President Obama recorded a video message yesterday of peace and friendship to the people and government of Iran, inviting a dialogue over the many issues that have divided our countries. While many on the right will no doubt attack Obama's gesture as hopelessly naive, there is reason to think that an appeal to moderate elements in Iran could strike a chord. Even the most radical Islamists in Iran are probably having more trouble demonizing an America with Barack Obama as its leader than the America represented by a Bush, Clinton or Reagan.
I saw a very interesting documentary about Iran over the weekend, called Letters to the President. The filmmaker was given unique access to follow President Ahmadinejad in his travels around the country, and shows how skillful and charismatic a politician he is. He presents himself as an ordinary man, a servant of the people who wants no special treatment, and the poor in the countryside especially, love him for that. President Ahmadinejad encourages people to send him letters, and has set up a special office to answer the millions of messages he receives. He gives hope to many people who have very little. On the other hand, as the film also shows, many more sophisticated Iranians, primarily in the cities, have no use whatsoever for Ahmadinejad, and understand how isolated the government's policies have made their country.
Obama's appeal could break down some barriers to both elements within Iran. Obviously, those who want the country to accept more modernity and better relations with the West will be receptive to such a message from the United States. But even those who are encouraged to hate America may find it a little harder to hold onto their hate. Such an appeal at least seems worth trying.