President Obama is sending clear signals, from the top down, that real change is coming to American-Muslim relations. With his first formal media interview going to al-Arabiya, in which he re-iterated his inaugural unclenching of the fist rhetoric, he began the dance of presidential diplomacy so sorely lacked these past eight years and by all accounts, it has been well received. The appointment and immediate travels of Middle East Envoy, George Mitchell and Secretary of State Clinton's remarks stating that Iran has a renewed "clear opportunity"- to re-engage with the West gives reason to hope that inroads are indeed being made.
Then along comes Robert Gates, and as Mel Goodman says, "the old dog up to his old tricks."- According to Mr. Goodman, Gates seems not to be "on message regarding ties between the United States and Iran. In remarks to the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gratuitously accused Iran of engaging in "subversive activity"- in South America and Central America. Interestingly, Gates was responding to a senator's questions about Russian naval activity in the Caribbean, and offered no specifics regarding Iranian "meddling."- Gates has a history of politicizing intelligence to support his policy preferences and trying to compromise the diplomatic efforts of such secretaries of state as George Shultz and James Baker."- (for deeper background see: http://pubrecord.org/commentary/648-secretary-of-defense-gates-an-old-dog-up-to-his-old-tricks.html)
As reported in Israeli paper, Ha'Aretz, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchechr Mottaki, said in Davos on Tuesday, "We do believe that if the new administration of the United States, as Mr. Obama said, is going to change its policies, not in saying but in practice, definitely they will find the region in a cooperative approach and reaction," http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1059837.html
President Obama, needs to read Robert Gates the riot act and fast. Small gestures, the wrong words, trumped-up innuendo can do great harm to the nascent efforts of sanding away at the very fragile edges between the U.S. and Iran today. For the Secretary of Defense to blatantly undermine the beginnings of diplomacy goes against everything President Obama is beginning to build.
With Robert Gates playing his old games of politicization and manipulation, the question is, how quickly will President Obama put a diplomatic shoe in this Gate's mouth?