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The Geopolitics of Apology

It’s the Persian New Year, Nowruz, and President Obama recorded a video message to the Iranian people, intended to indicate respect for their cultural heritage. A gesture, sure, and one that a spokesman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad — who’s seemingly determined to react churlishly to such U.S. gestures — greeted thusly:

In an interview with The Washington Post, Javanfekr said the United States must also apologize for long-ago actions, including supporting Iraq in its war with Iran in the 1980s; downing of an Iranian civilian aircraft with 290 passengers on board in 1988 (the U.S. has expressed regret for the loss of life and paid damages, but has not apologized directly to the Iranian government); and helping to organize a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government in 1953.

Now being a superpower means never having to say you’re sorry, I suppose, but what would be the real, tangible downside of, you know, apologizing?

None of the three incidents mentioned are exactly sterling moments in American history. More importantly, unless there’s a legal issue with the civilian airliner downing that I’m unfamiliar with, apologizing for the U.S. role in these incidents would have no actual adverse effect on current American policy. Just as it takes the larger man or woman to apologize for past misdeeds, so too with the larger nation. If there’s a cost-free way to build actual goodwill in the a manner the Iranian government recognizes — or, to be more cynical, to deprive it of a pretext for intransigence — why not pursue it?

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