Friday, November 7, 2008

Ahmadinejad's letter to Obama -- its implications

The above is a translation of Ahmadinejad’s letter to Obama congratulating him on his “gaining the majority of the votes,” published by the Washington Post on 11-6-08.

On 11-5-08 I wrote, “Ahmadinejad seems more likely to entertain the unreasonable hope that Obama’s Islamic heritage will kick in. He may send Obama a letter like the one he sent Bush inviting him to accept Islam. And when that doesn’t work, he may express anger.”

Ahmadinejad’s letter to Obama is clever and illuminating. Some of it seems straightforward: He calls for “an end to policies based on warmongering, invasion, bullying, trickery, the humiliation of other countries by the imposition of biased and unfair requirements, and a diplomatic approach that has bred hatred for America’s leaders and undermined respect for its people.” That’s consistent with what he has already said.

He also wants the “American government to keep its interventions within its own country’s borders.” He’d like us, in other words, to return to our pre-WWII isolationism. That’s pretty bold of him.

And he also wants us to develop a “policy encouraging full rights for all nations, especially the oppressed nations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.” No doubt he would say that we share with Israel the guilt of the oppression of Palestine, but he also says that by liberating Iraq from tyranny and freeing Afghanistan from Islamism we are oppressing those nations. That would be consistent with Khomeini’s ideology.


Governmental leaders regularly misunderstand each other. In Donald Kagan’s On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace I read of how Kennedy misunderstood Khrushchev and Khrushchev misunderstood the American political system. Kennedy thought Khrushchev was as serious and solemn as he was – as anxious to avoid a nuclear war. Khrushchev however was a risk taker and while he understood Kennedy’s timidity, he overestimated the amount of power Kennedy wielded. He got himself into serious trouble in Cuba before he realized that Kennedy would be forced to act whether he wanted to or not.

And then in Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy I read of how Stalin misunderstood Hitler. Stalin thought that Hitler was as methodical and logical as he was. America and Britain warned Stalin that Hitler was going to attack Russia, but Stalin didn’t believe it. He thought the Anglo-Americans were trying to stir things up between the USSR and Germany to take heat off of Britain. Hitler hadn’t prepared logically and systematically to invade the USSR, therefore, Stalin thought, an invasion could not be imminent. On pages 367-8 Kissinger writes, “Apparently Stalin was so shocked by Germany’s declaration of war that he fell into something of a depression for a period of about ten days.”

Can we create a hypothetical Ahmadinejad point of view, one that will enable us to understand why he wrote as he did? Yes, I believe we can. If we assume that he is writing from the Islamist position held by Khomeini then what he wrote to Bush and Obama becomes clear and logical. Bush was an unbeliever so Ahmadinejad invited him to convert as part of his letter. But Obama was born into Islam so Ahmadinejad’s letter to him is carefully constructed so that he doesn’t bring Obama’s adherence to Islam into doubt. Ahmadinejad refers to Obama as one of God’s subjects. An “unbeliever” doesn’t qualify as being one of God’s subjects. He tells Obama that “the chances that God gives to his subjects pass swiftly.” Yes, Obama was born into Islam and now that he is to become president, he has a chance to behave as Allah wants him to. That chance will not remain indefinitely. It will pass swiftly. The time is now.

Also, Ahmadinejad writes, “If steps are taken in the path of righteousness . . . “ The “path of righteousness” is Islam; and steps taken in that path can only be taken by a Muslim; so Ahmadinejad is crediting Obama with being a Muslim and asking him in this letter to behave as one. He wants Obama to progress “toward the goal of carrying out the teachings of the holy prophets.” The letter’s last words urge Obama to “follow the holy guidelines.” These guidelines are contained in the Koran and the Hadiths.

Assuming that my hypothetical Ahmadinejad POV is correct, does this represent a misunderstanding of Obama? Not necessarily. Ahmadinejad may know that Obama isn’t going to accept what he writes, but he must be consistent with his Islamism. He must give Obama the benefit of doubt, then when the Mahdi returns, Ahmadinejad will be able to say that he behaved righteously. He offered Bush the chance to convert to the true religion and he urged Obama to walk in the path of righteousness. Since they chose not to follow his advice, the guilt is on their heads and not on the head of the one who warned them.

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