Mahmoud and Me
By Mary Lyon
Unfortunately, it's come down to this. The American people are stuck in the middle, playing one giant international political game of "Who Do You Trust." Do you trust Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or George W. Bush? I hate being faced with a choice like that. And I REALLY hate the reason why.
I watched all ten segments of "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley's interview with Ahmadinejad. I listened to him, as dispassionately as possible while also trying to assess his body language, facial expressions for deeper meanings and unspoken truths even while I don't know his language, and can't tell which of his smiles belong with which translated statement, idioms and rhetorical split hairs included. I know for certain he isn't MY guy. He's been painted as the enemy, the newest boogey-man in the Land of Axis-of-Evil since we still can't find bin Laden and Saddam is no longer a factor. He's quoted as being a civil libertarian's nightmare, horrifyingly anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-women, you name it. He's rather unsavory, known for some downright funky political positions, and he's apparently as slippery as hell. He probably even binds his dog to the top of his car for a hundred-mile family vacation drive through a virtual wind tunnel, raises children who turn out to be drunken skanks, has a revolving-door concept of holy matrimony, and all the problem-solving and anger-management skills of O.J. Simpson.
The only problem here (and the part that upsets me most) is MY guy isn't much better. Yes, I'm supposed to take sides. I'm supposed to distrust Ahmadinejad. And I do, without much convincing. But that's the problem. Have we really had an objective assessment about him or has it been run through one too many partisan filters here? And for whose ultimate benefit? I know what we're supposed to think. But I've read too many accounts from outside the power circles about how the president of Iran has nowhere near the power of the mullahs, and how he's relatively marginalized in his own country for his extremist views while most of the Iranian population leans moderate. Watching him on the CBS interview, I was struck by one sad realization. One's first reaction as a loyal American would be to side with one's president and one's national leaders. How I wish I could.
It'd be a lot easier to take sides if OUR side had any track record of credibility on foreign policy pronouncements. But they don't. They told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that Saddam was thisclose to nuking us from New York to San Francisco, that he was in bed with al Qaeda, bin Laden himself, and of course, somewhere behind the September 11th strikes. They told us Iraq would be a "cakewalk," that we'd be greeted with flowers and sweets, as liberators, that Iraq's oil wealth would more than pay for the war and we'd all get off easy so we could just keep on going shopping and enjoying blissfully lower and lower gas prices. They told us there was no reason to negotiate or keep any lines of dialogue open with presumably hostile forces because we don't talk to people we don't like (and besides, talking and reaching out was what the Clinton people did. Can't possibly make any sense).
We're STILL being sold a bill of goods about how well the "surge" is progressing, and how we can still get by with minimal troops, to subdue a population that's not really in the grip of civil war. We were told our war would last six days, six weeks, not likely six months. And then we kept hearing about more six-month periods that were important. Everything from some vaporous "progress" to outright "victory" was just "another six months" away. They've been "six-more-months"ing us for at least three years now. We were told about smoking guns that could turn into mushroom clouds, that the insurgents were in their last throes, and that such luminaries as Ahmed Chalabi, Colin Powell, and some shadowy Pinocchio named "Curveball" were to be trusted. We were told to put our faith in General Petraeus, who wound up unable to assure us that we were any safer because of the misbegotten "strategy" in Iraq.
We've been told other things, too. Things we were simply supposed to take on faith. After all, we were assured that Jesus Himself was moving and acting through our president. We were told that "Healthy Forests" were about cutting lots of trees down. That "Clear Skies" meant clear sailing for polluters. We were told that no child would ever be left behind. We were told that no expense would be spared to put New Orleans back together again. We were told that tax cuts were good even during a war we couldn't afford, when at no other time in American history were taxes ever cut while we were at war. And we were told to be afraid. Very afraid. Over and over and over.
Name me something OUR guys said that's held up. Is this why Ronald Reagan once told us the most terrifying words in the English language were those of the person who came to you in a crisis and said "I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help" because he somehow knew what was (and who were) coming? Against almost seven years of lies and deceptions, we're supposed to sleep comfortably, knowing we can take the word of OUR guys to the bank? We're supposed to suspend disbelief and the worst track record for truthlessness since the proverbial Boy Who Cried Wolf, and give Bush and company yet another free pass?
That's the dilemma I face when I weigh the words of someone like Ahmadinejad against the people he's staring down on the international chessboard. I want desperately to cling to MY guy. I want his words to be gold. I want desperately to find comfort in his words, policies, and leadership. I want to know beyond all questioning that there's simply NO question who can be believed. And I can't do that.
I'm glad that at least some of us had a chance to confront our most notorious tourist when he arrived in New York City. It's said that we fear what we don't know or don't understand. And since Dubya and friends seem hellbent on amping things up to war footing with Iran, it's good that we finally got to see the new chief target close up, and hear his side, to weigh his positions and statements for ourselves. We can glean bits of Ahmadinejad's perspective via reporters like Scott Pelley who appear either to play a mean game of devil's advocate or to have swallowed the spin from our guys without any vetting. We can observe how those we still find credible react to him and take our cues accordingly.
I don't think it went far enough, however. It's one thing for some dignitary to stand or sit there and pontificate from an elegant podium or a comfortable chair far removed from danger. It's quite another to face it, close up. I, for one, would like to have seen him led by the hand directly to Ground Zero, so he could witness the gaping wound that still cries out in pain, and we could study his reaction. With George W. Bush standing there directly alongside him. Everyone, even our purported enemies, should linger at the edge of that hallowed ground and ponder what happened there. And perhaps even try to learn something beyond themselves and their own myopic grievances, because in order to grow and heal from this, and to move forward as people who share this Earth (whether we want to or not), we ALL have to find some way to grow up and make peace, to see beyond the negativity and the sheer carnage and waste.
That opening should be available to ALL - with no strings attached, because it's not just America's wound. In a larger sense, it's everyone's, everywhere, and it's a reminder of what our lower, baser selves have wrought: Come. Come and look. See what misunderstanding, intolerance, hate, resentment, and bitterness can bring. See what years of old grudges, bad behavior, and revenge obsession can produce. Is this really the kind of result anyone should cheer, of which they should be proud, of which they hope and scheme for more?
Instead of being an oozing sore and reminder of all that's bad in the world, Ground Zero could and should - be a flashpoint of healing, broader wisdom and perspective, and perhaps even a starting point for some sort of rapprochement and reconcilliation. A place from which we ALL can start over, and attempt something better and greater. If for no other reason than REALLY to honor its dead and guarantee as much as possible that the likes of it might never happen again. From that canker of anger, there actually could be sown the seeds of understanding and forgiveness. From there, both OUR guy and THEIR guy could turn to each other and at least try to start communicating, at least try to find a way to bring an end to the enmity once and for all, instead of remaining locked in old, stale, short-sighted, destructive thinking that leads us nowhere but downward into an abyss of hopelessness and darkness.
I think it's something we simply HAVE to do as a species, and as the prime custodians of this planet. There's just too much at stake to do otherwise.