August 11, 2010

Two Articles on Iran

Today, I read not only Jeffrey Goldberg's article on the policy options facing U.S. and Israeli leaders with respect to Iran's nuclear program but also Jon Lee Anderson's article built around an interview he conducted with that guy who wears the Members Only jacket. I greatly enjoyed both articles and recommend them to the readership, though I must confess to not understanding the business model at either the Atlantic or the New Yorker: these articles must have cost a fortune to produce in terms of travel and salaries for both writers, so how does giving them away for free on the internet make any sense at all? I subscribe to both the Atlantic and the New Yorker, and I am now feeling like a chump considering that fact that I read the first article online before it hit my mail box.

Anyway, the articles: they are good. I had some quibbles with each, though. At one point, Goldberg -- who, when reporting on Israeli and U.S. policy-makers, is pretty fantastic -- ponders the origins of Iranian anti-Semitism and ends up considering some stuff written by Shia clerics in the 16th and 17th centuries, perhaps unintentionally bolstering Hemingway's argument that writers should write what they know. I also wish Goldberg had spoken not just with the Netanyahu and Obama administrations but also with critics of the president. When an Esquire magazine writer recently asked some tough questions of Newt Gingrich on Iran, for example, it was kinda devastating:

You call Obama's Iran policy appeasement. But what's the alternative?


"Replace the government."


You're advocating war with Iran?


"Not necessarily. There's every reason to believe that if you simply targeted gasoline, and you maximized your support for dissidents in Iran, that within a year you'd replace the regime without a war."


That's it? After such an incendiary charge, your only solution is sanctions and speeches?


"The only thing you have to stop is gasoline," he repeats.


But that just seems like nuance, and only a minor difference with Obama's position.


"The difference between replacing a regime and appeasing a regime is pretty radical."


But you won't replace the regime that way. You're just tinkering with sanctions, which have never worked.


"I would cut off gasoline, and I would fund the dissidents," he repeats.

Oh... Anyway, I would have loved to see Goldberg ask questions of Palin or Gingrich or Romney on what U.S. policy toward Iran should be.

Anderson's article, meanwhile, has all the hallmarks of an article written by a writer who had to spin a story out of thin gruel. Anderson admits he was given very little cooperation by the Iranian regime outside of setting up the interview with Ahmembersonlyjad, but give Anderson credit for nonetheless making the article work. His article is a reminder that the Iranians are not just objects but agents in their own right: focusing on their agency and actions makes them both falible and all the more frightening in terms of what lies in store for the Middle East as a region in the years to come.