West Wing and Iran

Warning: This entry contains comments that could be construed as ‘spoilers’ (thanks to Colin for the reminder)

The blog world is awash with conversation about last night’s West Wing, due in part to the portrayal of noted lawyer Larry Lessig by Christpher Lloyd. Joi Ito was the first I saw with the news that Lessig’s role in the story was connected with real life events, and now Larry has chimed in himself with some reflections on the experience.

So yes, we still watch West Wing. With each episode of this season my inclination to turn the television back on the following week has been slightly reduced and I very much doubt we’ll make it into the next season. The latter half of season four and the majority of season five lacked the sharpness that originally drew me to the show but were still watchable, but now… There was, however, one good reason for me to watch last night.

The intrigue largely revolved round a confrontation with Iran, and in a bizarre role reversal we saw the US administration acting as proverbial doves to a European (and specifically, British) hawk. The story clearly made its point that the West is far more likely to get its way with Iran through tact rather than bullishness, but as so often in recent West Wing the telling was lacking. In early seasons, a lot was conveyed in very few words, now it feels like little is conveyed through several times as many words. Sloppy mistakes seriously reduce the show’s credibility (why, for example, would a British Prime Minister describe a largely British tragedy as an outrage against the United States?). Right now, a West Wing episode of the calibre of its first few seasons could be a powerful contribution to the debate of the moment. This one probably did little more than pique the interest of a few hardened viewers.

The lesson a better written episode could have more convincingly imparted is that the leaders of Iran, like the leaders of most countries, trade in credibility.

When I wrote yesterday’s entry I hadn’t expected quite such quick news out of Tehran, but by mid-afternoon the BBC were reporting that “Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has said Tehran will never give up nuclear technology” (he also said he meant nuclear power, not weapons) and in today’s coverage of a rally to mark 26 years since the revolution he is reported as stating that “Iran would become a ‘burning hell’ for any country that invaded it.”

When the US (and the UK, to a worryingly growing extent) ramp up the rhetoric, the leaders of Iran are forced to ramp up theirs in response, or risk looking ineffectual against a historic enemy. If the US were to focus its efforts on helping Palestine and Israel make a go of the recent peace accord, and allow the Europeans to engage in the next round of negotiations, we might have a hope of hearing more constructive statements.


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