Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Wrong Direction

Political Speech Writer's Jargon In and Jargon Going Forward Desk Organizers.If you’re a political speechwriter the easiest thing to write for your candidate to say is, “I don’t like the direction America is heading.”  It’s a chestnut we hear every election cycle because a lot of people never seem to like the way we’re heading.

It’s what candidates generally say when they’re running against a candidate whose party is in the White House.  Clinton used it against Bush, Bush against Gore, and Obama against McCain.  We hear it in congressional and senate races, too.

It resonates because it always appears that things are getting worse.  Yet, we seem to miss the irony in the fact that these are the very days that future candidates will one day wistfully recall as the better times we need to get back to.

We all pretty much agreed that we didn’t like heading into a deep recession in 2008 and Barack Obama won by a substantial margin, but, the refrain, “I don’t like the direction America is heading” is being trotted out again.

Personally, I’m not happy with many of America’s foreign policies, but I’m never happyGraph-Upward-Trend2 with many of America’s foreign policies.

In domestic matters unemployment figures are below pre-recession levels, the stock market has reached new highs, corporate profits are healthy, more Americans have healthcare coverage, environmental concerns are getting more attention, and civil rights are front and center.

Oh, we have work to do!  The environment and civil rights remain critical, we have to build the middle class, create upward mobility for working Americans and fair pay for women.  We also have to tackle affordable education, but all of these things are on the table and that indicates a pretty good direction.  At least good enough to make “I don’t like the direction America is heading” a fairly thin statement.

But polls are showing that it still works and that suggests a continuing truism; the truth is not what the public is looking for.

Political consultants have known this for decades, if not centuries.  Voters are looking for feelings, not facts.  The most blatant illustration of this in my lifetime came from a AP515702295380Democratic campaign when a Lyndon Johnson commercial showed a nuclear explosion insinuating that Barry Goldwater was so extreme that his presidency could end the world.  It played on fear without any substantive reason to make that connection.

A young Karl Rove must have been taking notes because he emerged as the master of modern political rhetoric.  When Ann Richards seemed unbeatable as governor of Texas, Rove felt otherwise.  He knew that people vote on emotional connections and not substantive ones.  When crime was down in every major category in Texas under Richard’s watch, he had his candidate, George W Bush, say, “Ann Richards says crime is down in Texas, but I don’t believe that.  I don’t feel safer.  Do you?”

thCA03UG69And enough Texans rose to their feet and said, “No!  We don’t!”  Never mind that they actually were and statistics were there to prove it, reactive fear came to the polls and Richards lost.

Truth doesn’t matter.

Last year in a Senate race a candidate’s support for veterans was disputed by challenging his committee attendance.  The accusing candidate gained from the attack, but the truth was, few politicians worked harder for veteran’s rights and benefits than the candidate who was under fire.

The playbook has been written and candidates who use it best fare better than those who think that facts will rule the day.

Today, some media uses the playbook by taking dangerous international concerns and whipping people into a froth of fear to, once again, move opinions with feelings and not with rational thinking.

Truth doesn’t matter.

Yet, we know in our hearts that truth does matter.  And when it’s rendered irrelevant in our rhetoric, consequences will rise in our reality.

When the truth of justice is swept aside, fear is manifested.  When the truth of generosity is ignored, we give rise to greed.  When we are blind to the truth that bigotry is evil, we are complicit in the hate it reveals.

The-Wrong-DirectionTruth matters, and until we give it more importance in elections, we will undoubtedly be heading in the wrong direction.

The Art of the Deal; the Agreement with Iran

I posted this essay once already.  I took it down after a headline the next day was “Kerry Disturbed By Ayatollah’s Comments.”  The Iranian Ayatollah has made it clear that Iranian foreign policy toward the “Arrogant America” and toward Israel had not changed since the nuclear containment agreement.  Behind him were chants of “Death to America!  Death to Israel!”Death-to-America

Even though this was not really breaking news as the clerics of Iran have held this position all along, it was timing that I could not ignore.  My support of negotiations after a hostile threat was not going to be well received by people who are understandably concerned in the post 9/11 world.

