Stephen Kinzer believes that the best way forward for America on foreign policy is for it to listen to its friends in the Middle East that share America’s basic principles.
One of those potential “friends” is Iran (sometimes you have to pinch yourself when you hear this kind of thing).
Kinzer, an American journalist and author, was at SOAS, London last night promoting his new book Reset Middle East, with its brand new cover (below) which includes Israel this time (always bound to add to sales).
Kinzer has great sympathy with Iran as a country.
He acknowledges its democratic history and even the love that the Iranian people have for everything American.
He told us that when he was standing in Shiraz, Iran all the Iranians shook his hand when they discovered he was American. When Sean Penn visited Iran Penn was asked by an elderly Iranian gentleman what it was like being married to Madonna.
Kinzer seems to have a rare easy access to Iran, unlike most.
I would love to visit Iran. The Iranians I have met have been the politest, warmest and most articulate of people.
But I can’t imagine walking the streets for too long before being picked up as a Mossad spy. Even in the UK I get accused of that (see clip).
An American woman has just been arrested on spying charges and Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal still languish in an Iranian prison after being picked up as “spies” when they hiked a bit too near the Iranian border.
I can’t believe I would escape the same fate, unless, like Kinzer, I can rustle up a book or two favourable to such an oppressive regime.
First, Kinzer likes Turkey because it is a longstanding NATO ally, is the most democratic country in the Middle East and has a booming capitalist economy. It is also becoming more religious under President Erdogan which proves its credentials to other Muslim countries.
And because it tried to do a deal with Brazil on Iran’s nuclear programme and also condemned Israel over the Mavi Marmara tragedy it won’t be viewed as America’s lackey.
And Turkey’s advice to America on Iran? Stop with the confrontational rhetoric and try to compromise more.
Second, Kinzer describes Iran as having an open, vibrant and democratic society; a society as democratic as its government is undemocratic.
But he sees America as the the main stumbling block as it is still angry over the Iranian hostage crisis of 30 years ago and, therefore, reacts too emotionally on Iran.
But, he continued, Iran, being an enemy of the Taliban and Al Qaida, is America’s way out of Iraq and Afghanistan as long as America can prove to Iran that it won’t use Iraq as a base from which to attack Iran.
So how to achieve peace with Iran?
Kinzer says America must conduct broader negotiations with Iran than just on the nuclear issue. And it must allow Iran to bring its concerns to the table.
Kinzer compares the America-Iranian animosity to that once between America and China and says the latter was far worse.
But he thinks that America doesn’t wish to sign a similar accord with Iran as it would make Iran a regional power (which, says Kinzer, it is anyway).
Oh, and there must be incorporated into any American-Iranian agreement a deal on human rights in Iran.
I pushed him on the latter point suggesting that I couldn’t see Iran giving way on that at all and that any deal with Iran would only entrench such a brutal regime. Surely, it is the human rights abuses that keeps the current regime in power. Without the economic control of the IRGC (Iranian Republican Guard Corps.) and brutality of both the IRGC and the basij militia the regime would crumble quickly.
In reply Kinzer, bemusingly, cited photos of liberated Iranian women from the fifties. He failed to address the brutal Ahmadinejad/Khamenei regime.
And eventhough America made peace with China that didn’t stop China going on to massacre hundreds of its own civilians in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and continuing to hang thousands of political opponents each year.
Similarly, an American peace with Russia hasn’t stopped the latter murdering anti-government journalists (Anna Politkovskaya shot dead on her way up to her appartment) and political dissidents (Alexander Litvinenko poisoned in London) and locking up its political opponents on trumped-up charges (Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev in prison since 2005 and who have just had their sentences arbitrarily extended).
Kinzer lives in Disneyland. He should realise that once a brutal regime, always a brutal regime.
The Ahmadinejad/Khamenei regime really needs to be ousted before his nice theory on American-Iranian relations can take root.