A Choice for Peace?
Surveying the smoldering Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, it is hard to find hope. How many more innocent lives will be taken in such depraved attacks? People around the world were dumbfounded and furious about the specific targeting of completely vulnerable and defenseless people: women and children, families out shopping or attending Mass. What activities should be more taken for granted as safe and predictable? But these are not safe and predictable times.
It would be easy to remain in the grip of the anger such brutality provokes and reach for vengeance. Indeed, at this moment Kenyan and Pakistani authorities are probably contemplating counterstrikes against Al Shabab militants in Somalia and the Taliban in Pakistan. Will the United States be involved, officially or not, in facilitating that grim accounting?
It may only infuriate some at this sorrowful time to suggest that breaking the cycle of violence that has ensnared the Western and Islamic worlds is a better way forward than another punitive strike that will only perpetuate it. On the day of the Peshawar bombing, Pope Francis deplored the attack as a “wrong choice” that “cannot stand.” He added: “It serves nothing. Only the path of peace can build a better world.” Now the choice is before the justly aggrieved. What choice will they make?
The sweeping victory of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, on Sept. 22 came up just short of an outright majority in the Bundestag, the German parliament. Ironically, Ms. Merkel’s center-right coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats, garnered only 4.7 percent of the vote, just short of the 5 percent minimum required for seats in the Bundestag. The new coalition will necessarily include one of the parties of the left, either the Social Democrats or the Greens, and Ms. Merkel will need to make concessions.
Ms. Merkel’s approval ratings regularly top 60 percent. Germans are grateful that she has presided over a strong economy with low unemployment and has guided them through the turmoil that has beset other euro-zone countries. Meanwhile, Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democratic challenger, has accused her of prescribing a “deadly dose” of austerity for the euro zone, saying the government’s crisis strategy lacks a “growth impulse.”
The new government will have to steer Germany through a dramatic shift to renewable energy and cope with the needs of an aging population. The latest census shows Germany has more people age 65 and over than it has children. Too often the economic considerations of the Merkel government have neglected a concern for the effect on common laborers, pensioners or the unemployed. Coalition politics could provide a healthier balance. The Social Democrats want a national minimum wage and higher taxes on the wealthy, both opposed by Ms. Merkel. Bild, Germany’s best-selling daily, provided a telling comment: “Taxes, justice and the euro weren’t the decisive factors. The question was: Who do people trust to rule calmly, sensibly and with strong nerves?”
Let’s Get Reciprocal
Such is the state of mutual suspicion between Iran and the United States that an attempt by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, to portray a new, moderate face of Iranian leadership soon became embroiled in controversy. Mr. Rouhani, in an apparent effort to make amends for the denialism of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described the Holocaust in an interview on Sept. 24 with CNN as a “crime that the Nazis committed toward the Jews” and called it “reprehensible and condemnable.” But CNN’s translation, even though delivered by an interpreter provided by the Iranians themselves, was quickly challenged by Iran’s semi-official news agency, Fars, which accused CNN of fabricating portions of the interview.
This interpretive scrimmage is a small indication of the delicacy and dexterity that will be required as the United States drafts its response to Iran’s overtures. The Obama administration must reciprocate, as America recently implored (“Making Peace With Iran,” Editorial, 8/12). The administration must make the most of this rare opportunity and reward Mr. Rouhani for the risk he is taking back home.
Yes, there are many obstacles to a sustainable détente between the United States and Iran (not to mention Israel), and there are cross-cultural challenges, the disruptive power of words and symbols and the heavy legacy of history to contend with. But if not now, when? And if not with Mr. Rouhani, then with whom? This is the time, this is the man, this is the opportunity the nation has been waiting for to rebuild a relationship with Iran and to begin to unravel the many threats to world peace scattered across the complex landscape of the Middle East.