the need for communication is greatest at times when the crisis is at its most severe. Kennedy outmaneuvered Khrushchev by ignoring the belligerent tone of one of Khrushchev’s letters and addressing the conciliatory tone of another. In effect, Kennedy offered Khrushchev a stark choice: either war or a face saving climb down from war. Khrushchev as we all know now chose the only real option available to him.

Like Kennedy, today this Administration is confronted with a similar letter. Iran’s letter should be viewed as an opportunity by the United States. Iran has sent the letter to the United States in an attempt to gain the diplomatic upper hand in this conflict. Regardless of the content or motivation of the letter, it will be seen around the world as an olive branch from the Government of Iran. It is an opening and an invitation for the United States to open back channel communications with Iran. The Bush Administration should seize upon this opportunity by responding diplomatically and directly to Iran. Doing so has two primary benefits. First, it denies Iran the diplomatic upper hand. It shows that the United States is prepared to resolve this matter diplomatically. A positive response by Washington isolates Iran in any future escalation of this crisis. Second, the letter should be viewed as the first step in resolving this crisis diplomatically. The Bush Administration should take advantage of this letter and use it as a springboard for the opening of direct talks with Iran. This crisis with Iran will either be solved diplomatically or through violence. It is in the interest of the United States that this issue is resolved diplomatically.

Diplomacy is a tool that the United States must maintain in its arsenal. Diplomacy is called for most when dealing with states that are hostile to the interests of the United States. Diplomacy is not a game that is only played amongst friends. The goal of diplomacy is the imposition of one’s will on one’s adversary. In that, diplomacy and war have similar goals. There is little room for diplomacy if the governing doctrine of the United States will continue to be "us" versus "them" and any dialogue with "them" is seen as weakness. It is the "them" that we most need to engage and in doing so outmaneuver "them". Engaging the enemy in diplomacy is not a sign of weakness but of strength. The Bush Administration would do well to remember that before it is further isolated on the world stage.

It appears that Iran has won this diplomatic battle. There will be many more to come. If the United States and President Bush are serious about resolving this crisis diplomatically, it must start practicing the craft. Sitting in one corner like an indignant school boy and complaining how evil Iran is only isolates the United States further and helps strengthen Iran’s position in the crisis.

The United States has been given a choice: war or diplomacy. There really is only one viable choice. Whether the Bush Administration will choose wisely remains in great doubt.

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25 Responses to To George With Love From Mahmoud

  1. Doug says:

    The U.S. rarely wins a diplomatic battle. There is little or no concrete foreign policy in this or any other administration since WWII (and even then there were many flaws in FDR’s foreign policy). I do believe the Kennedy administration was more lucky than good in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Strength is played deftly in diplomacy — or it becomes brutish and resented by others. The U.S. does not understand this.

    The political powers in Iran understand the advantage of the “underdog” — you can saber-rattle all you want without consequences. The superpowers do not have that luxury.

  2. James says:

    Well, actually, the reason US diplomacy has failed in the last several decades is due to the fact administrations (most republican), have chosen diplomacy at the end of a sword, not through normal channels.

    As for using diplomacy dealing with “Ahmamadindehead”, that is the only shot Bush has. Why?

    No military to use on them. Allies against us going after them. All credibility lost after the screw up in Iraq, etc.

    Bush is running scared now. And it is of his own doing.

  3. James says:

    Sorry, “Ah-ma-mad-in-de-head” for all you reading impaired.

  4. dude says:

    doug and james, what i want to know is, where the hell are the rest of the level headed clear sighted men of global perspective like the two of you?

    i’ve been on forums where they are still arguing vehemently that the police action, or is it a conflict, or is it a war by errorists, i forget which this one is supposed to be, aka iraq fiasco 2.0, has been a total success and we are all safe in our beds.

    iran, unlike its neighbours, is fiercely independant minded, and has a tremendous sense of identity, historical and otherwise, dont believe me, just call an iranian an arab, and see what their reaction is like. given this, treating them like children to be pushed around is a collassal mistake. they are likely to do and say and do some more really stupid things if they think they are being pressured, or bullied, as we have seen so far.

    hows about trying to treat them with a bit of respect, as unpalatable as their current regime may be to the int’l community, and see what results. sometimes, pressure and being cornered will turn a anxious man into an angry and afraid man, and then furthe pushing will turn him into a madman.

