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Obama and his views on Sunnis and Shiites

In an interview with The Atlantic magazine, U.S. President Barack Obama held on to his position that negotiating with Iran is his best option

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

In an interview with columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, U.S. President Barack Obama held on to his position that negotiating with Iran is his best option and that the region must live with this and accept it. He added that if negotiations were fruitless after six months or a year, he could impose sanctions once again.

It is the American president’s right to decide what he thinks is best for his people and his country, however, his answer to the question “what is more dangerous, Sunni or Shiite extremism?” was erroneous. He was also wrong when he commended Iran, saying Iran’s behavior was driven by strategic imperatives and was not impulsive. He was also wrong in saying they have a worldview, and that they calculate their moves according to a cost-benefit analysis.

We can say the same thing about Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Un! Iran has as much oil as Saudi Arabia but is a poor country whose people have lived in misery for more than 30 years, like communist China the Soviet Union, Vietnam and other countries ruled by cruel dictatorial regimes.

They all crumbled although they espoused a global strategic perspective and not an impulsive one, as Obama put it while admiring Iran.

Dear Mr. President…

Mr. President, Shiite extremists are exactly like Sunni extremists. Let me explain the difference to you. Shiite extremists are in positions of authority - in Khamenei’s regime in Tehran and Hezbollah's in Beirut. On the other hand, Sunni extremists are in the opposition camp, like al-Qaeda. They are outcasts, living in caves. Most of Iran’s Shiites are against the extremist regime. Your decision to negotiate has granted the extremist regime of Tehran additional time and frustrated many Iranians who were hoping to get rid of the regime or force it towards openness and moderation.

The president added that he does not think Iran has a suicide wish and that believes the country can respond to incentives

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Ever since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, Iran has lived in poverty and misery. The country has been ruled with an iron fist and most of its resources have been spent on foreign wars and on supporting terrorist groups. So, how does this prove that Iran has a strategic perspective and what sort of gains are there, considering this has been going on for 30 years?

The American president continued to speak in a manner that shows he really doesn’t know the region, commending Iran by saying it’s a large, powerful, country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage. He added that he does not think Iran has a suicide wish and that he believes the country can respond to incentives.

The other side of the coin

Who told you we have a suicide wish? We are the ones pursing al-Qaeda and Iran is the one hosting them! Arabs constitute three times the population of Iran and consider themselves an important player on the world stage. We are not saying that rights are granted based on population or power, the world must stand against hostile regimes whether they are Arabs, Farsi, Muslim, Jewish or Christian. We might seem naive for believing in these principles, but this is what we expect from the strongest country that considers itself the leader of the free world.

The Iranian regime thinks that the negotiations are a reward for its hostile behavior, which President Obama commends and considers a calculation of Iran's cost-benefit analysis. Extremists within Tehran’s regime were behind the killing of 300 American and French soldiers in 1983 at the Marine headquarters in Beirut, and they planned the attack on the embassy where American diplomats were killed. The year after, they killed the head of the American University of Beirut and two years later, they hijacked a TWA airplane, killing one of its passengers. In 1986, they kidnapped an American colonel and hanged him. In 1996, they blew up an American compound in the Saudi city of Khobar, killing 19 and injuring more than 200 Americans. Iran’s criminal activity reached Buenos Aires, where they blew up a temple in 1991. The list goes on and on and as I said, the difference between Sunnis and Shiites is that the rulers of Tehran are the Shiite revolutionary guard whose ideology is similar to the Sunni extremist al-Qaeda movement, which failed to assume authority.

What President Obama spoke of expresses the simplification of a dangerous cause and he has handed a lifeline to Iran’s regime which is struggling as a result of the international siege and as a result of the domestic pressure which was threatening the extremist command. For the record, ever since it launched negotiations over its nuclear program, Iran has been more brutal as it sent thousands of its soldiers to fight in Syria, strengthened its fist on Iraq, sent weapons to Yemen and Sudan and tried to send them to the Gaza Strip. Can the president tell us how the Iranian regime responded to his incentives?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 10, 2014.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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