21 July 2008

Talking to the axis of evil

Throughout George W. Bush's reign as president of the United States, I can think of very little he has done that might be considered progressive. Almost everything in U.S. affairs, whether foreign or domestic, seems worse off than when he was first elected in 2000. He collapsed international respect for his country to its lowest level ever and will leave office with his country bogged down in two wars. Domestically, things are equally bad. The discrepancy between rich and poor has been expanded, individual citizens and government are both hugely in debt, and the economy sinks into recession.

Yet a bright spot appears on the horizon. In a remarkable about-face on foreign policy, the Bush administration seems prepared to talk to Iran. On the heels of their deal with North Korea regarding its nuclear capabilities, the Americans have dispatched William Burns, the under-secretary of state, to meet Iranian representatives in Geneva to discuss Iran's nuclear program. More importantly, the Americans have expressed interest in establishing a diplomatic office in Tehran, the first since the Shah, one of their favourite dictators, was tossed out in 1979. It appears the Cheney faction has been defeated as the U.S. abandons its position that it would only meet with Iran once it had suspended its uranium enrichment. The Pentagon apparently convinced the administration that the regional consequences of an air strike against Iran would outweigh the temporary benefits of delaying Iran's nuclear program. The cavalry to the rescue so to speak. Of course, Iran's recent missile tests may also have been an incentive.

If you want peace, it is said, you don't talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies. Certainly there won't be peace in the Middle East until the United States engages players such as Iran at a high level. A diplomatic mission is a good start. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, commenting on the Iran initiative, observed, "The United States doesn't have any permanent enemies." It might be difficult to convince Cuba of that; nonetheless, recent events elsewhere suggest the statement may hold promise. If so, Bush could end his reign on at least one high note.

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