The role of respect in peace
If you deconstruct the language of those who Bush would have us believe form the axis of evil, one finds not so much megalomania as insecurity, hurt feelings, and bitterness over their global inferiority.
This has become particularly apparent with the rise of Chavez and Ahmadinejad, two national leaders who have proved unusually adept at using contemporary media to make their case. They represent, perhaps, a new generation of national figures who - all politics aside - make the staid habits and behavior of the Council on Foreign Relations genre of diplomacy seem pointless, lifeless and antiquated. In other words, while Bush is still stuck in the politics of a Masterpiece Theatre plot, Ahmadinejad, despite the pull of his traditional culture, is working overtime to join the hip hop generation.
At the core, the language and behavior of a Bush or Blair is based on notions of purportedly deserved power and how the less powerful are supposed to behave towards their betters. The language and behavior of Ahmadinejad and Chavez is popular, populist and evangelical and directed at winning the very hearts and minds of which Bush speaks repeatedly but doesn't have the faintest idea how to reach.
Thus we find the Islamic Republic News Agency reporting that Ahmadinejad plans to come to the UN and speak the same day as Bush and a day before Chavez. Both and Chavez will fly from Havana after meeting with the longest plank holder of power of our era: Fidel Castro. This isn't diplomacy; this is show business.
Castro, in his early days, also spoke at the UN. But, just as Mitt Romney recently refused state police protection for the ex-president of Iran, so the hotels of New York refused space for Castro. The result: Malcolm X found him a hotel in Harlem and a key step was taken in the alienation of a man who, with just a little respect and effort, might not have tormented every American president since by refusing to die or fade away.
The U.S. is in a similar stage with Chavez and Ahmadinejad. It is slamming every door that possibly opens between our country and theirs, gratuitously shunning and dissing them along the way - with the media helping on the ridicule end. But, as Castro proved, it doesn't work.
What can work is respect.
A letter from Ahmadinejad to German prime minister Merkel is remarkable not only in its words of respect expressed towards her and her country but in the clear longing for a similar respect for himself and his own land. This guy is smart and articulate and desperately wants the bigger guys to admit it. You don't have to agree with a single political point he makes to note this.
For example, even if one fully supports the creation of Israel, there is still room for empathy for those displaced to make way for it. Those who mediate for a living will tell you that you must hear the pain of both sides. Not just the threats felt by Israelis, but those felt by its neighbors.
And you might even find yourself faintly nodding your head as you read: "You are familiar with the pains and sufferings currently afflicting our world. Today, the pain and suffering of the people of Iraq that come from occupation, absence of security and daily acts of terrorism are tormenting the entire humanity. Relentless interferences of some bullying powers in the internal affairs of other nations, antagonism toward the inalienable rights of nations to have access to more advanced technologies, subjecting nations to permanent threats by relying on arsenals of chemical and nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, opposition to popular governments in Latin America, supporting coup d'etat and dictatorial regimes, absence of due attention to Africa and taking advantage of the power vacuum there to plunder their wealth are among the problems facing our world today."
Respect is important because it is one of the few doors wide enough for peace to enter. It is the antithesis of the bullying, bombastic, holier-than-thou approach of the Bush regime. It is also futile to speak only to one's friends or to establish impenetrable concessions one's opponents must make before you sit down with them. Now that we have seen how pointless such approaches have been, it is perhaps time to try something else.
Chavez and Ahmadinejad are leaders of weak countries with a strong need for respect. It does not hurt our oil supplies, our military strength or our economy to grant them this. Our continued refusal will, just as it did with Castro, only makes the times harder and the hard times longer.