    PS: on the other hand, i think this guy is playing to get something, what i dont know, but he aint no s.h., and he has men with long beards behind him pushing as well.

  5. Ingrid says:

    “I am with you fellas” (O brother where art thou) Or better put, where are the ‘thous’?
    Mash, that was an excellent piece. You need to give Dude his discount or whatever it is you’d do because I am here because of him.
    I hope that my brain pieces will fall back in place again because I can only hope to soon be writing like my old self. I love your analysis and I believe that the WSJ today actually mirrored your sentiments as far as, this letter is only a ruse in order to waylay the US in getting China and Russia (and Germany) on board for their proposed sanctions.
    As for this brain thing of mine, sleep deprived for a good 2 1/2 yrs and I am still recuperating. Or interrupted (she said as my supposed to be biking in the porch toddler found her at the computer)…yes dear..I am coming…

  6. dude says:

    ingrid… ~o) is what you needs..

    and me, i just connect, the others, they transfer the info… one day, i hope to have 8 hrs of nonstop sleep… i spent an entire sleepless night on monday… i am strapping a pillow to my head, in the off chance i just drop, this way, i can avoid concussion, as well as be prepared to get some snooze time… :))(:|@-)8-}

  7. Mash says:

    dude, beware the longbeards. When I was growing up in Bangladesh the joke about folks with long beards was that the devil was nesting in their beards. :d

    Ingrid, I was just listening to the WSJ reporter on NPR basically dismissing the letter because its content did not contain an substantive proposal. But I think that is missing the point. This letter is like a “Hello” at the beginning of a long conversation. Its now up to the US to say “Hello” back. But it looks like that won’t happen if I understand Dr. Rice correctly.

    As for the letter’s intended effect, Jefferson Morley has the world roundup. The only quibble I have is that Morley thinks the response in the world is surprising.

    As for sleep, you are preaching to the choir, my 5 year old has decided her Mom does not need sleep.

  8. James says:

    Yes, it is surprising that the rest of the world is not as insane and out for blood like Bush and his administration.

    The thing is, none of this is surprising. Im a mad in the head, although a tad looney, is showing something to the world: he is a much better statesman than Bush.

    Of course, a wet towel is a better statesman than Bush..

  9. Mash says:

    James, its “Ah-ma-mad-in-de-head” :d

  10. Ingrid says:

    My gosh Mash, before your wife goes loony, call in the Nanny if you have to! I don’t want to revisit the nights of getting up two times or three within a 7 to 8 hour time span. And Dude, coffee only works for so long, the brain just needs that deep sleep.

    I agree with you Mash that they are totally missing the point. They say hello and we say, “where have you been?? What is it I hear about you getting ready to nuke Israel? Are you nuts? Here, have a coffee. And a biscotti. Really, it’s totally kosher I mean..did I say kosher? Hey, come back..sooorry.. I just came from another meeting with the you know who’s…argh..(goshdarnit)..”

  11. dude says:

    you people are getting 7-8hrs of SLEEP!!!


    the joke i heard was they ran out of brains, so they put caps on them and a long beard to keep their wagging chins warm…

    but i only lived ther 2.5 years…

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  14. Laila says:

    The letter marked the anniversary of prophet Mohammad’s letters to world leaders to announce his new religion and his new book (Koran) before he started on his Islamic empire building adventure and the following Islamic Conquest of Persia by the Arabs. This letter was not meant to open a dialogue with the US.

