BOOK - The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis
Will the Bush Administration bomb Iran?
Half the warships in the U.S. Navy
currently sit within striking distance
Rhetoric is heating up in
Journalist and author Reese Erlich
takes a look at the real story behind
the looming confl ict.
Journalist and author Reese Erlich shows how
the Bush Administration plans to subvert
the Iranian government and lie about it to
the American people. He traces the
troubled history between the two countries
that has led to the current showdown over nuclear technology, and he reports from Iran and
northern Iraq to uncover details of how
the U.S. has funded ethnic minorities to
carry out guerrilla raids and terrorist
bombings inside Iran.
In addition to covering the political
story, Erlich offers firsthand insights on
Iran’s domestic politics and diverse
population. He also interviews the son of the
former Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, and members of Southern California’s large Iranian
expatriate community, and reports on their
efforts to shape Iran’s future.
In his previous book, the best-selling
Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t
Tell You, (co-authored by Norman
Solomon, and with contributions from
Howard Zinn and Sean Penn) Erlich presciently exposed the lack of weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq or Al Qaeda ties to Saddam
Hussein. He showed how the U.S. media
failed to report the full spectrum of
facts to the public.
Erlich produced the 2001 radio
documentary, “The Struggle for Iran,”
narrated by Walter Cronkite and broadcast
on National Public Radio (NPR) stations.
Erlich reports regularly for NPR and
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio.
He also writes for Mother Jones,
the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, and St. Petersburg Times. He
is the winner of a 2006 Peabody Award for
his work as a segment producer on Crossing
East: Our History, Our Stories, Our
America, aired on Public Radio International.
Publication Date: October 2007
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Reese Erlich discusses his book at
Historical mischief has stark consequences, not
at all mitigated when world leaders, including Americans, claim the best of
intentions. Steeped in the mythology of innocence since our own revolt against
British imperial rule, the United States has consistently presented its own
imperial drive as an effort to extend rather than suppress the freedoms of the
The pattern has repeated itself many times since the
Second World War, but it has never been clearer than in the persistent but
disastrous effort of the United States to direct the politics of oil-rich Iran.
Never admitting to an overriding interest in controlling that nation’s and the
region’s precious resource, U.S. leaders have always insisted that they care
only to expand the universe of peace and freedom. That charade now stands
exposed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But despite that debacle, the
longer-standing goal of dominating Iran remains all the more compelling to the
In this perceptive analysis, Reese Erlich writes in the
spirit of Graham Greene, whose classic The Quiet American captured the naive but
nonetheless murderous impact of U.S. intervention in the “third world” of the
Cold War era. Like Greene, Erlich blends an on-the-scene familiarity with
everyday life in the target country with a piercing critique of the purportedly
high motives of the foreign invader.
The United States has interfered
with Iran for more than fifty years, and the consequences of that sorry history
will continue to haunt us well into the future. Our capricious disregard for the
nationalist and religious complexity of Iran began with the 1953 overthrow of
its last democratically selected leader, the secular populist Mohammad
Mossadegh. His crime was to begin the nationalization of foreign oil companies.
He assaulted our sacred faith in the divine right of corporate plunder that
trumped all other concerns, including the will of the Iranian people to control
their own resources, and hence their own destiny.
well-documented coup paid for and engineered by the CIA, the United States
replaced Mossadegh with the self-proclaimed Shah of Shahs, Mohammad Reza
Pahlavi, who based his legitimacy on a highly questionable royal lineage.
Despite U.S. and Israeli support, the shah’s regime eventually collapsed under
the weight of its own corruption and selfish opulence, which wasted oil revenues
on an array of unnecessary purchases, including U.S. military hardware. The shah
was replaced by religious fanatics who claimed the mantle of incorruptibility.
Because the shah had governed in the name of modernization, it is no wonder that
the ayatollahs’ appeal to the glories of a fundamentalist world found a
following among those whom the shah had ignored.
It is also no wonder
that the theocrats who ascended to power should prove hostile to Israel and the
United States. But of course, given the general acceptance of American virtue in
foreign policy, the 1979 taking of hostages by the Iranian revolutionaries was
interpreted as a totally unprovoked attack. American politicians and media
figures have accepted this interpretation uncritically. Although the Iranian
leadership has undergone many changes since then—from militant to somewhat
reasonable and back again—most Americans have never wavered from the view that
Iranian leaders are nothing but treacherous.
Call it the cartooning of
Iran, in which the motives and actions of Iran’s various (and sometimes
competing) leaders are never plumbed for profound explanations but rather
dismissed as the pure caprice of the malevolent. Hence, we see the all-too-easy
classification of Iran as part of the "axis of evil" by the incoming Bush
Administration. That designation is now an embarrassment, given that Bush’s
invasion of Iraq has left the Iraqi disciples of the Iranian ayatollahs very
much in power in Baghdad.
Erlich provides an invaluable insight into the
contradictions that drive U.S. policy toward Iran and threaten to take us into
yet another disastrous war in a region that has ample reason to question U.S.
motives. He questions the demonization of Iran’s leadership without
underestimating the theocracy’s record of suppressing the people it rules.
Having witnessed modern ideological wars, he brings a nuanced and—dare one say
it? — objective view of the contending forces attempting to define modern Iran.
The book is particularly useful in dissecting the trite, politically motivated
threat assessments of Iran’s nuclear program and its alleged support of
international terrorism. In both instances, there are painful reminders of the
phony case made to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Erlich’s analysis opens
up possibilities for change other than those that rely on the military option,
which has proved so disastrous in neighboring Iraq. Indeed, Erlich questions the
value of a belligerent U.S. stance when its primary impact is to enhance the
popularity of hardliners and undermine those working for genuine reform in Iran.
For that reason, this is a hopeful book, as well as a well-written work on a
difficult subject, for it suggests the truly revolutionary prospect that the
Iranian people might be trusted with the difficult task of engineering their
future. After a half century of heavy-handed U.S. interference, they can hardly
do a worse job on their own.
But Iran is not some banana republic to be
toyed with as a matter of whim; it is rather the historic seat of a major
civilization whose legacy, both politically and religiously expansionist, cannot
be ignored. A U.S. foreign policy based on ignorance of Iran’s rich history and
preoccupied only with U.S. interests has wrought horrible consequences. Those
consequences — unintended as they sometimes were, and authored by politicians
oblivious to the complexity of the world upon which they intruded — now dominate
the key drama of international politics. The value of this excellent treatise is
that it exhibits rare humility in attempting to grasp why modern-day Iranians
have proved so difficult for the U.S. government to deal with. While critical of
the clerical tyranny that has controlled Iranian politics since the anti-shah
revolution, Erlich avoids the path of crude demonization that has characterized
most popular writing on this subject. Instead, he skillfully melds personal
observations with a scholar’s insight into the historical record that informs
today’s passions—passions that we ignore at our peril.
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