Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My Iranian experience.........

Well, this time safely ensconced in Word, I will try to do another Iranian post. If reading Seymour Hersh was scary, reading the news today was every bit even scarier. The Iranians it seems, or at least their ideological zealot of a president have seemed to come to the conclusion, that going “all in” in a high stakes poker game-with an opponent who hates to lose and has deeper pockets- is somehow a good thing. The Iranian President is clearly an idiot…….or a reckless fanatic. Either way its not a good thing.

Today he announced:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the enrichment success Tuesday in a nationally televised ceremony, saying the country's nuclear ambitions are peaceful and warning the West that trying to force Iran to abandon enrichment would "cause an everlasting hatred in the hearts of Iranians."

Which of course triggered the obligatory opposite rhetoric from the United States:

But the announcement quickly raised condemnations from the United States, who said the claims "show that Iran is moving in the wrong direction." Russia also criticized the announcement Wednesday, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin saying, "We believe that this step is wrong. It runs counter to decisions of the IAEA and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council."

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, was heading to Iran on Wednesday for talks aimed at resolving the standoff. The timing of the announcement suggested Iran wanted to present him with a fait accompli and argue that it cannot be expected to entirely give up a program showing progress. Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani - a powerful figure in the country's clerical regime - warned that pressuring Iran over enrichment "might not have good consequences for the area and the world."

That’s an understatement. Especially if Hersh is even sort of right, and George W. Bush is considering abandoning ideas of “no first use” of nuclear weapons. Which is a jump into another kind of lunacy all its own. ( That is not for today’s tale however……)

Reading this made me go to my bookshelf where I went to find a book I read about 10 years ago by Barry Rubin entitled, “Paved with good intentions, The American experience in Iran” which is a pretty good history about a time that many Americans do not remember: a time when the US and Iran were allies. That once upon a time over 24,000 Americans worked in Iran, and it was American arms that kept the Shaw in power and the Russians out.

Although written over 20 years ago, Rubin’s opening paragraphs are still kind of a warning for the world of today:

A country’s behavior, as the Iranian crisis so vividly demonstrates, is not merely a product of a rational pursuit of objective national interests. Rather it is the result of the interaction of the collective historical experience of the nation with individual life experiences of its citizens. The former creates a nation’s political course, the latter shapes its political consciousness. Whether or not the interaction contributes to the effective fulfillment of a nations objective interests, though not always the controlling question.
There is also a rather common occurrence in politics that might be called the vector principle. A boat sets off fro the opposite shore of a river but because of various unconsidered currents, ends up several miles downstream. American policies often seemed in theory, if not in execution, directed towards reasonably obtainable, rational goals but failed nonetheless because they did not fully take into account the currents of Iranian and Middle East politics.
In part, United States error may be traced to the triumph of a single minded strategy over political realities……………certainly, some dictatorships prosper-not all decay-and some are replaced by worse alternatives.

Dear Neocons, I think you slept through this part of the course. Certainly it proved true of Iran, if not also Iraq, in Iran the replacement for the Shah was 10 times worse than having him on the throne.

I also went back and reviewed Rubin's book for a more personal reason. I started college with some 50-55 Iranians at my beloved alma mater. Having never been to Iran, they are the only Iranians I’ve ever met. I can still remember vividly the arguments they used to have in the college canteen ( where they seemed to be the only ones who had any money….), in Farsi, back and forth as the lead up was coming to the Iranian revolution.

Although commissioned as Ensigns in the IIN (Imperial Iranian Navy) these guys did not adapt well to American military college life, pre feminist; pre kinder and gentler; pre consideration of others training; style. Maybe 35 lasted the year. Many of the early group got booted on honor violations ( “What do you mean its wrong to copy my seatmate’s test?”), conduct incidents out in town ( including at least one alleged rape), or just not digging some gawky southern boy responding to their entreaties in a less than sympathetic fashion:

CADET Recruit Amad: “Sir, but sir, in my country, we do not do this!”

CADET Sergeant Southern Boy: “ Well in mine we do! Hit it you little shit! “

Sophomore year a few more did not come back and then their numbers stabilized at about 20-25. Those that did make it through did ok, but they never were really accepted well by the rest of the Corps. At best they were tolerated, and for their part, they reciprocated by studying and keeping to themselves. Many bought the ritual trans-am:


Best car Oil money can buy!

Some met Charleston girls, set them up in apartments (remember they were making over 1200 US dollars a month, a lot of money in 1977 for a college student in those days) and for the girl a pretty good deal; she generally got free use of the apartment during the week and only had to render forth on the weekends as required or desired. Generally they sort of never adapted, although some never truly did. A couple remained devout Muslims- we had one in our company who wore his boxer shorts even in the shower out of Islamic modesty(there is an oxymoron if there ever was one!)- and all seemed determined to carve out their own path in a way that was contrary to the spirit of camaderie that life in the Corps of Cadets tended to build. What was true, was that most of us never really understood what made them tick.

Nor did many of us have an appreciation of how the government worked back home. There was one student who seemed much older than the rest. He lived in 1st Battalion, had grey hair and was partially bald. His skin was tough and somewhat wrinkled. The rumor Senior year was that he was the resident SAVAK ( Iranian secret police ) agent on the campus. That rumor seemed to be confirmed when, as the action heated up back in Iran, he got a brick through the window of his Trans-am 3 months before graduation. Fortunately he was not hurt.

As the news from home got worse, you could see the Iranian students start to take sides. As I said earlier, heated arguments ensued among them. From what I gathered a lot of it was about the Shah and whether to go home and join the revolution. Since the IIN was allied pretty closely with the Shah of Iran, it was a brave decision to take.

As the government got bogged down with what to do, the IIN simply stopped paying the bills. That created a crisis for the College and for the government. A compromise was arrived at where folks could finish college if they wanted to, and many were offered asylum by the US government. Several folks took the offer ( including the rumored SAVAK agent). After graduation most of us never heard or saw from them again. One guy, I shared a lot of classes with, is rumored to be alive and well and living in Atlanta as a doctor with an American wife and kids. Of the guys who went back to Iran, I always wondered what happened to them. Did they end up part of a “human wave” assault on the Iraqi line? Or perhaps they ended up here. Who knows?

However that was my experience, living and working with Iranians. I’ve always hoped that the Islamic idiots would implode on their own, and we could go back to the days of friendship. Iran once proved it could be a modern country. However I doubt that it will be allowed to do so again. But its nice to dream………………….

More on the Iranian issue tomorrow…………….

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