    Here is my friends letter to Ahmadinejad:

    My letter to Ahmadinejad
    A letter I would have written on behalf of President Bush

    May 9, 2006

    As many of you know, Ahmadinejad has recently sent a letter to President Bush discussing, amongst other things, the occupation of Palestine, nuclear technology, the war in Iraq, all of which with references to the teachings of Christ and Moses. Just by reading the letter it is clear that its message objective was not intended for reapproachment. I’m not even sure if it was intended to sincerely guide Bush.

    Thus, one is left with two alternative objectives: 1) its either intended to mock the US president and point out inconsistencies in his policy and faith, or 2) intended to articulate Ahmadinejad’s policy position to the Western word, by which the letter was simply intended to fan the media. I’m intended to believe in the latter position then the former, although both objectives clearly could have been in mind.

    That being put aside, here’s a letter I would have written on behalf of President Bush:

    Dear President Ahmadinejad,

    Thank you very much for your lengthy letter. For the sake of argument lets say that everything you say is true. Lets admit that the my administration has committed the crimes in which you have mentioned. My question to you, is how this justifies the repression of human rights and democracy in which your administration, your government and your supporters actively engage in.

    You say that you are a peace-loving man. You campaigned for greater social freedoms. And yet your government represses the very people which seek to make it grow. Is there any doubt that had your government allowed a fair and free election wherein over 95% of electoral candidates would not have been vetted due to their disagreements with your conservative establishment, that there is no doubt whatsoever that you would not be sitting as President today.

    Why do your youth flock toward my country for education and opportunity? Why do your youth seek greater freedoms and state their love for American values? Why do your youth continously object toward your regime? You attack my government’s foreign policy and I thank you for that. But is it not ironic that if someone in your country had leveled the same criticism against your government as you have done against mine, that they would have been tortured and sent to jail.

    Is it not ironic that had someone in your society openly attacked your government for human rights abuses and for not comporting with the religious values you assume to possess, that they would be sitting in Evin and possibly facing the death penalty as was the case with Saleh Nikbakht, Akbar Ganji, and now possibly Ramin Jahanbegloo? If I was to write the names of all those who have been innocently tortured and imprisoned by your government and under your leadership the pages would exceed number of pages devoted toward outlining your revolution.

    President Ahmadinejad, your opponents, your dissidents, and your critics have been heralded as heros. Is that not the greatest testament to the atrocities so many feel are being committed by your regime?

    I ask you, was it not Prophet Mohammad who preached tolerance for people of different faiths? And yet your government continues to disenfranchise, torture, and discriminate against Bahais? Was it not the Prophet who emphasized the importance of free speech and thought? And yet countless newspapers have been shut down, numerous bloggers and journalists have been imprisoned, and your intellectuals are being silenced and beaten.

    Was it not Prophet Mohammad who called for humility, compassion, and forgiveness? And yet children face the death penalty in your country. Was it the Prophet Mohammad who called for free exercise of religion? And yet your government compels the practice of religion, interpreted by a authoritarian few.

    Lastly, was it not the Prophet Mohammad who emphasized equality between the sexes? And yet your women are treated as second-class citizens. Can one be a follower of the Prophet Mohammad, the great Messenger of God, while committing and condoning these atrocities?

    Once again, thank you for your comments. Your letter reflects the same “azadi” of thought and opinion which the world only waits and hopes your government will fully recognize and deliver to your people.

    May peace be with you,

    President George W. Bush,
    United States of America

    On Who Ahmad-Jihad is:

  15. mitra says:

    My friends letter to Ahmadinejad:

    On who is Ahmadinejad: (Ahmadinejad recruits 15- year old boys and girls as suicide bombers everytime he give a speech in a poor rural area in Iran)

    In case you’ve all forgotten, Iran is the main terror state as designated by the State Department.

