Shah now now?
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 24, 2002) – One of the more unlikely developments stemming from the September 11 terror attacks has been a warming of relations between the U.S. and the Iranian government, long believed to be one of the nation-states most responsible for engendering worldwide terrorism.

In November, Secretary of State Colin Powell shook hands with the Iranian foreign minister at a meeting in New York – the first such public display of affection between leaders of the two nations since the 1979 kidnapping of 52 American diplomats in Tehran. Administration advisers like Brent Scowcroft have floated trial balloons by publicly calling for cooperation with Iran, while representatives of American allies, such as British foreign minister Jack Straw, have travelled to Iran to discuss ways in which the Tehran government might aid in the Western effort to destroy terrorist networks.

Is this thaw evidence of savvy diplomacy or Munich-style appeasement?


In “The Tehran Temptation” in the January issue of Commentary, Michael Rubin – an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – seeks to answer this question. “The case for rapprochement would seem to have a lot going for it,” he writes, pointing to evidence that things are loosening up on Iran’s domestic front, as represented by the liberalization efforts of president Mohammed Khatami.

“There can be no question that … promoting liberalization within that strategically vital country is in our national interest,” writes Rubin. “What is questionable … is whether ‘engagement’ is the best way to shape developments there to our advantage.”

One huge problem is that Khatami is not on the level when it comes to his regime’s support of terror. Khatami was recently quoted by the New York Times saying that Iran had nothing to do with terrorists, while just last year the U.S. State Department labeled Iran the world’s “most active state sponsor of terrorism.”

Someone is lying, and Rubin says it’s Khatami, detailing Iranian involvement in worldwide terror spanning several continents and including support for terrorist actions against American forces in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Iran is also known to be actively engaged in developing weapons of mass destruction – of the nuclear, chemical and biological kind -- and already has the ability to deliver these weapons by means of long-range missiles.

“Iran is already a menace to its neighbors and soon will be a menace to the entire world,” writes Rubin. “To some, these facts only make the case for engagement all the more compelling.”

The Iranian people, however, are “zealously, outspokenly, pro-American,” writes Rubin. They are also increasingly opposed to the repressive mullahs and theocrats that rule their modern nation. Premature rapprochement with an oppressive government would only fan the flames of discontent among the people, once again putting us on the wrong side of a national struggle for liberation

“This is not the first time we have been tempted to extend an olive branch, and a helping hand, to a militant anti-democratic dictatorship,” writes Rubin. “It would be worse than a shame if … we were to choose the route of accomodation and appeasement, and betray both our own interests and the millions of Iranians who may today constitute the most pro-American people in the entire world.”

The New Republic

Another option people are looking at in our ongoing dance with Iran is the possibility of a restoration of the Pahlavi dynasty to a leadership position.

Thoroughly Americanized, Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Iran, attended several American universities – including nearby Williams College for a year – and lives with his family in the Washington D.C. region. His fortunes have waxed and waned since he joined his father in exile in 1979, and since his father’s death in 1980, when he inherited the Peacock Throne.

According to “Successor Story” by Franklin Foer in the January 14 issue of the New Republic, Pahlavi, 41, is actively engaged in an effort to reclaim the throne as a constitutional monarch in a secular democracy. “He spends hours each week on the phone to Iran, sometimes cold-calling potential allies in the clergy and military,” writes Foer. He uses TV, radio, posters and the Internet to wage an electronic campaign “urging Iranians to nonviolently take to the streets against the regime.”

Like Rubin in Commentary, Foer portrays an Iranian populace primed for a political and cultural revolution. “It is secularism, not liberal Islam, that is now sweeping Iranian society,” writes Foer, quoting one expert to the effect that the Iranian people “have embraced Pahlavi and indulge nostalgia” for his father’s pro-American era.

The U.S. government has yet to make any moves to solidly champion Pahlavi’s return to Iran.

Harper’s Magazine

The circus has always exerted its pull on the imagination. In “Circus Music” in the February issue of Harper’s Magazine, essayist Edward Hoagland examines what the nature of our curiosity about circus freaks and oddities means, and how our natures might be reflected in the dwarfs and pinheads of the sideshow.

Hoagland worked with a circus in the early 1950s, and thus has a unique vantage point. He knows that we expect an awful lot of the circus corps. “We want circus people to know us better than we know them,” he writes, “to be wise beyond what their education and social status should officially warrant in gauging human nature, and cater to and inspire our children, even though we have come to watch some of them risk breaking their necks – which is base of us – and even if they can’t always manage their own private behavior.”

Speaking as a spectator, Hoagland speculates that “People were fascinated not just because of morbid curiosity and schadenfreude but because we saw ourselves incarnate in the Knife-Thrower, the Living Skeleton (or ‘Pincushion,’ or ‘Picture Gallery’), the Human Pretzel, the Fat Lady, the lame and wheezing Giant, and were encouraged to stare without being rude. The foxfire flicker of ferocity and awful insecurity that so frequently subverted our genial veneer lay out there exposed.”

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Jan. 26, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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