The current situation of Iran versus the international community resembles parts of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘The Sound of Music,’ in terms of one aptly named song: A group of Austrian nuns sing about an unorthodox nun named Maria, saying, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Replace the nuns with the international community and ‘Maria’ with ‘Iran,’ and you get a nice summary of the current debate over Iran.
The international community seems at a loss with how exactly to deal with Iran’s increasingly bellicose behavior. Many media outlets have picked up on this and suggested that Iran is fast becoming uncontrollable, even dangerous. With Israel seeking to do the ‘decent’ thing and bomb Iran indiscriminately, the debate now is fast becoming one of “to bomb or not to bomb?”
But, is it right to categorise the Iran debate as ‘heating up’? Or is merely just a war of words, with every word being over-analysed, but actions on the ground rather thin?
Iran’s increasingly florid use of vocabulary and choice phrases may make the situation look worse than it is. Recently, Iran’s interior minister declared that the enemies of Iran had received a: “slap in the face” and a “punch in the mouth.” The U.S. has also recently stated that all options were still on the table vis-à-vis Iran, thereby contributing to a fictional escalation of the situation.
Yet, in the midst of all this warring of words came the news that Iran had proposed to resume talks over its nuclear programme. Odd step, one might think, for a country so publicly defiant over its sovereign right to a nuclear program. This is strikingly contradictory, as when the debate is supposedly heating up, Iran suddenly tries to tone it down. Not really the act of a war-crazed, soon to be nuclear-armed, religious zealot of a regime, is it?
The reality is we may be reading too much into the words uttered by leaders in the current Iran debate. Most of those bellicose phrases are earmarked for domestic consumption, but are not statements of policy. If they reflected Iran’s true position, it would have started a war unilaterally many, many months ago.
It is slightly tragicomic to imagine that when the outside media or Western politicians seize on these gems of Iranian rhetoric, a bedraggled government spokesman in Tehran goes: “Not again, please.”
Undoubtedly there are deep issues. Tehran has remained steadfastly on course with its nuclear ambitions, and the international community has tightened sanctions to the point when everyone in Iran is feeling the effects. There is a serious underlying need to ensure Iran is returned to the international fold as swiftly as possible, to avoid a regional nightmare.
However, this has been the case for at least two to three years. It’s nothing new.
The recent escalation of insults on both sides has sent the media into a frenzy of speculation as to what, where, when, and how this situation might escalate. Unfortunately, this means Iran and the international community are in a position where they will lose face if they step down or tone down the rhetoric.
There is very little chance of military action this summer against Iran. But, the danger is that in the forthcoming months, we lose sight of subtle concessions and hints from the Iranian regime by focusing on the obvious and inconsequential war of words between Iran and the West.
Photo Credit: New York Times Magazine