  16. Mash says:

    Mitra and Laila, with all respect, I will repeat again that diplomacy is not a game that is played amongst friends only. Diplomacy is generally used to defuse conflicts to one’s advantage. As such, it is practiced amongst adversaries.

    You would be well served to read Khruschev’s letter to Kennedy where he chastised Kennedy and the West and listed a litany of offenses that the West had perpetrated against the world. Kennedy could have taken it as the ramblings of a lunatic. Instead he chose to take it as an opportunity to engage Khrushchev in dialogue. In doing so, he was able to achieve a climb down from the crisis.

    Bush does not have to invite Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah to Crawford for milk and cookies. But he does need to deal with the nation of Iran. Not doing so is idiotic. Emotions must take a back seat to serious strategic thinking when human lives are at stake.

    If Reagan was able to meet with Gorbachev of the “Evil Empire” at the height of the Cold War, I do not see why Bush cannot have dialogue with the Iranians. Iran does not even come close to the the threat the Soviet Union posed for decades to the stability of the world (if you believe otherwise, you have lost perspective).

    Unless the goal is a war in which many innocents will die because their leaders let emotions get in the way of diplomacy.

  17. mitra says:

    Sorry about the double post. I don’t know what happened. I thought the first one didn’t go through.

  18. Mash says:

    Mitra, its ok. My spam filter automatically saves posts for moderation if there are too many links in them. I took care of the duplicates. 🙂

  19. mitra says:

    The perils of engament
    Wall Street Journal
    Amir Taheri

    Something interesting is happening with regard to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Slowly the blame is shifting from the mullahs to the Bush administration as the debate is redirected to tackle the hypothetical question of U.S. military action rather than the Islamic Republic’s real misdeeds. “No War on Iran” placards are already appearing where “No Nukes for Iran” would make more sense.

    The attempt at fabricating another “cause” with which to bash America is backed by the claim that the mullahs are behaving badly because Washington refuses to talk to them. Some of this buzz is coming from those who for years told the U.S. to let them persuade Iran to mend its ways. They include German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his British and French colleagues in the European Union trio that negotiated with Iran for years. Preparing to throw in the towel, they now say the U.S. should “directly engage” Iran. That would enable them to hide their failures and find a pretext for blaming future setbacks on the U.S.
    [Jimmy Carter] READ MORE

    The “engage Iran” coalition also has advocates in the U.S. Over the past few weeks they have hammered the “engagement” theme with op-eds, TV soundbites and speeches. Some have recommended John Kennedy’s “sophisticated leadership” during the Cuban missile crisis as a model for George W. Bush. The incident has entered American folklore as an example of “brilliant diplomacy,” but few bother to examine the small print. The crisis, as you might recall, started when the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, something they were committed not to do in a number of accords with the U.S. Kennedy reacted by threatening to quarantine Cuba until the missiles were removed. The Soviets ended up “flinching” and agreed to removal.

    In exchange they got two things. First, the U.S. agreed never to take or assist hostile action against Castro, offering his regime life insurance. The second was to remove the Jupiter missiles installed in Turkey as part of NATO’s defenses. Instead of being punished, Castro and his Soviet masters were doubly rewarded for undoing what they shouldn’t have done in the first place. And Castro was free to do mischief not only in Latin America but also in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, often on behalf of Moscow, right up to the fall of the U.S.S.R. Applied to Iran, the “Kennedy model” would provide the mullahs, now facing mounting discontent at home, with a guarantee of safety from external pressure, allowing them to suppress their domestic opponents and intensify mischief-making abroad.

    Believe it or not, the second model for engaging Iran is actually Jimmy Carter’s policy towards the mullahs. Mr. Carter has called for a “diplomatic solution,” and Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security adviser, has published an op-ed blaming the Bush administration for the crisis. He writes: “Artificial deadlines, propounded most often by those who do not wish the U.S. to negotiate in earnest, are counterproductive. Name-calling and saber rattling, as well as a refusal to even consider the other side’s security concerns, can be useful tactics only if the goal is to derail the negotiating process.”

