The media are saddened that President Barack Obama will not be, after all, meeting with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani today. The decision deprived them of a handshake they were already praising for having altered the course of history. But the reason the meeting was prevented was not that Obama did not wish to lend legitimacy to the regime. He did that already in his speech, in fawning references to the “Supreme Leader.”
Worst of all, the decision to cancel the meeting was apparently made by the Iranians, not by the U.S. Just as it was Iran that denied a meeting between then-President Mohammad Khatami (the last “moderate”) and President Bill Clinton, once again the Iranians proved the intransigent party, this time with an even more eagerly credulous president to play Charlie Brown to Rouhani’s Lucy, pulling the football away and laughing.
Another logistical problem was that the only opportunity for the two to meet would evidently have been behind closed doors, at a private luncheon held by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from which the press is barred. (President Obama may legislate at will in the United States, but even he cannot move the protocol of the inestimable UN bureaucracy). Obama’s handshake moment would have been a quiet rapprochement.
That would not have served Obama’s purposes. His goal is not to talk to the Iranian leader, but to be seen as having talked to him. He knows that the media will treat that image as iconic, as a breakthrough moment. (It would be–though not for the reasons they like to imagine, and not for the better.) Who cares if Iran continues to offer the “clenched fist” in reality, as long as it offers an “open hand” for the cameras?
This post has been updated.