This is my final column for The Forecaster. It has been a pleasure and privilege to share my opinions and observations with you for the past four years. I’m grateful to the editor, Mo Mehlsak, for the opportunity to have done so, and to the executives at Sun Media newspapers, who chose not to question his judgment.
The common thread in my columns has been the notion that global business and political developments impact all of us, whether we work in one of the world’s financial centers or live in the Unorganized Territories. In many ways, most of which are familiar now, we are all connected to each other and to decisions made on the other side of the world in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago.
Indeed, one reason the Soviet Union imploded was that it was no longer possible, with the advent of cable news, the Internet and the ability of anyone, anywhere to broadcast what was happening in real time, for the Kremlin to suppress the aspirations of its citizens and to deceive hundreds of millions into thinking that they were, in fact, better off than anyone else.
The giddiness that many of us felt when the Berlin Wall came down resulted from the sense that, now that we could actually see each other, talk with each other, touch each other and know the truth about each other, there’d be much less conflict. Instead of spending time and treasure preparing for a fight to the finish, we could focus instead on what we have to share and learn from each other.
Alas, it hasn’t quite turned out that way.
While we do talk with each other more and in many respects know each other better, our focus, ignorance and suspicions have pivoted from a conflict between a few, more-or-less predictable superpowers to a seemingly intractable clash of cultures, even civilizations, in which up is down, death is life, right is wrong, and black is white.
At this moment, the so-called “P5 plus 1” nations (the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, plus Germany) are seeking Iran’s agreement to pause or ratchet back various elements of its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of crippling economic sanctions that have brought Iran to the bargaining table.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has made conciliatory remarks and indicated, at least for consumption in this country, that Iran is ready to engage with the United States and others who have imposed the sanctions, that it has no intentions whatsoever of developing nuclear weapons, and that its purposes in proceeding with uranium enrichment are strictly peaceful.
Israel, of course, and France for that matter, remain skeptical and, in the case of Israel, deeply suspicious. After all, Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, famously called the Holocaust a “hoax” and repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map.
From the comfort of our living rooms we can blithely dismiss such loose talk as the harmless output of a cartoonish character no longer on the scene. But from Israel’s perspective, isolated in a Middle East in which radical Muslim fundamentalism is on the rise, in which few governments are stable and in which even fewer would come to Israel’s defense, you take a dim view of such comments.
When six million of your friends and relations were eradicated in the not too distant past, Iran’s relentless acquisition of centrifuges and enrichment of material used in nuclear weapons makes it considerably more difficult to take Rouhani at his word.
Just last week, in the midst of sensitive negotiations with the P5 plus 1, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei described Israel as “a rabid dog” and its leadership as “less than human” before a rapturous crowd chanting “Death to Israel! Death to America!”
Now, many will say that these rallies are purely for internal consumption and that Iran’s leadership must make such remarks in order to demonstrate to more conservative factions that the government hasn’t gone soft.
But the view is different when you’re a drone’s flight from Teheran, and when Iran’s surrogates are lobbing bombs at you from Gaza and gearing up to do the same from Lebanon.
Sadly, while the ability to communicate and see each other as human beings succeeded in bringing down the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, it has thus far failed to lift the veil.
It is my fervent hope that this will change.
May we all be well, safe, and happy this holiday season and beyond.
Perry B. Newman is a South Portland resident and president of Atlantica Group, an international business consulting firm based in Portland, with clients in North America, Israel and Europe. He is also chairman of the Maine District Export Council. His website is perrybnewman.com.