    Let’s forget that the “artificial deadlines” have been set by the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council, and that most of the “name-calling and saber rattling” has come from Tehran. But let us recall one fact that Mr. Brzezinski does not mention — that the Carter administration did “engage” with the mullahs without artificial deadlines, saber rattling and name-calling. The results for the U.S. were disastrous.

    In 1979, soon after the mullahs seized power, Mr. Carter sent Ayatollah Khomeini a warm congratulatory letter. Mr. Carter’s man at the U.N., a certain Andrew Young, praised Khomeini as “a 20th-century saint.” Mr. Carter also tapped his closest legal advisor, the late Lloyd Cutler, as U.S. ambassador to the mullarchy.

    A more dramatic show of U.S. support for the mullahs came when Mr. Brzezinski flew to Algiers to meet Khomeini’s prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan. This was love at first sight — to the point where Mr. Carter approved the resumption of military supplies to Iran, even as the mullahs were executing Iranians by the thousands, including many whose only “crime” was friendship with the U.S. The Carter administration’s behavior convinced the mullahs that the U.S. was a paper tiger and that it was time for the Islamic Revolution to highlight hatred of America. Mr. Carter reaped what he had sown when the mullahs sent “student” fanatics to seize the U.S. embassy compound, a clear act of war, and hold its diplomats hostage for 444 days. “The Carter administration’s weakness was a direct encouragement to [anti-American] hard-liners,” wrote Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the hostage-takers, years later.

    Mr. Brzezinski’s op-ed took the title “Been There, Done That,” meant as a sneering nod to events that led to the liberation of Iraq. A more apt title, however, is: “Been There, Done That, Learned Nothing” — a nod to Mr. Brzezinski’s failure to learn the lessons of Iran even three decades later.

    The third model for engaging Iran is the Clinton model. Beating his own drum, Bill Clinton has rejected the threat of force and called for “engaging” Iran. This is how he put it in a recent speech: “Anytime somebody said in my presidency, ‘If you don’t do this, people will think you’re weak,’ I always asked the same question for eight years: ‘Can we kill ’em tomorrow?’ If we can kill ’em tomorrow, then we’re not weak.” Mr. Clinton’s pseudo-Socratic method of either/or-ing issues out of existence is too well-known to merit an exposé. This time, however, Mr. Clinton did not ask enough questions. For example, he might have asked: What if by refusing to kill some of them today we are forced to kill many more tomorrow? Also: What if, once assured that we are not going to kill them today, they regroup and come to kill us in larger numbers? We all know the answers.

    Mr. Clinton did not reveal that in 1999 he offered the mullahs “a grand bargain” under which the Islamic Republic would be recognized as the “regional power” in exchange for lip service to U.S. “interests in the Middle East.” As advance payment for the “bargain” Mr. Clinton apologized for “all the wrongs that my country and culture have done” to Iran, whatever that was supposed to mean. The “bargain,” had it not been vetoed by the “Supreme Guide” in Tehran, might have secured Mr. Clinton the Nobel Peace Prize he coveted, but it would have sharpened the mullahs’ appetite for “exporting” revolution.
    * * *

    President Bush can learn from the Kennedy, Carter and Clinton models by not repeating their mistakes. What the U.S. needs is an open, honest and exhaustive debate on what to do with a regime that claims a mission to drive the U.S. out of the Middle East, wipe Israel off the map, create an Islamic superpower, and conquer the world for “The Only True Faith.” The options are clear: retreat and let the Islamic Republic advance its goals; resist and risk confrontation, including military conflict; or engage the Islamic Republic in a mini-version of Cold War until, worn out, it self-destructs.

    With the options clear, Messrs. Carter, Brzezinski and Clinton along with other “engagers” would have to tell us which they favor and, if they like none, what alternative they offer. Calling for talks is just cheap talk. It is important to say what the proposed talks should be about. In the meantime, talk of “constructive engagement” is sure to encourage President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s intransigence. Why should he slow down, let alone stop, when there are no bumps on the road?