But today as I read Mike Huckabee’s foray into this foreign policy debate I decided enough is enough.  Huckabee states:  ” The president’s foreign policy…is so naïve that he would trust the Iranians.”  He went on to invoke the Holocaust by implying that the Iran deal “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”‘

Huckabee is only the latest Republican candidate for President to prey upon many Americans’ fear and by tying this action to the Holocaust he links Islam to genocide.  That is the black and white world of foreign policy carried by too many and why more open-minded thinking must prevail.  For the past half century, conservative Republican policy has been to keep our enemies, enemies, and to view any effort to assuage the very things that create enemies, to be weak policy.

Iranian clerics, it must be said, do nothing to placate the fears of Americans (and Israelis) by fanning those very flames with such statements, but this is where we have to go deeper than the rhetoric to understand the beliefs of the Iranian people themselves.

I came upon this blog:  http://iranian.com/main/blog/ayatoilet1/iranians-love-america-americans-hate-iran.html

And while this is a purely anecdotal perspective, it is TEHRAN+COFFEE+SHOPundeniably a point of view that runs contrary to the conventional perception that many Americans have of Iranians.  I was struck by the premise: “When Iranians burn the American flag in street demonstrations – they are NOT showing hatred toward Americans; they are, in fact, pointing out the the U.S. government has and is continuing to try to destroy Iran and Iranians.”

Huckabee may believe that it is good policy to condemn Iran with military intervention, but from the Iranian perspective, a mistrust of American policy is not only warranted, but well advised.  We are only one generation removed from a covert American operation in 1953 that imposed a coup d’état and deposed their popular prime minister.  The coup was to secure oil interests for the United States after Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh had nationalized Iran’s rich petroleum industry and oil reserves.

The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, became a puppet of the United States, while subjecting his own people to arbitrary arrests and torture.  While the Shah lived as a monarch, the people were kept poor by this alliance.  This led to the 1979 Revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and thus began the Islamic Republic.

Relations with the United States continued to fester as the US supported the corrupt regime of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war; again to secure our own interests.  The blog above pointed out that over a million Iranians died in that 8 year war with Iraq.

us embassy tehran muralAnd so I ask:  Is it any wonder that the people of Iran distrust America?

Here’s a perspective on perspectives:

26 years ago I lived in Los Angeles and there was what seemed like an epidemic of “Freeway Shootings.”  For several months there would be a flurry of bullets fired at vehicles and these events carried the news.  The truth was, however, that daily living did not change.  It was the prevailing feeling among 12 million people that no one was in any particular danger.  At least not any more than usual.

But, that’s not how it appeared to the rest of the world….

Later that year I was in Israel and I was walking down Dizengoff in Tel Aviv with a young Israeli soldier.  He explained to me that he is always aware of his surroundings as an act of terrorism could happen at any time, yet he seemed as relaxed and secure as anyone I’d ever known.  The Uzi hanging over his hip, however, gave clarity to his words.

Then he said, “Yeah, but it’s not like where you’re from where people are shooting at each other all the time.”

People outside of each reality only know what they see on the news, and the news carries what is the most newsworthy.  The report is no less real because of the coverage, but it is heightened by the broadcast.  Could that be the reality elsewhere?  Such as when we see Iranians chanting “Death to America!”?

Would it be hard to imagine that Al-Jazeera reporting on the KKK chanting ” White White-supremacist-group-the-Ku-Klux-Klan-assembles-outside-South-Carolina-Statehouse-to-protest-against-flag’s-removal_-—-Al-Jazeerasupremacy!” could lead some nations to view us as primarily racist?  Is it hard to imagine that people in the Middle East, and elsewhere, might see a glaring contradiction between the free nation we pride ourselves on being and what they actually see of us?  Especially when what they see first hand is intervention that rejects their own way of life?

