tv Hooman Majd on U.S.- Iran Relations CSPAN June 27, 2015 8:36pm-9:24pm EDT
why you can say it is not far-fetched to draw a line from the 1953 coup in iran, through the dictatorship, through the islamic revolution, to al qaeda and the fireballs that engulfed the world trade center in new york. the world has paid a terrible price for the lack of democracy in the middle east. why is there such a lack of democracy there? when the united states -- there are many reasons, of course. i was studying history in college, i was warned not to draw cause-and-effect relationships. i hope my teacher is not in the room. [applause] we sent a message in 1953 that resounded through the middle east. the message was that the united states, which is the rising power to replace the fading british in this region, does not want to see the emergence of democratic government. we want strongman rule.
and that is what we got. a whole generation of leaders understood that they wanted to spend regimes to be supported it could not go the democratic direction. they need to go the direction of iran -- guarantee support for the cold war conflict. and also access for american companies to access the oil, their most important product. from that one episode a deep-seated anti-american sense grew and spread the middle east. >> executive press is saying that iraq is setting limits. secretary of state john kerry and iran's minister met in a hotel, and will be several
negotiations ahead of a tuesday deadline. the iranian minister said the sanctions must end immediately once a deal is reached. all other penalties must be removed. the u.s. and the six world powers involved in the talks say that will not happen. you are watching a special issue spotlight program on iran. up next, examining the u.s. and iran relationship. his books include "the ayatollah begs to differ"." this event took place at williams college in massachusetts in 2013. [applause] thank you very much. that introduction was lovely. but i have to say, i am
neither a professor or an expert on anything of any kind. there are no irony in experts case you were wondering. there is no such thing as expertise on iran. it is way too unpredictable and difficult for anybody to claim they know what iran is, whether they are going to build a bomb whether they're not, whether they're going to go to war, all of that stuff that experts claim to know, they actually don't. and the proof of that is that in 2009, when there was an election in iran, a presidential election in iran, there wasn't a single expert, myself included, as a nonexpert, who predicted what was going to happen and the aftermath of that election. so now we've got a whole new election happening in iran. and there's all sorts of new expertise about expert opinion about what's going to happen with the election in iran, how it's going to affect the nuclear program, how it's going to affect relations with the united states and iran. and again, i would argue that no
one really knows. and i'll talk a little bit about what we do know about iran. rather than what we think we know. iran is, as i said earlier at a dinner, i have the fortune or misfortune, however you look at it, of being bi-cultural. what i know of iran is through the culture of my parents and my family. and the time i've spent in iran. which isn't as much as i would like it to have been. and my contacts with iranians, all kinds of iranians -- politicians, dave mentioned that i have met and translated for and even advised iranian presidents. i've had the fortune of being able to look at issues through iranian eyes. my own eyes, which are partly iranian, but also through the eyes of iranians that i've gotten close to.
and i think that's actually the primary problem that we have in america with foreign relations that we have a very difficult time looking at issues through the eyes of someone else. through the eyes of another culture. particularly a culture which seems to be in conflict with us. and iran has seemed to be seemed to have been in conflict with us for now over 30 years. question is, is there any way for us as americans, americans who don't have the experience or the bi-cultural background, to be able to understand where iran is coming from or the iranian government's coming from or where the iranian people are coming from? is there a way for us to accommodate what their concerns are and what they want to be in this so-called family of nations that exists right now? hopefully at peace with each other. that's a good question. i can't answer that question because i'm bi-cultural. it's very difficult for me to answer that question. i think i know.