    Mr. Taheri is author of “L’Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes” (Editions Complexe, 2002).
    A must read.

  20. mitra says:

    My last statement: Short of security guarantees this murderous regime is not going to stop its terrorist activities or bomb making provided that they really stop and don’t lie again. They lied to President Carter. They Kept their nuclear program a secret for 18 years and so on. I highly recommend you read Khomeini’s book, “The Islamic Government” (Khomeini’s Mein Kampe) and the Iranian Constitution where it clearly states the need for the regime to “build an ideological army capable of expanding the sovereignty of the law of allah over the entire world.”

    Selling out the Iranian peoples freedom and liberty to a tyrannical, murderous regime is not diplomacy IMHO.

  21. Mash says:

    Mitra, nice op ed, but it falls short on perspective. What was the option left to Kennedy? Nuclear war with the USSR? Invasion of Cuba? In a diplomatic standoff both side give a little. OR they go to war.

    It appears Mr. Taheri wants war. Mr. Taheri is a well known hawk and has been on a one man crusade to overthrow the Iranian regime since the beginning of time. It does not shock me that he would advocate not talking to the Iranians. Anything that might seem like dialogue with the Iranians has always been vehemently rejected by him.

  22. mitra says:

    Sorry, I couldn’t keep

    Who’s a hawk? It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? President Carter, Brzienski(sp?), and Gary Sick destroyed Iran by selling Iranians to the mullahs. Mr. Brezienski said “what’s bunch of stirred up Moslems when we can take Russians?”. It was your liberal government diplomacy that has caused more than hundreds of thousands of deaths, stonings, abductions, torture, and executions of scholars, journalists, etc. and countless other crimes by the mullahs including plundering and pillaging the Iranians national wealth. Most Iranians view democrats as a hawks if they are not pocket book supporters of the regime. I don’t care whether Mr. Taheri is a hawk or a rabbit. I have seen first hand the destruction of my homeland by Mr. Carter’s liberal policies. Even the 9/11 was a byproduct of the liberal policies of Mr. Carter and his Green belt Project to stop the spread of communism in the region. . I’m neither a political activist or have been involved in politics. I don’t politicize people’s suffering and their quest for liberty and justice because I don’t need to. I voted for Mr. Kerry and donated over $1200 to his campaign and was against the war in Iraq and I’m against any military invasion against Iran. But I will not stand for the democrats to sell Iranians out to the mullahs again.

  23. Mash says:

    Mitra, glad you didn’t keep quiet 🙂

    You said:

    Even the 9/11 was a byproduct of the liberal policies of Mr. Carter and his Green belt Project to stop the spread of communism in the region

    That is quite a leap over the decades. I am sure Mr. Carter would be impressed that his policies have spanned a generation. However, the facts do not support your assertion.

    I believe diplomacy is in the best interests of the American people vis-a-vis Iran on the nuclear issue. We clearly disagree on this point and I respect your differing views.

    I am not an Iranian and I cannot hope to fully understand the condition of the Iranian people under this or any regime. I have never suggested that this Islamist regime is a good thing. In fact, I think my posts on Iraq and Iran’s influence there make it clear that I think quite the opposite.

    But, engaging and outmaneuvering your adversary is exactly what diplomacy is all about. Diplomacy and appeasement are not the same, and any attempt to equate the two is not based on reality. I am quite certain you are not really advocating a bombing of Iran?!?

  24. Engrossing piece. I know I’m a little late in posting my comment but the article was to the point and just the information I was looking for. I can’t say that I agree with all the points you made but it was definitely intriguing! BTW…I found your site through a Bing search. I hope you’ll allow me to post a link to a site relevant to the quote by John Kennedy discussed in your piece. I’m a frequent visitor to your blog and will be back soon.

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