I offer a more scientific poll as evidence of this disconnect.  It also supports the previous bloggers distinction between the American people and government:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89683583

This nuclear agreement with Iran is not a simple, quick fix as this short essay may seem to imply; it is only part of a modern transformation.  Extreme Islam is a reaction to this change, but this is also where new alliances will form. Iran shares the fight against ISIS, and we must also shore up our true allies, particularly, Israel.  And while Israel is uneasy with a solvent Iran, this could be the step toward breaking the stalemate with the Palestinians, as an agreement (perhaps a two state solution) is what will hold serve in the inevitable Middle East transformation.

Zahra_YousefIt’s true that Tehran supports Hamas and Hezbollah and has not recognized Israel since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, but this agreement is also for the people of Iran who wish to live in peace.

One side of the debate in America believes that Iran must be treated as an enemy of the United States and anything short of military annihilation of nuclear facilities (including power) and continued economic sanctions so that Iran’s ability to rebuild them is rendered impossible, endangers us all.  Inflammatory comments from the Ayatollah easily verify that position for many.

The other side believes that Iran is a sovereign nation, and like the blogger points out, is a proud nation, suffering under economic sanctions.  They believe that the pathway to03IRAN-master675 peace is to restore economic solvency and salvage their national pride by acknowledging that sovereignty.  But only after creating strict parameters on Iran’s uranium stockpile (reducing it by 98%), destroying centrifuges and submitting to expansive inspections to insure that no military nuclear development is possible.

I stand with the latter.

The opposition to the agreement is based on a misunderstanding of the country and our history with Iran.  Not that a misunderstanding is hard to understand, given the anti-American rhetoric that has been part of that history for several decades, but the reverse suspicion is equally as relevant.

The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports to fall by two-thirds, their GDP has plummeted, inflation has risen over 40 percent, and the people have struggled to buy necessities.  Unemployment has skyrocketed, and foreign investment has disappeared.  The lifting of sanctions would reopen Iran’s ability to export worldwide and allow its banking system to do business with Europe.  They would be integrated back into the world economy.

Is that good news for world security?  I offer “yes” but only with vigilant attention to the ramifications of these transitional events.  David Rothkopf writes in Foreign Policy Magazine (July 20, 2015):  “Make no mistake, this deal is just the latest in a series of seismic shocks that are remaking the modern Middle East. Some have been generational. Some have been technological. Some were manifested in the Arab Spring….Some came with the evolution of the extremist threat from al Qaeda, to the Islamic State, to whatever comes next. Some are unique to the massive changes taking place within individual countries — from Israel, to Syria, to Libya, to Yemen, to Iraq. But all are part of this being a transformational moment, and all will be impacted by this deal and its consequences, intended and otherwise.”

The agreement with Iran, even as clerics and American/Israeli government hating protesters posture, is a catalyst toward cooperation as it was the process of negotiation that held the trigger without laser guided missiles.

I don’t believe that the inflammatory statements of Ayatollah Khamenei can be ignored, not by any means, but we must put him into context.  He condemned 9/11, his foreign policy has been to avoid confrontation with the United States, and he asserts that US intervention throughout Iranian history is the primary source of Iranian insecurity.  That is not a position without credibility.

His anti-Zionist views are extreme and create understandable uneasiness in Israel, but that is why this agreement is crucial. Iran would be foolish to unleash nuclear weapons on Israel or anywhere.  They would be annihilated and they know it. They would be foolish to attempt to develop nuclear weapons and risk the automatic reinstatement of crippling sanctions.

My interest is in a path to peace that protects Israel by taking away the capacity for a nuclear threat against her while redirecting the machinery of war to a treaty between nations.

article-2328629-19EB010B000005DC-374_306x423The jacked up fear mongering of Huckabee and too many others is not the reality of this agreement.  The reality is that giving people respect, dignity, and sovereignty, will go a lot further toward establishing peace, than beating the drums of intimidation and fear.