Saturday, December 03, 2011

Painted into a Corner of Crazy

In the past couple of weeks, Iran and the West have widened the gulf that separates them. After Britain moved to increase sanctions against the Iranian regime over their suspect nuclear program, the British Embassy in Tehran was sacked. An angry mob stormed the embassy compound, burnt British flags, smashed windows, and destroyed documents. In response, the British government expelled the Iranian Ambassador to the U.K. and all of its staff. Also, Britain
recalled all of their embassy staff in Tehran. As a show of disdain for the complicity of the Iranian regime for this act other Western nations have recalled their ambassadors.

Tehran’s reaction to this incident is quite curious. They are pleading that other nations not get involved in the tiff between Iran and Britain and to continue business as usual. The curious part of their argument is the absence of any recognition that allowing a mob to sack an embassy concerns every member of the diplomatic community. If Iran really wanted the West to let their hackles down, they need to address the culture of extreme reactions to international events and take less extreme tones in their rhetoric.

Deep concern on the part of Western diplomatic missions over the reaction to the sacking of the British embassy is fueled by chants of “Death to England”, aggressive acts toward British symbols, and the burning of an effigy of President Obama. Every one of these acts, which seem to be common place in the region whenever there is a disagreement with a foreign actor, constrains the ability of diplomats to have over-lapping win-sets. The Iranian negotiators are domestically constrained to act in an extreme manner in order to appease domestic expectations. And these constraints have been placed on themselves through setting the example of extreme rhetoric and positions since the revolution of 1979. It is hard to negotiate with someone who has painted themselves into a corner of crazy.

In order to widen the win-sets and to allow for progress to be made, the Iranian governments needs to tone down its rhetoric and show its population that cooperation with Western governments or adhering to international norms does not make one a traitor to Iran or Islam. Conversely, Western diplomats need to swallow their pride and create an avenue for the Iranian government to appear to have won concessions and therefore save face with the domestic population. This is a long process of slow change, but one that is necessary in order to diffuse tensions leading toward to losing situation for all parties involved.

No comments: