email us


Fly to Iran

Sehaty Foreign Exchange

Flower delivery in Iran

Advertise with The Iranian


 Write for The Iranian

Clinton legacy?
Clinton & the Iranian-American community

September 22, 2000
The Iranian

A while back a friend asked my opinion about a piece in which he had compared the reported search by presidents Clinton and Khatami for some sort of elusive legacy. Exhorting Clinton to work harder toward normalizing Iran-U.S. relations, the piece ended with a very probing question: What is Clinton's legacy? To this query, I quipped, "A blow job or two by Monica Lewinsky." Then, I got to thinking about all this by some in the Iranian-American community to measure Clinton's political legacy in terms of Iran-U.S. relations. Flippantly, I fired back at my friend: "Never mind Clinton's legacy, what about Khatami's?"

Legacy, indeed! The word means "bequest" or "inheritance," something left to the survivors by will, hand, or other methods. In political terms, the word is used to convey a sense of continuity or leaving behind something slightly less mortal than one's tenure in office or life itself. In any event, legacies happen after the fact, but some believe that somehow Clinton can fabricate his legacy now and by himself. He can try, as can Khatami, just as a testator puts together his own will, but the truth is that in politics legacy is created by the public and not until the person is out of office. It is all about how or for what one remembers a president.

The issue of legacies is an overrated phenomenon in American politics, if for no reason then at least because in the United States politics is consensus and not one person can take all the credit for a policy. The notion or exhortation to leave behind a particular legacy is often foisted on sitting presidents in order to get them to do things that they otherwise are not willing to do.

The broadcloth of any political legacy is not a specific policy or its consequence, or an act of commission or omission by the president: it all boils down to that by which the people will remember Clinton, a sort of word association game. "I name the president, you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind." The answer to that question often will come from impressions that the American popular culture imprints on us. Nixon arguably opened the door to China, but most remember him for Watergate and his self-promoting proclamation that he was not a crook. To those who wanted to see him finish off Saddam, George Bush was a wimp, but most Americans will remember him for breaking his "no new taxes" pledge. But in eastern Europe, Bush is revered as the great emancipator of the Soviet colonies. In Iraq, he is viewed as a mad dog. I wonder why.

Clinton will be the youngest president to leave office. He has a proverbial few good years left in him and all this talk about his legacy is premature. It is conceivable that we might not remember him as a successful two-term U.S. president, but rather as the Secretary General of the United Nations, or a judge on the International Court of Justice or the U.S. Supreme Court, or the governor of New York or California, or "the king of the world." The same goes for Monica Lewinsky, who might be remembered not for her intimacy with Clinton but rather for her tulips on display at her flower shop on Santa Monica Boulevard.

In foreign policy, Clinton has achieved much, even if the results are not all in and the jury is out on many of them. The Irish initiative, Bosnia, Kosovo, Arab-Israeli peace, Russia-U.S. relations, China and the World Trade Organization, inaction in Africa, lifting of the deli sanctions against Iran, opening to Vietnam, softening of the Cuba policy, keeping Iraq in the box, the Cyprus initiative, nonproliferation, and so on. If I have omitted a legacy, the reader should take the omission as evidence that legacies are numerous in quantity and often subjective in their appeal.

In the area of foreign policy, Clinton and Khatami should be expected to leave not a legacy but many different legacies. But it is not very clear whether either leader thinks of his legacy in terms of normalization of relations between the United States and Iran. Their acts certainly do not show it, but their rhetoric on the issue has sounded wishful on this score, at least until Khatami's remarks in New York earlier this month to a group of Iranians. On that occasion, he acknowledged as a good step the United States' admission of responsibility in the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953. But, and this is a big but, he also intimated that the United States should now apologize for its role. If that were done, expect the Iranian government to then demand compensation.

It has become standard operating procedure for the Iranian government to constantly move the goalpost when it comes to defining what it wants from Washington, the haggling is endless and bait-and-switch routine. Carter was burned by the Iranian government's tactics and negotiating postures. President Reagan and his vice president, George Bush, were betrayed by the Iranian government over the arms-for-hostages deal. Bush, too, with all his international diplomatic skills could not figure out the Iranian government. Clinton, too, has had his share of receiving contradictory signals. Caution therefore is required by experience and compelled by prudence. In contrast to Iran's vacillations, the United States has stuck to its three requirements from Tehran -- forsaking of military nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction, noninterference in the Arab-Israeli peace process, and an end to state-sponsored terrorism.

The Nixon overture to China is often cited as the model for Clinton to emulate in shaping his foreign policy legacy toward Iran. That was another time and another place in history, however, and the Nixon initiative came after decades of no relationship at all between the United Sates and Red China. Besides, the two countries needed one another to deal with the Vietnam War and the Soviet Union. None of those conditions are present here: there is no complete absence of relations between Iran and the United States, as the two countries continue to flirt with one another openly, always falling short of that embrace so desired by many here and in Iran. With the demise of the Soviet Union, there is no common adversary that would compel closer cooperation between Iran and the United States. Some issue-by-issue cooperation does take place and perhaps that is the best for both the United States and Iran in the short to medium term.

By the sound of his remarks in New York, the Iranian president did not seem to be either personally eager or politically capable of pursuing diplomatic rapprochement with the United States. While Clinton is leaving office in January, Khatami has just begun at home. Khatami is in the grip of a visceral domestic fight with his ideological adversaries; Clinton is a lame-duck president who does not mind putting off to his successor the hard decisions, like a national strategic missile defense system. Clinton could finish at least what he started in March of this year, which was to signal the lifting of the ban on some Iranian imports. He should go the full distance and allow for the Iranian oil, carpets and caviar to become once again available to the American consumer.

But this is an election year and how would a decision on Iran play into the hands of the Republicans? As for a possible snipping by the Republicans, the president's decision on liberalizing Iranian trade relations will be fire-proof because Dick Cheney, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, has just resigned as the CEO of the oil giant Halli-Burton, which still has significant operations in Iran. Although, nothing in the past has prevented the Republican pot calling the Democrat kettle black. Besides, the Leiberman vice presidency, in the case the Democrats retain the White House, will serve to make sure that an Iranian-American entente does not overshadow the traditional American support for Israel. Greater overtures to Iran, may very well be exactly the impetus needed by the Israelis and Palestinians to jump start the Middle East peace process. Prudence however dictates that the opening of the door to Iran be done in such a manner that the door does not come off its hinges altogether.

Maybe improved Iranian-American relations is in the cards. Maybe not. Either way, the Clinton presidency will leave behind an Iranian legacy, for the better or worse. How he will be remembered in American history, however, will not be because of his Iran policy. As for the Iranian-American community, it should grow to not care about what Clinton or his successor thinks of Iran, but rather what Americans think of Iran and the Iranians among them. It is in this field the Iranian-Americans should labor, to change the image of the "I-rainian" in America's pop culture. That begins with becoming teachers, social workers, and volunteers in the communities across this country, with taking back one's Iranian name from the ravages of expedient abbreviations and Americophone equivalents, with no longer practicing a bizarre mixture of elitism and victimhood.


Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and practices law in Massachusetts.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer Guive Mirfendereski

 Send flowers

Copyright © Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form

 MIS Internet Services

Web Site Design by
Multimedia Internet Services, Inc

 GPG Internet server

Internet server by
Global Publishing Group.