Blind Idiots

     Idiots shouting at each other in the dark.
     That’s what U.S.-Iran relations have been for more than 30 years.
     It’s all laid out, idiocy by idiocy, in David Crist’s new book, “The Twilight War.”
     Crist, a colonel in the Marine Reserve, did two tours of duty with special operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and has a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history. He’s the son of four-star Marine Gen. George Crist, who commanded U.S. Central Command, in charge of all U.S. forces in the Middle East during President Reagan’s second term.
     Crist’s documentation from primary sources is astonishing: from documents and interviews with officials at the highest levels of the Pentagon, White House and State Department, to War College studies and emails between generals and their civilian overseers.
     Crist traces the entire sad fiasco, from the CIA-backed coup that overthrew an elected government in 1953 and imposed the shah, to the Iran-Contra fiasco, the Iran-Iraq war, our successive invasions of Iraq under the two Bushes, and today’s tense standoff.
     It’s a tale, of course, of endless duplicity, but also of chances missed due to willful ignorance and ideological stupidity on both sides.
     Top policymakers in both countries have used their ignorance, and ours, and their illusions as a club with which to beat their essentially unknown enemy – and manipulate their own people.
     For instance, during the war that overthrew Saddam Hussein, Iran suggested that any U.S. pilots that needed to bail out do so over Iran, and they would search, rescue and return them. The Iranian military gave us maps of Iraqi Republican Guard bases, to help us target our bombing.
     For this, the first Bush administration continued beating its war drums against Iran, as part of the “axis of evil.”
     In the idiocy before that, the first President Bush spoke directly to Iran in his inaugural address, saying, “Goodwill begets goodwill,” asking for help to return Hezbollah’s last seven hostages. Then Iran delivered and got them released, thanks to the efforts of a brave U.N. diplomat, who risked his life repeatedly to get them out. After which, Bush I’s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft told the Iranians to stuff it: “There will be no goodwill.”
     Iran has no reason to trust us, about anything.
     I am far from believing that our two governments are equivalent. Mahmoud Ahmadenijad is one of the few human beings I would gladly strangle with my own hands. But there is no excuse for my own country’s “policy” of willful ignorance: an ignorance that let a despicable, lying arms dealer, Manucher Ghorbanifar, snooker us into the Iran-Contra fiasco, and only a few years later sent Vice President Cheney and his crew running after Ghorbanifar again, because they needed an Iranian, any Iranian, to tell us that invading his country was a good idea.
     Crist sums it up: “By refusing to talk to Iran, the United States operated blindly. American diplomats and intelligence agents had minimal insights into the opinions of the Iranian people or its government and largely depended on third parties for insight into the country. In the end, American policy rested on prejudice and supposition rather than fact.”
     The book’s only weakness is its index, but that may be intentional. Crist introduces each character with a pithy character sketch, and does not hesitate to use words such as “toady” – for a general. I get the feeling Crist stinted on the index to make people read the book, rather than do the “Washington read” of only the pages where they appear.
     If there is one lesson from this important book – and there are many – it’s this: Just talk. For a generation, particularly under Bush II and Cheney, the White House has operated under the delusion that talking to Iran would “legitimize” its government. As though a government that has been in power for more than 30 years needs to be legitimized by people from Texas.
     Crist clearly believes that our countries’ mutual ignorance and political opportunism are leading to war.
     The whole sad story, and the war Crist sees coming, remind me of the story of the dying Buddha.
     With his followers weeping, the Buddha looked at them, with compassion and understanding, and said, “What did you expect?”

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