This is significant. Despite the obligatory admonishments, Obama’s tone was respectful, and showed cultural sensitivity. The message has shortcomings, no doubt. But what is important is that he is bucking neocon/Israel lobby pressure to opt for engagement. As John Mearsheimer notes in his latest LRB piece, the Israel lobby may have won a tactical battle over Freeman, but the hysterical approach it employed has only brought more intense scrutiny to its activities. It is faltering. And here finally is proof. However, there is need for some caution. The US knows, as Andrew Bacevich points out, that its only consideration in Iraq now is how best to minimize the humiliation of its inevitable withdrawal.
Toward that end, Iran’s cooperation could be invaluable. It would also be necessary if the US is indeed going to proceed with the plan for widening its war inside Pakistan to Baluchistan. If so, it would be very unwise for the Iranians to go along. According to recent polls Iran’s influence is already resented by most Iraqis (next only to the US in that regard), and any cooperation with the US against Pakistan could have consequences for the stability of both countries.
But from the tone of the message, and the decision to address the people as well as the government (in the past US leaders would condescendingly bypass the government to address the people directly), it is clear that Obama is cognizant of the regional balance of power; he is not in a position to dictate. So long as Iran retains the independence of its foreign policy, there is much cause for celebration in this. This is the clearest repudiation of a foreign policy posture that had for at least twenty years been dictated very much by the lobby. If you want to judge how much of a milestone this is, just wait for the reactions. (Over at Salon, Glen Greenwald is keeping a tab on the ’38/’appeasement’ references. As someone had once put it, to be a neocon is to bear witness to the resurrection of Hitler everyday).