Jon from New York writes: 

American politicians change their ideology and policy. We have coined the term “flip-flop” to describe these vacillations. In fact Reality Check 08 is dedicated to charting the course of the changing ideologies and issue statements of the slew of presidential candidates in the 2008 field. Political pandering is far from unique to the United States. The New York Times’ Michael Slackman pointed out in an August 2006 article that Iran has a particularly instructive cultural phenomenon of supplication called taarof.

The practice of insincerity — of inviting people to dinner when you don’t really want their company…Iranians understand such practices as manners and are not offended by them…In the West, ”yes” generally means yes. In Iran, ”yes” can mean yes, but it often means maybe or no. In Iran…listeners are expected to understand that words don’t necessarily mean exactly what they mean.

Slackman’s sources tracked this social courtesy to Iran’s history of occupation.

Analyst after analyst said that after centuries of cloaking their true feelings, Iranians are often unsure whom they can trust when dealing with each other, let alone foreigners.

An Iranian social psychologist sourced by Slackman said taarof permeates Iranian public interactions including that between politicians and the public.

Dr. Sanati says:

In Iran, you praise people but you don’t mean it. You invite people for all sorts of things, and you don’t mean it. You promise things, and you don’t mean it. People who live here understand that.

Thank you to Jon from New York for your contriubution. If you have something you would like to contribute to the site, send your ideas to


At the Democratic Presidential Debate last Thursday, Fmr. Senator Mike Gravel from Alaska had some strong words for all the top tier candidates about Iran (and pretty much everything else for that matter):

Gravel: And I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me — they frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there’s nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that’s code for using nukes, nuclear devices. I got to tell you, I’m president of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices. To my mind, it’s immoral, and it’s been immoral for the last 50 years as part of American foreign policy.

Williams: Let’s use a little moderator discretion here. Senator Gravel, that’s a weighty charge. Who on this stage exactly tonight worries you so much?

Gravel: Well, I would say the top tier ones. The top tier ones. They’ve made statement.

All the top tier Democratic candidates have made comments to that effect, a few weeks ago we covered john Edwards’ Iran position which echoed Senator Gravel’s statement above, John Edwards said:

Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. For years, the US hasn’t done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran.

Iran must know that the world won’t back down.

And the now famous:

To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table.


Now, John Edwards has been the candidate who says what he thinks and not what advisors tell him to. But every once in a while, even the straight talking candidate gets himself mixed up in what he says. Edwards’ comments on Iran at the Israeli Herzliya Conference were incredibly hawkish, what might be expected when speaking to this entirely Israeli audience. Edwards said at the conference that, “All options must remain on the table” I assume that includes military options towards Iran.

Edwards: Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. For years, the US hasn’t done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran…..To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table. Let me reiterate — ALL options must remain on the table….

Question: ….Would you be prepared, if diplomacy failed, to take further action against Iran?….Secondly, you as grassroots person, who has an understanding of the American people, is there understanding of this threat across US?

Edwards: ….As to what to do, we should not take anything off the table….As to the American people, this is a difficult question. The vast majority of people are concerned about what is going on in Iraq. This will make the American people reticent toward going for Iran. But I think the American people are smart if they are told the truth, and if they trust their president. So Americans can be educated to come along with what needs to be done with Iran.

Just a few days after the conference Edwards did an interview with the liberal American Prospect where he changes his tone a bit on Iran. Ezra Klein actually asks him outright about what he meant by “options on the table” and Edwards answers by criticizing Bush’s use of the phrase “all options are on the table” calling it “threatening”

Klein: So, I just want to get it very clear, you think that attacking Iran would be a bad idea?

Edwards: I think would have very bad consequences.

Klein: So when you said that all options are on the table?

Edwards: It would be foolish for any American president to ever take any option off the table.

Klein: Can we live with a nuclear Iran?

Edwards: I’m not ready to cross that bridge yet. I think that we have lots of opportunities that we’ve … We’re not negotiating with them directly, what I just proposed has not been done. We’re not being smart about how we engage with them. But I’m not ready to cross that bridge yet. And I think the reason people react the way they do — I understand it, because, when George Bush uses this kind of language, it means something very different for most people. I mean when he uses this kind of language “options are on the table,” he does it in a very threatening kind of way — with a country that he’s not engaging with or making any serious diplomatic proposals to. I mean I think that he’s just dead wrong about that.


Senator John McCain’s joke that we should bomb Iran (to the tune of the Beach Boy’s “Barbara Ann”) has gotten a great deal of attention in the mainstream press and particularly in the blogosphere. With that said, does McCain want to bomb Iran or not? On February 20, 2005 he told Meet the Press:

“I think we have to first convince our European allies of the magnitude of this threat and the necessity to take action. The Europeans, at least to a large degree, are only interested in carrots and no sticks. So we have to convince them of that. Then we have to go to the United Nations for diplomatic and economic sanctions if necessary.

We cannot rule out completely the military option if it’s absolutely the absolute last resort, but there’s a lot of things we can do in between time. Look, a nuclear-capable Iran in this part of the world is incredibly unsettling, including to the state of Israel. So it’s a serious challenge, but I would exhaust every possible measure before considering the military option. But you cannot completely rule it out. First step, let’s get united with the Europeans or have them unite with us as we go for sanctions if it’s necessary.”