The somewhat bizarre way that the British sailors were released by Iran yesterday demonstrates that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the real political power that lies behind the public face of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, knows a thing or two about perception management. As my friend Roman comments, not a bad 10 days work.
Iranians made several points yesterday; Ahmadinejad's speech was a largely an anti-western polemic, within that he neatly tied together hostility to the Iraq war, their position on nuclear weapons and the British sailor's alleged incursion into Iraqi waters. But then, in the spirit of the religious festivals Ahmadinejad gave the grand, generous gesture.
Then the stage managed greeting of the captives reinforced the perception of the nation as forgiving, in the right in some way, while also providing a possible bargaining tool for later negotiations. It brings to mind an apocryphal story that may well be true. George W. and Carl Rove were discussing the President's image. Rove tells Bush that many of the people in Europe think he is an idiot; Bush's response "so what, they don't vote for me". Rove then carefully explained the importance of having international support. Iraq may not have won too much public support yesterday but the intention was there; and perhaps Ahmadinejad prove he does PR better than George W.