but i can't look at iran purely through american eyes. what i'm going to do tonight is try to explain a little bit about iran from the perspective of iranians, not from the perspective of an american. when we look at iran i think and it's in the news all the time, the scary country, 80 million people who seem to be religious fanatics which we don't like in america, generally speaking, who are bent on the destruction of israel, one of our closest allies if not our closest ally. who are bent on reducing our influence and power in the world and challenging the u.s. in almost every instance where our interests intersect, such as in afghanistan, iraq, syria lebanon, with hamas, with hezbollah. that is what we see of iran. and what we see in the media of
iran is also very alarmist. we have a crazy president in iran who talks about there being no homosexuals in iran, to wanting to wipe israel off the map, to talking about the evil of zionism, to talking about how iran is a super power and is going to challenge america and is actually going to be victorious in this battle between east and west. so this is what we get from the media to a large degree what is we see all the time, but it of course as intelligent people we know that can't possibly be the truth. and it isn't. it isn't the truth. it is true that president ahmadinejad is a little wacko. it is true that he comes across as very wacko. it is true that his rhetoric sounds to our ears completely insane. it is also true that his rhetoric doesn't sound insane to a large population inside iran and doesn't sound insane to a
large population in the developing world, not just iran. it's also true that he doesn't represent the iranian people fully. it's true that the iranians we see on tv sometimes all the way back to the hostage crisis jumping up and down and shouting death to america, scenes of tehran on television of people walking on the american flag, we also know that that, we actually know that, most intelligent people know that doesn't represent 80 million people. but it is also true at the same time that the iranian government is at odds with the u.s. government in many instances. and in many places in the world. particularly in the middle east. the question is, why is that? why should we be at odds with iran? what is there about iran or this government in particular, this regime in particular that makes it impossible for us to have figured out how to be on good or at least on speaking terms with them over the last 30
years? well, the first answer to that is the hostage crisis. we tried, we had -- sorry, we had an embassy there, they took our hostages, they did something evil that was against international law, so we stopped speaking to them. we cut off diplomatic relations. that was that. now they're our enemy, they're against us, and we will do everything to undermine them. which included supporting saddam hussein when he went to war with iran. supporting him militarily, intelligence-wise, and supporting the countries that supported him financially. that's the easy answer. the more complicated answer is that there are grievances on both sides. the main grievance that the united states has starts with the hostage crisis but then goes on to iran's support for act
ors we don't approve of such as hezbollah in lebanon and the palestinian resistance in israel. and the occupied territories. the grievance on the iranian side is the side that we tend to miss. and we tend not to talk about. and the grievances on the iranian side go back all the way to world war ii. after world war ii, during world war ii, the allied powers had the shah's father removed from power because he was an axis sympathizer and installed the son. seven or eight years later there was a democratic -- he was a very weak ruler. there was a constitutional monarchy. there was a elected prime minister. and the elected prime minister in 1953 was mohammad musadev who was a nationalist who believed in iran's national interests and didn't believe in being allied to either east or west and didn't believe in taking orders from the united states or anyone else. particularly great britain, at
that time. at that time, iran's oil, iran's income from its oil, was less than the taxes that bp was paying to the british government for the sale of that oil. so he nationalized the oil industry. and the british and the americans, to make a very long story short, for those of you who know it, the british and american governments decided to remove that democratically elected prime minister and return the shah to power, who had fred iran in fear that he would be arrested. that coup the 1953 coup, is something that every iranian knows about, every iranian has known about forever, has been taught in schools since 1979, and every iranian knows that was instigated that coup was instigated by the united states. and great britain. but mainly, it wouldn't have happened without the united states.
so, as far as iranians are concerned, and particularly the revolutionaries who took over power in 1979 and who are now in control of the country, for them, the u.s. is a country that took away their democratic aspirations. it's true, it was more than 50 years ago. but it's still a recent memory for many of those people. and that since then, certainly since 1979, has tried to undermine iran's movement toward an independent democratic or somewhat democratic state. so the antagonism goes back to 1953. but it's not just to 1953. a lot of people will write books or write articles about how the iranians have a grievance against the united states because of the 1953 coup. it's not just that. since 1979 and the hostage crisis, the iranians feel that the u.s. has tried to undermine iran in many ways.
