[OPE-L] What Ahmadinejad actually said - lost in translation...

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Jan 23 2007 - 13:19:12 EST

Hi Martin,

Thanks for the comment. You are probably correct in suggesting that the
implication was that the current state of Israel (the "regime") ought to
disappear (though this itself leaves vague what should replace it). That is
a political position, and many Iranian officials have had that for a long
time, there is nothing special about that.

But in the real context of the speech, there was no explicit bellicose
statement to the effect that the Jews ought to be driven into the sea, a
call that somebody ought to wipe Israel off the map, annihilate it, and so
forth. At issue is the question of intention. Much as though quite a few
Iranians would like to see the state of Israel to disappear, the statement
did not actively call on anybody to "wipe Israel off the map", it was more
in the nature of a broad historical observation about regimes that crumble
over time, yet the point is, that was the way it got presented in the press,
sort of like the words of a "mad dictator" (just like Chavez is often
presented as a ranting dictator).

I've done a fair bit of scholarly translation work in my time, and when you
do this kind of work, you always try your best to do justice to what the
author really means, and where necessary, you doublecheck that you have done
a good job and correctly convey the author's words. This is even more
important with highly sensitive political issues, since a word out of place
can convey the wrong intention. You have to distinguish clearly between fact
and interpretation. Normally the media are fairly good, i.e. sub-editors
will check things etc. for the sake of professional standards, but in this
case you would be inclined to think it's a willful misrepresentation.

I personally think what we need in international politics is less hysteria
and panic mongering, and more constructive engagement. As regards the Iran
nuclear issue, the CIA and the US military already recognised at the
beginning of the nineties that Iran "could" develop nuclear weapons within
some years time. That is, this possibility was already identified for more
than a decade, it was nothing especially new. The point is that, at a
certain stage, the issue got raked up and made a mainstream anxiety, for
political purposes under different circumstances, even although the Iranians
in fact never developed a nuclear weapon of their own all this time, and
affirmed they had no real intention or need to do so.

The basic underlying problem is that subsequent to the Iranian revolution,
the US federal government broke off official relations with Iran, and indeed
forbade US business from operating in Iran (although in reality there were
US corporations dealing with Iran anyway, in various ways, never mind the
law - e.g. Halliburton, Baker Huges, Smith International, Caterpillar,
Conoco and General Electric; other U.S. firms, like Hewlett-Packard, Kodak,
and Procter & Gamble just shipped their products to Dubai to get around the
problem, from where goods were re-exported to Iran).

So anyway, save for a change in policy, all the US can do at present is
threaten, bully and cajole what they called a "rogue state" from the outside
(including via international bodies), or send the spies in, or provide
bordering countries with more military clout. In other respects, they don't
really have a lot of leverage on what the Iranians do. That is what explains
their clumsy fumblings and rhetoric about "the enemy" (of course if you have
a military force of a million people with a budget of hundreds of billions
of dollars, there has to be an "enemy" somewhere, even if you have to invent

Zbigniew Brzezinski had a much better and bold idea some time ago. He
recommended a "Nixon-to-China approach" to Iran. Brzezinski noted that much
of the American public and diplomatic community were skeptical of prospects
for relations with China, when President Nixon made his diplomatic move -
yet Nixon set the stage for constructive engagement, probably the best thing
that he did politically. "Recall that the statement of principles [the US
and China initially signed on to] didn't solve any issues, but it pointed
the way," Brzezinski said.

Such an approach is unlikely to happen under the government of crusadin' Mr
Bush, of course. But I think that for the sake of better political outcomes,
it needs to happen, and I think it will happen eventually, realistically
even just because of the weighty commercial interests at stake. More and
more Americans are anyhow growing weary of a "might makes right" foreign
policy that alienates more and more of the world, and makes more and more
people hostile towards America (and by extension, Israel).

Whatever else you might say about real politics of any sort, the "iron law"
here is, that it has to solve some problems for people, if it is to succeed
to any extent. By the time that you generate more problems than you solve,
your politics are on the way out.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jan 31 2007 - 00:00:05 EST