Happy New Year . . . You're the Worst!

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Writing on this week's Iranian New Year, Barbara Slavin reports on the kind of Nowruz message the Green Movement might like to hear from President Obama:

The White House had no immediate comment on whether Obama would send a Nowruz message this year, or what it would say.

A top aide to Mehdi Karroubi, one of three candidates who opposed incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 vote, said Obama should send Nowruz greetings this year. However, he argued that the message should focus on human rights and commemorate the scores of Iranians -- such as Neda Agha Soltan -- who have been killed since June by plainclothes thugs, prison torturers, and government executioners.

I think far too much thought gets put into these Nowruz messages, and using them to make subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at the Iranian regime didn't start with President Obama. Because a careful line must be straddled between attacking the regime and insulting the Iranian people (not to mention those all around the world celebrating the holiday), the message tends to be rather canned and predictable; usually something about "respecting the Iranian people, but," and so on.

Does anybody really care? Imagine, for a moment, if the Iranian government used popular Western holidays to take potshots at America and its allies. Oh, wait, it has. They're usually backhanded, they generate some buzz, and then everyone moves on. These "messages" have had very little effect on actual policy, if any, and are mostly forgotten soon after. So why exploit these holidays in the first place? We can guess why Ahmadinejad does it, but should the West play the same game?

This also touches upon a recurring pet peeve of mine: the exaggerated significance of big words and righteous statements. And since words usually get relegated to the archives, we rarely revisit them to take account and measure for actual results. These Nowruz messages - while perhaps cross-cultural, noteworthy and satisfying - don't change much, and if the White House insists on doing one, it should consider sticking to a message that doesn't transparently split Iranians into various factions.

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