and i'll just point out a few of the more recent things that the iranians will point out and say this shows american bad faith towards iran. the nuclear issue as being a primary one, that the united states is making certain demands of iran that most iranians believe iran has a right to. a right to let's say nuclear enrichment at this point. most iranians believe iran has a right to a nuclear program under the treaty they have signed and that the united states is unreasonable in demanding they stop that. they believe the united states has gone further than just demanding iran stop that. and has actually had programs to undermine the regime. regime change programs. in fact, there was at one point i think a $400 million budget to foment revolution in iran under president bush, there was. and i'm not sure where it stands now, the budget for covert and
overt activity against the iranian regime. so the iranian people and the iranian regime, and the iranian regime is very good at propaganda and telling its people what's going on in the world, what's going on with america and iran -- the view there is that america cannot abide by iran's independence, by iran wanting to make its own decisions, and being an independent actor in the middle east. and wants to impose its will on iran. once to impose its ideals and ideology on iran, and iran is resisting that. and another example for the iranians is the assassination of nuclear scientists which is blamed on israel and the united states. and although the united states claims that it's not involved in the assassination of iranian nuclear scientists, that's not very much -- that's not very
well believed in iran by even ordinary iranians who dislike the regime. then you have the stuts net worm, the virus introduced to the program running the nuclear program which caused a lot of damage. the iranian people have two major concerns in life. they have one concern which is economic, which we all have. everybody wants to have a good economic life, have a stable life, have a stable country, a stable economy. and to do well. financially. their second concern, secondary concern, is a socio political concern. so they want a government that represents them. those two are their own primary concerns for the iranian people. the iranian government knows those two are the primary concerns. they know the economic concerns. they know it's more important.
but for the iranians there's a third concern. something we don't generally have to think about in america. that is what their nation stands for. the iranian people are proud people who've had 2500 years of history. at least they think they've had 2500 years of history as a nation state. and a nation state that was created at a time when there were very few nation states. there were mostly city states at that time. and iran forged together this nation out of different tribes different ethnicities and created this country called iran. by the way it was always called , iran by the iranians. it was called persia by the greeks and british. iranian kids who go to school were always taught iranian history. the same way we're taught american history. they were taught about this grand, great empire that did a lot of good things. it was very powerful, that was
independent, that was influential where the language was influential across the world. and they've seen the decline. and they blame part of that decline on the weakness of iran. the weakness of its rulers and the strength of the west. and what the 1979 revolution was supposed to do and why it was popular for many iranians was that it claimed that it was going to make iranian another great country that was going to be independent. not necessarily to compete militarily, not necessarily to compete in terms of power on the world stage, but to be competitive as an independent nation state that was not going to take orders or dictate from any other country. that was a popular sentiment. and that's still a sentiment that is very much a part of the iranian experience. inside iran and even among iranians outside of iran. even among iranian americans who live here who might despise the regime and what it does in terms of human rights and civil
rights. but still believe that iran should be an independent nation, should not be a country that is allied, necessarily, to one country -- to another greater power or not. so for iranians, that third concern is actually quite important. and that's the concern that the regime has been able to play on for the last 30 years. and particularly in the last ten years when it's been about the nuclear issue. this concern that we want to be an independent nation. we don't want to be dictated to by the west. we don't want to be dictated by anybody let alone the west. in in the foreign ministry, they carved into the law neither east nor west. it's important to the iranians to not be linked to the communist east or the capitalist west. and that sentiment still plays a very strong role in the iranian culture.
so i'm going to move to whether this government or this regime is an act that is possible to do business with for the united states. given the fact that they have as we know post-2009, quite a lot of discontent economically and sociopolitically. the first two concerns that most iranians have. they don't have a lot of discontent when it comes to their stance on independence. and the nuclear issue is what is driving that stance right now. for iranians and why the nuclear issue is still a very popular issue. nuclear program is still a popular issue for most iranians inside iran. even the polls, latest polls -- although polls can be quite not accurate in countries like iran where people tend not to answer truthfully because they're afraid their answers might become public.
