Reaping the repression bonus in Iran by mattsteinglass
June 2, 2008, 9:11 am
Filed under: United States

Azadeh Moaveni has a nice piece in yesterday’s WashPost on the resurgence of friendly feelings towards the US in Iran over the past few years. The US has done an extremely poor job in recent years of leveraging the hostility and frustration that people in authoritarian countries feel towards their own governments into diplomatic gains for the US. In the USSR, Eastern Europe and Vietnam, as well as a lot of African countries, a sense of the mistakenness of their own governments’ domestic and international policies and an identification of the US with a sense of internationalism and normalcy meant that there was a large reservoir of goodwill towards the US available to be tapped by smart leadership, and indeed George HW Bush and Bill Clinton did a pretty good job of taking advantage of those sentiments; Bill Clinton’s visits to Vietnam and Africa were rock-star affairs.

It’s a bit harder to say just what effect this kind of broad popular goodwill has on concrete diplomatic relations. For one thing, it’s not clear how popular sentiment on foreign policy filters up from the masses to the policymaking apparatus in authoritarian states. Such governments do take popular sentiment into account when setting domestic policy, but I think they correctly assess that attitudes towards foreign countries aren’t a deeply enough felt interest of the common folk for governments to have to worry about what the man in the street thinks of the US when setting diplomatic policy. Still, I can’t but think that the immense popularity of Bill Clinton among average Vietnamese and Africans influenced the eagerness of those countries to establish good relations with the US. Of course after a few years of close relations such feelings tend to wear off as people get used to the normal strains and tensions between non-hostile countries.


2 Comments so far
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This is the BS anecdotal observations of reporters who also claimed that the Iraqis would toss flowers at invading troops. Lots of Westerners visit Iran and report that they’re treated nicely by the people there who don’t confuse our governments with our people — but that hardly means that the Iranians like Bush as this reporter implies. Survey after survey shows that Iranians support their nuclear program too. It is only logical. What would your reaction be if some foreign country said you didn’t have a right to develop a certain technology and threatened to bomb your country as a result? Why assume Iranians would react any different?

Comment by IRANIAN

I have no basis for independent assessment of Iran, but what rang true in Moaveni’s piece was the sense of a simultaneous coexistence of friendly and angry sentiments towards the US, often on the part of one and the same person. In Russia and Vietnam, where I have experience, I’ve found that people have a big question mark next to the US: what are its intentions? In that blank space, they fill in different answers depending on the most recent evidence. Over the last 7-8 years that evidence has often been quite negative, and Russians have become quite hostile towards the US (though in Russia this was well underway during the late ’90s already). In Vietnam the evidence is complex and confusing, and I believe that after an initial period of enthusiasm in the late ’90s, Vietnamese now see the US as a powerful, clumsy country with strange ideas that is sometimes friendly and sometimes quite irritating, but that can be used to Vietnam’s advantage in certain ways. In general I think a much more hands-off attitude on the US’s part is the best policy for cultivating better relations. In any case, I don’t think the reporter at all implied that Iranians like Bush; but there is a distinction between attitudes towards American people, attitudes towards “America” the country and concept, and attitudes towards an American president. These attitudes are related, but distinct.

Comment by mattsteinglass

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