By Charles J. Mouratides, Executive Director, CHI 

For a nation of immigrants – a country of six official races and at least 150 ethnic groups – we sure miss detecting some basic character aspects of the world around us.

The desires, passions, and cultural peculiarities that drive the daily behavior of many nations – even unto death – pass us by without leaving as much as a scratch.

As for historical events, they also fail to register. Even our interest in our own national history consists mainly of colorful rituals on such occasions as Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. We like to place the horn-of-plenty basket at the dinner table or don pilgrim hats and Flintlock Muskets for the parade down Main street. Usually, that is our version of paying homage to history.

Those occasions are surely fun, but they miss the philosophical and political significance of U.S. history and its deeper meaning: Why American democratic society was established as it did, and why it developed as it has.

Our language, too, views history as something unrelated to our present daily life. The common, dismissive expression is, “That’s history.” Meaning, “It’s behind us, don’t bring it up again.” So history exacts its revenge in the form of missed opportunities and deadly mistakes.

Take Iran, for instance.

Do you want to know how Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khomeini ultimately will react to the international campaign against the creation of Iran’s nuclear arsenal, and why? All you need is to invoke the history of the Middle East.

I was impressed by the understanding that an Israeli intelligence officer demonstrated in a situation that is different, but appropriate as an example.

Recently, more than 200 rockets were fired over four days into Israel from Gaza. The officer explained that Islamic Jihad was focused on “saving face” and creating a “victory image.” In reality, Islamic Jihad had suffered heavy losses, including more than 20 dead operatives and heavy damage to infrastructure.

“…Iran was actively encouraging Islamic Jihad to continue firing rockets…,” the officers said. “Iran was concerned that if (they) stopped now, (they) would appear weak and bruised for failing to exact a heavy price from Israel…” In other words, the Islamists were being sacrificed without the possibility of victory, in order to uphold appearances.

History Lesson One: Leaders who invite retaliation just “to save face” would not hesitate to attack if they feel they can inflict destruction, regardless of consequences.

Recent history teaches us more about this mentality of Middle East rulers. Iraq’s last autocrat, Saddam Hussein, was willing to save face to the death – his, his family’s and that of tens of thousands of others. Hussein knew that he did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Yet, he persisted in providing justification for a U.S. invasion, by refusing to allow international inspectors to properly inspect his arsenal. The rest is history.

History Lesson Two: Even the certainty of destruction and death do not quench the thirst for hubris and “face-saving.”

Finally, as demonstrated by both Iraq and Iran, most Middle East leaders confuse “bazaarlik” with negotiating.

Bazaarlik, (bargaining), the give-and-take at the bazaar (a Persian word), fuels bargaining dynamics with three assumptions: 1) Your “simplistic opponent’” desperately wants what you have; 2) You can up your demands continuously as you test his resolve, and, 3) At any time, you have the power to reverse your position successfully. Tourists find this style of doing business charming.

History Lesson Three: Engaging in endless discussions creates an impression of progress, while forcing the opponent to give in or give up.

Ahmadinejad has agreed to a new round of discussions with the 5+1 group (U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.) That’s presumably progress, but the pattern is familiar. Just to demonstrate that Iran’s opponents are wrong, Iran’s presidential website quoted this week visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressing support for Iran’s peaceful aims.

Erdogan, presumed to be a friend of the West and expected to host the 5+1 talks about April 13, 2012, stated again that Iran has every right to develop its peaceful nuclear power.

That’s not the issue. It is the delivery of nuclear bombs that scares the world. Did Erdogan inspect Iran’s nuclear research and production facilities? For sure, not. He, too, is a master of the theater of the Middle East. By not addressing the real issue, he provides time and maneuvering space to Iran. The West is blindsided as Erdogan enhances his own pro-Arab, anti-Israel image.

Our question: Is Ahmadinejad another Hussein in the process of saving face while risking destruction of his country or is he playing bazaarlik or both?

If the West is expecting Iran to reveal its true intentions, forget it. Why Ahmadinejad persists on his soon-to-be disastrous path, is something the world will discover after the fact.

Unless, of course, somebody blocks what other Middle East nations know well from history and fear openly: A Jihadist state determined to “save face” that is also armed with nuclear weapons.   ###

CHI-CIRCLE FOR HELLAS & ISRAEL /International Friends for Greece-Israel Alliance, is a non-profit organization, registered in the State of Illinois.. Our mission is to encourage and help secure the long-term creative viability of the historic alliance between Israel and Hellas, and between Hellenism and Judaism in the Balkans, in Eastern Mediterranean and in the Diaspora.  CHI aims to accomplish its mission through cultural, educational and business programs with an emphasis on people-to-people contacts.