and people generally tend not to want to answer questions by someone anonymously on the phone. but there have been numerous polls done internally and by external polling -- u.s.-based polling companies that have shown that even though the nuclear program has diminished somewhat in its popularity, it's still popular. and the iran stance on the nuclear program is popular by an overwhelming majority inside iran. still an overwhelming majority. and that's what i was talking about that third issue. now we can talk about what this regime is. and whether what we -- how we relate to them, whether it's even possible for us to relate to them. talking about ahmadinejad first. ahmadinejad has been blown way out of proportion in the west. by our media. and you can't blame our media. our media likes to look for
stuff that's interesting, exciting, sensationalist. a and ahmadinejad, you know, he fits that bill. if he was reasonable, he wouldn't get a lot of air time. he's much more interesting as an unreasonable person. and we like wackos. half the media is kmpbed about him being a little wacko instead of him actually being a threat. in ahmadinejad's case, it was both. this obsession about him being a threat as well as a wacko. but ahmadinejad in iran is not as important as we made him out to be here. it was much more convenient for the media to make him out to be the leader of iran. that's the word they have used often. when he is not the leader of iran.
iran has a very, very complicated political structure. and it might bore people to death for me to go into it. but i'll go into it briefly. it is somewhat democratic not in the way we imagine in that there is a supreme leader. these terms are for orwellian. there is a supreme leader that is supreme. he is the ultimate authority. the way that it is structured, he is chosen by a body of clerics call the assembly of experts. that is a pretty orwellian term too. they are voted on by the people. every six years. but i have yet to come across and i romney and -- an iranian who has voted in that election. so you have to assume that people who go out and vote for the assembly of experts are people who are really regime
supporters. and they vote for the relatively conservative ayatollahs. and the assembly is all clerics. it's like the college of cardinals. that assembly of experts has the ability to appoint a supreme leader and during that can monitor his performance and impeach him. so this is where they claim their legitimacy. saying i'm elected through the assembly of experts. then you have the other governmental bodies that are all ultimately answerable to the supreme leader. guardian council, another group of six clerics who are to mediate between -- this is -- sorry. between parliament and the exec utive branch. they're elected. there's a legislative branch which is the parliament. then there's the presidency. and if anybody's been following iran in the last few months or last
year, you know inside iran there's a huge battle going on between those three branches of government. that said -- so there is a somewhat democratic system in place and the constitution is somewhat democratic. but that said, there is still the supreme leader who has the final say in everything and people defer to him. so the supreme leader was always the person who has been dealing with the nuclear issue. he's always the person who ultimately will make the decision on whether to talk to america, whether to make a deal with america. he's always the person who has the military capability. he is the person if iran ever builds a nuclear weapon -- if it were to do that -- he is the person who will have his finger on the button. not someone like ahmadinejad who is the president of iran. or whoever the next president of
iran is. in fact, the government system in iran, the president isn't even the commander in chief. the commander in chief is the supreme leader. so he doesn't have control over the military. so even if ahmadinejad really wanted to wipe israel off the map, he wouldn't have the ability to do so. he doesn't have his finger on any button let alone a nuclear button. he doesn't have the ability to make a decision on the nuclear issue. that's handled by the supreme national security council which is answerable only to the supreme leader. and it's he who appoints the people to the supreme national security council but in the institution the president is automatically on that council, but he's just one voice of many. so the iranian government is -- seems opaque, seems very complicated. you do have these three branches of government. they're constantly fighting each other quite openly. and the media in iran is actually quite open in being able to criticize one branch of government or another branch. there isn't freedom of press in
iran, i'm not suggesting there is. but there's more freedom of press in iran than in other allied countries such as bahrain or even qatar and places like that. there is more freedom for the press to criticize the government. and there are certain red lines that cannot be crossed by the media. but you have a system that seems complicated and i think president obama realized. now, the supreme leader being supreme generally doesn't talk to anybody. and he has not left iran since he became president in 1989. since he became supreme leader. sorry. he was president before. one time he was a president. since 1989 he has not left iran. he thinks being the supreme leader, that people have to come to him.
