No Alternative to Dialogue
Commenting on the results of the presidential election in Iran, an Israeli commentator said that at the end of the day, the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was really not all that bad for Israeli politics.
Were he still in office, George W. Bush would also probably be rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of being able to continue casting Iran in the role of the evil enemy.
Bush's successor, Obama, will in all likelihood have a different view of the situation. He did well to refrain from commenting on and expressing preferences in the run-up to the election in Iran. It was a good choice because Ahmadinejad's re-election was always a distinct possibility (although the manner of his re-election and the current circumstances certainly were not) and because praise from the White House would have done irrevocable damage to any candidate before the polls even opened.
Ahmadinejad, the avenger of the dispossessed
It goes without saying that Iran is no stranger to casting people in the role of the enemy either. Throughout the election campaign and after it as well, Ahmadinejad demonised his opponents as henchmen of the foreign enemy. This fits neatly into his carefully maintained image of the defender of the revolution and avenger of the dispossessed.
Despite abusing his opponents in this way, the re-elected president says that he would like to talk to foreign powers, in particular with the US, albeit not about the issues of nuclear power, human rights, the role of women, or the conflict in the Middle East – the "standard themes" addressed by the West when talking about Iran.
Ahmadinejad would instead like to explain his vision of a newer, better world to Obama; a world in which the people instead of a select few decide how things are done. In this respect, his election victory in Iran comes at just the right time for him. It is unlikely, however, that Obama will be swayed by any of that.
Nevertheless, the American president and his most important Western allies have known for some time that they will not be able to force Iran to stop enriching uranium and that their request to do so would have fallen on deaf ears in the case of all the other presidential candidates as well.
Basis for a new dialogue
Unofficially, the US has long since begun to view Iran as a nuclear power. Moreover, according to a recent survey, most people in Israel have already come to terms with the idea too. But this does not make dialogue any less important.
Too much conflict material has accumulated over the course of the past 30 years and as a result, another four years should not and cannot be allowed to pass without addressing these problems, especially because no-one actually knows what will happen at the end of this period. What is more, grounds for a dialogue already exist: Iran does not want to be told what to do and this is exactly the line that Obama has adopted.
There can be no doubt that Washington was silently hoping for a more congenial counterpart in Tehran, but even Washington cannot choose its enemies, and regardless of who is in office, differences have to be overcome.
The Iranians – and certainly not just the ones disappointed by the election results – will undoubtedly welcome the move towards dialogue. Violence and unrest cannot be in their interest; they only bring suffering and new oppression.
This is why many people are anxiously waiting to see what domestic policies Ahmadinejad has planned. Although he could have made a start on it during his first term in office, he is now determined to use all means to combat corruption. In this regard, he is also making a point of not ignoring big names in the country either, e.g. the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
Despite the fact that Ahmadinejad narrowly defeated Rafsanjani in the last presidential election in 2005, the latter remains an incredibly important and powerful man. While taking action against him would certainly bolster Ahmadinejad's popularity in many circles, it would also increase the risk of open confrontation, which no-one either wants or needs.
It is unlikely that the situation in Iran will calm down in the near future.
© Deutsche Welle / Qantara.de 2009
The Middle East expert Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's head correspondent. He spent 23 as a correspondent in Jerusalem.
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan