Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Obama! Learn from Berdimuhamedow!

By Barry Rubin

Some people understand how international affairs work. They might not be in the hallowed halls of Whitehall, the Quai d’Orsay, or State Department. But what about Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow?

He’s the president of Turkmenistan. That country struck a good deal with Russia in December 2007 because Moscow needs Turkmenistan’s natural gas the Russians were willing to pay $210 per thousand cubic meters. The Iranians paid $75.

Turkmenistan, presumably lacking world-class universities or proliferating pundits was able to do the math. It told the Iranians: We’re doubling the price.

Meir Javedanfar tells the story. Naturally, Iran refused, and naturally Turkmenistan stopped the supply. In the tough north Iran winter, massive numbers of Iranians went cold. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who walks over America, Britain, and France, refused to spend any money. A domestic crisis ensued; the supreme guide stepped in and gave an order.

Sure enough, in April 2008, Tehran agreed to Turkmenistan’s price. Turkmenistan won.

President Barack Obama says he is going to listen and learn from foreigners rather than arrogantly assuming America knows best. So remember the Berdimuhamedow Doctrine: Power works.

Imagine if Berdimuhamedow had given a speech explaining how he respected Iran and wanted to be its friend? Consider him apologizing for real or imagined past Turkmen misdeeds.
Berdimuhamedow didn’t say to the Iranians: I feel your pain. He inflicted pain.

Yes, that’s how it works. Of course, things might be different when Tehran gets nuclear weapons. But that won’t be because they have gained in empathy or been impressed at how nice a guy Obama is.

So yes, Mr. President listen to Berdimuhamedow. And while you're at it, take a look at how your enemies operate in the Middle East, too. Imagine a powerful politician or ruler. On one side is a big powerful person saying: "Do what I want or I'll kill you." On the other side is another person who says to the bully, "I don't believe in using violence and I want to be your friend."

Now imagine an average Arab. On one side is a big powerful person who says, "I'm your brother and together we will smite the infidel. See all the victories I've won! See how the enemy is retreating!" And on the other side is someone who says, "I'm really a very nice guy and I respect you."

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was able to bully Finland so much that it surrendered large parts of its sovereignty. By now we should know that nice guys Finnish last.

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