and there's actually a book out right now by a couple of ex-u.s. intelligence people who are suggesting that's exactly what obama should do. is actually go to tehran. they titled the book with the "going to tehran." so he doesn't ordinarily meet with people. he doesn't meet with foreign politicians. he does occasionally meet with heads of state from muslim countries or african countries developing countries who com to tehran. he will have a brief meeting with them. but he doesn't negotiate. so it's a very complicated structure. but president obama did send a letter to the supreme leader instead of to ahmadinejad. now, as far as the iranians are concerned, this caused -- as far as many iranians are concerned this caused more problems than it solved. president obama recognized ahmadinejad is not the person to discuss things with. so let's send a letter to the guy who's responsible, the supreme leader. ahmadinejad had been the first iranian president since the
revolution to congratulate an american president in writing on their election. so ahmadinejad sent a letter to president obama on being elected in 2008. he didn't get a response. he was very offended ahmadinejad was very offended he didn't get a response from president obama. so he started causing problems inside iran in terms of dealing with the administration. he mentioned americans aren't really interested in speaking to us or they're not really interested in engaging. it's all nonsense. they just pretend that they want to. they won't even respond to a congratulatory letter i sent them. that became a bit of a problem in the regime in iran. the supreme leader did respond sent a letter back. the reason i know this -- this
has never been public. the only reason i know is a friend of mine helped compose that letter. somebody who was in the iranian government at the time. so the problem keeps compounding itself because of this mis -- cultural misunderstanding between the u.s. and iran on both sides. the iranians think the american side isn't genuine. the american side isn't really to undermine them all the time. the american side doesn't understand the iranian side, doesn't understand the importance of responding to a congratulatory letter. and the u.s. side thinks that iran is impossible because every time we try to do anything, we don't get a response that we want. any time we try to reach out or as president obama says reaching out a hand and it's met with a
fist. from the american perspective, we can see that. we can see the iranians aren't reacting well to our outreach. from the iranian side, whether it's the people of iran or whether it's the government, the outreach is actually very weak. it's like, yes, we would like to talk to you guys about your nuclear program and a few other things. afghanistan, syria, iraq. but mainly the nuclear program right now. and right now we would like you to do this. we're telling you we want you to do this. so the iranians say the americans already have what they want us to do which is to stop enriching uranium, to not be able to do what every other country is allowed to do so they're picking on us. at the same time, the same time they're doing this they're also saying and while asking you to do this, we are going to leave all options on the table which means potentially we could -- if
you don't do what we want you to do, we're going to bomb you. and we're going to force you to do what we want. and before we bomb you, we're going to try a few other things. so we're going to really cripple your economy. we're going to sanction the hell out of you. we're going to do something that will make it impossible for you to sell your oil, impossible for you to feed your people, impossible for you to balance your budgets, and really just squeeze you so much that it becomes painful not just for you but also for your citizens. and we'll keep doing that until you agree to do what we want you to do. and all the while at the same time, by the way, if you don't do it we can bomb you. the iranians say, well, you know, that doesn't really work. if you threaten us, then you're not trying to engage us. if you're sanctioning every single thing, our oil, foreign exchange, you're cutting us off from the international banking system.
you're trying -- what you're actually trying to do is destroy us. so, what is the engagement? there is no engagement. you're not really talking to us. you're telling us -- you're dictating to us in the same way you've dictated to other countries as a superpower. and the same way you dictated to iraq and the same way you continue to dictate to some of your other allied weaker countries. and that's not acceptable. and for the iranian people, by and large i would say they would agree with this government. no matter how much they dislike the government. no matter how much they feel the government's not representative of them in many other ways and no matter how much they feel that the human rights situation -- civil rights situation in iran, the democratic process all of those situations or all those issues are of importance and are not in the situation where the iranian people want them to be.
despite that, they are still going to support the nation when it comes to its rights. because once you give up some of your rights because you're told to, once you accept being dictated to, then you really don't have independence anymore. and that is really, really important for the iranian people. it's something i think our politicians have to understand not just with iran but with every country we deal with. we're used to being able to tell other countries what to do. we're used to being able to throw our weight around. it doesn't work anymore. it can only work if we really are willing to go to war -- to a perpetual war with all these countries that don't want to listen to us. and i don't think any of us believe that we are capable of that even anymore of going to war with a bunch of other countries. particularly in the middle east. so the sanctions and the threats
on iran aren't accomplishing what they are meant to accomplish. sanctions and threats are meant to accomplish two things. one is to change the behavior of the regime. or to force the people to change the behavior of their regime. in other words to squeeze the people so much they get so unhappy with the regime that they rise up and overthrow the regime. and then there's a regime that's more amenable to doing what we want it to do. neither of those things are going to happen in iran. neither of them have happened and neither are going to happen. if anything sanctions have not quite decimated yet, but have hurt the middle class to a point where the middle class have virtually no say anymore in civil society in iran. the middle class is getting smaller and weaker and it's the middle class in countries that tend to be the agents of change. the threats are actually causing
the iranians to be more intransigent rather than be cooperative in terms of wanting to try to resolve what is the main issue with iran which is the nuclear issue. the iranians today look around them and they say well, north korea actually has nuclear weapons, is testing nuclear weapons. and they're not threatening -- they are under sanction, that's true. they are under sanction by the united states and other countries, but nobody's threatening to go to war with north korea. yet we don't have nuclear weapons and they're threatening to come to war with us. this doesn't make any sense. we could resolve this issue if the united states particularly the united states because the other countries that are involved, the view in iran is they are not the influential parties. if the united states was willing to accept iran as an islamic republic, as a country that is an independent country, as a legitimate government that has legitimate interests, that as far as the people are concerned has not happened.
we have not yet accepted that the islamic republic is a country that we should be able to treat in exactly the same way we treat any other independent powerful country. this is a demand iran has. the iranian regime -- and i'll talk a little bit about the regime and the presidential elections coming up. and the dissatisfaction with the regime. the regime was based on three things. its legitimacy, the islamic republic was based on three things. religious legitimacy derived from shia theology. second one was its support for the poor, a just society where there was going to be more equality, no corruption, people would have an opportunity to better themselves. and the government would take care in a socialist way take
care of the poorest and the weakest in society. that was the second legitimate factor for the islamic republic. and the third was this independence issue i talk about. the first two issues have kind of weakened considerably. the religious legitimacy has been weakens particularly since 2009 when many of the ayatollahs were seen to be cruel and not caring about any of the things they talked about in the past and democratic values. but even down to torture and arrests of human rights activists and protesters and stuff like that. you lose legitimacy if you do things that are not very religious or at least accepted in the religion. and even islam doesn't accept torture of prisoners for no reason or for any reason actually. so they lost that. they have this one legitimate -- and they lost the legitimacy of being for
justice and for being the poor and for being against corruption and for equality for people partly because there's as much corruption now as there was probably in the last years of the shah's regime. if not more. and there's a huge gap in wealth between the haves and the have not. and there's a lot of resentment inside iran even amongst people who support the regime. there's a lot of resentment about the fact there's a class of society, people associated with the revolution, people associated with the regime who do well economically and live very well and go around throwing their weight around. when there's people who are suffering. so that legitimacy is gone. wasn't -- it was there at the beginning of the revolution. the beginning of the revolution, anybody who had a mercedes kept it in a garage because they didn't want to seem to be wealthy than anybody else.
now you've got bugattis in iran when there's people who can't make their -- can't even feed their families. so that legitimacy is gone. the only legitimacy they have left in iran, really, is this legitimacy of an independent state that's going to fight for the iranian nation's rights. now, for the people of iran, we are always as americans interested in other cultures and what the political systems are and how -- whether the dictatorship is wanted. and we have sympathy for people who stand up to dictators and autocrats. as far as the united states foreign policy is concerned, though, the two issues whether iran has a horrible human rights record and is an undemocratic
country should not be related to the nuclear issue. they are, as far as i'm concerned, unrelated. if you you try to relate those two issues, you'll never get anywhere with the iranian government. you're not going to be able to bring down the iranian government through rhetoric. you are not going to be able to get the iranian people to rise up against this regime through rhetoric. and by telling the iranian regime that we hate you because of your human rights record, by telling the iranians we stand with you against the dictatorship, you're helping the regime. they turn around and say they're not worried about the nuclear issue. what they're really trying to do is overthrow us. what they're really trying to do is overthrow the regime you voted into power 33 years ago. your government, your system of government that you wanted, the
americans don't want. that's what they're really concerned about. it's not the nuclear issue. then at that point anybody who disagreed with the government -- if there is a civil society or opposition to iran, anyone who disagrees to the government becomes suspect. oh, you're actually working for the americans. you're actually going the job of the americans because that's what they want. they want a liberal democracy in iran which they can control. and by criticizing us you're actually helping the enemy. so it helps the regime when you do that. so i remind you those things aren't very related. even amongst iranians they are not really remitted. if you look at the protest in iran and what people were demanding then, it wasn't an end to the nuclear program. it wasn't relations with the united states. people were not walking down the streets of tehran saying after ahmadinejad was re-elected, they weren't saying we want relations with america.
you know, to open a u.s. embassy. we want the americans to come here. no. they were complaining about their own system, their own lack of civil rights, about the rigging of the vote for those who believe the vote had been rigged. it had nothing to do with america or relations with america and nothing to do with the nuclear issue. every single candidate in iran who has ever run for public office, the most reform from the most reformed side, the one who is believe there should be a democracy in iran, to the hard lined all supported the nuclear program. the candidate -- leading candidate who lost to ahmadinejad in 2009 who's under house arrest and has been under house arrest for two and a half years now, he still to this day says he supports iran's nuclear program. and in fact, wouldn't give one iota -- compromise one iota with the united states. so the
nuclear issue is really separate from the human rights and the civil rights issue in iran. and i suggest always that it is absolutely okay for us as americans, as independent non-ngos, even for the u.s. government to express dismay about human rights abuses. to express moral support for irans who are trying to build a better society in iran. but to make that a primary consideration won't get us anywhere with -- i i like that cell phone ring. my cell phone doesn't work. it's not going to get us anywhere with -- in terms of trying to come to some sort of agreement on the nuclear issue with iran. it's not a cell phone. someone is actually practicing. even better. musical accompaniment. [laughter]
so i'm not going to be too long because i don't -- i know people actually prefer to ask questions and try to get answers to questions rather than just listen to me go on and on about various things that could bore you to tears. but i think that the main thing i'm trying to get across is that iran is not actually that unique in terms of being a difficult state to work with. it's unique because it's one of the few times in our history if you set aside a few examples like cuba and the cold war countries that were allied with the soviet union. that comes out and defies us all the time. we don't like to be defined. we don't like to hear that someone doesn't like something of hours.
we think, even know not all of us believe we have a perfect political system in america or that everything is perfect here in ermterms of democracy, we like to think it's as good as it gets. it's pretty close to being the best thing out there. so why wouldn't other people in other countries want the same things we want? why wouldn't they want to have a system that is similar to ours? why wouldn't they want to have the exact same freedoms that we enjoy here? well, it's complicated. because not everybody believes the way -- not everybody comes from the same culture. not everybody believes there are certain freedoms that we have today that we didn't have, by the way, 50 years ago that we think are natural freedoms. you should be able to do this. you should be able to say this. you should be able to, you know, date whoever you want. you should be able to be openly homosexual.
all those issues. you should be able to marry if you are gay. all those things that have changed in the american society over the last 40, 50 years. those are things that aren't necessarily in the cultures of a lot of other countries yet. i think they will get there. i think things that are moral, things that are good, things that are reasonable will get there. but not every society is willing to be exactly like america. not every society wants their mtv. i think it's good that there are people who do want their mtv in iran and there are plenty of people who do. just based on the number of people who have illegal satellite connections and watch mtv. but society as a whole hasn't gotten there where it wants to be exactly like america. that doesn't mean that people -- we shouldn't stand up for women's
rights, for example, in iran. doesn't mean we shouldn't decry segregation. we shouldn't decry various aspects of civil rights that are abused. but it also doesn't mean that we should try to impose our way of life and our thinking and our ideology on other people without taking into consideration that there's a culture there that is proud, that needs to evolve in its own way and its own time. and whatever changes come to the government, whatever changes in terms of the political system happened, have to happen internally. they can't happen because we want them to happen. that's just not going to happen with iran. you know, we tried that in iraq. and we were able to bring about the change in iraq. but i think in the long-term when we look at it, there are few people who are going to say that for america -- maybe for the iraqi people 50 years from now they'll say thank god the americans removed saddam hussein because we got what we wanted in the end.