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Understanding Iran: Everything You Need to Know, From Persia to the Islamic Republic, From Cyrus to Khamenei

Understanding Iran: Everything You Need to Know, From Persia to the Islamic Republic, From Cyrus to Khamenei

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Understanding Iran: Everything You Need to Know, From Persia to the Islamic Republic, From Cyrus to Khamenei

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448 pagine
8 ore
Pubblicato:
Oct 27, 2009
ISBN:
9780230103238
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Libro

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William R. Polk provides an informative, readable history of a country which is moving quickly toward becoming the dominant power and culture of the Middle East. A former member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council, Polk describes a country and a history misunderstood by many in the West. While Iranians chafe under the yolk of their current leaders, they also have bitter memories of generations of British, Russian and American espionage, invasion, and dominance. There are important lessons to be learned from the past, and Polk teases them out of a long and rich history and shows that it is not just now, but for decades to come that an understanding of Iran will be essential to American safety and well-being.

Pubblicato:
Oct 27, 2009
ISBN:
9780230103238
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

William R. Polk taught Middle Eastern history and politics and Arabic at Harvard until 1961, when he became a member of the Policy Planning Council of the U.S. Department of State. In 1965, he became Professor of History at the University of Chicago, where he established the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. His many books include The Birth of America and Understanding Iraq.

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Understanding Iran - William R. Polk

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For Monique and Raja

    Ann and Brican  †

          Bibi and Gabriel

                Liv and Donald

                            Jane and Hugh  †

                                      Mary and David  †

                                              Nahed and Amr

      Beloved friends all.

FOREWORD

During the Cold War, mathematicians and economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were searching for a means to understand and evaluate trends and events in the conflict. Borrowing from the German army, they hit on the war game, the kriegspiel. What the German General Staff used for essentially tactical military simulations, they elaborated to deal with politics as well as military confrontations. Their politico-military version of the war game became a popular tool in university courses on world affairs as well as in the government.

The assumption behind the game was that it would enable one to predict reactions to events in an evolving series of moves—for example, how Blue Team should react to a threatened attack by Red Team, followed by how Red Team would then respond, and so on. War games were used to analyze the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in which I played a small role; they have been repeatedly used since that great event and have been employed to predict reactions in the current conflict between the American-led coalition and Iran. Dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of war games have been played by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Command (the combined army, air, and naval forces assigned the military role on the frontiers of Iran) to ascertain how much pressure or threat would be required to force Iran to give up its nuclear program and to otherwise not challenge American hegemony in the Middle East.

I find many faults in war gaming, but for my purposes here, two are particularly important. First, implicit in each scenario was that conflict was the norm: It was threat, followed by attack and either surrender or counterattack, that was assumed to constitute relations among nations. Second, war gaming assumed that the logic of actions and reactions was so clear that, regardless of whom the opposing teams were presumed to represent, they would always react logically, guided by a balance sheet of potential profit and loss. Gaming thus views the foreigner as a sort of accountant—culturally disembodied, mathematically precise, and governed by logic. If he does not add them up accurately (as the mathematicians taught us to say), then he has miscalculated. In short, the game posits in him precisely those qualities that do not shape our actions.

All other considerations—culture, religion, and memory of historical experience—were essentially irrelevant. So when we apply the lessons of war games to grand strategy in our culturally diverse world, the results of the war game are nearly always misleading. It is, in part, my belief that war gaming as a means to understand foreign affairs is fatally flawed that led me to write this book. My aim has been to bring forward what war games omit: in short, what it means when we speak of Iran and Iranians.

*   *   *

I begin in Chapter One, Becoming Iranian, with how the people we know today as Iranians became a distinct cultural group. Since these people are sometimes called Persians, I must clarify what is meant by the words Iranian and Persian. To simplify, I call the people who live in Iran Iranians, just as I would say that those who live in the United States are Americans. But just as American society is composed of subsets of different groups—Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Catholics, Protestants of many varieties, Jews, and Muslims—so Iran is inhabited by peoples who think of themselves as Persians, Turkmens, Arabs, Kurds, Lurs, and various others; followers of different faiths—Shiis, Sunnis, Jews, Christians, Bahais, and Zoroastrians; and people who earn their livelihood in different ways—peasants, nomads, and city people. However, as in America and also in Iran, one cultural group has, so far at least, stamped the whole society with its culture. The early American colonists were mainly English and thus stamped the evolving society with their language and their culture; in Iran, the first dominant group was the ancient people we call Persians, whose Farsi is the dominant language of Iran.

In America, the English-Protestant basis of culture has been transformed over time. The early Americans had to make way for new groups and their ideas. This was also true for Iran: group after group, mainly Arabs and Turks, followed the Indo-European peoples into Iran. Recognizing their diverse background but also anxious to overcome ethnic divisions, today’s inhabitants prefer to use as the neutral term Iranian. Indeed, they were ordered to do so by their then king, Reza Shah, in 1935.

*   *   *

Iran has had one of the world’s richest and most fascinating historical experiences. One should ask, How much of it is pertinent today? Do Iranians today really remember their past over the last two thousand or so years? Or is this book just a historian’s contrived assemblage of events?

My answer is twofold: Much of even the remote past is directly remembered by modern Iranians because it is being constantly reinforced—to a degree and with an intensity alien to the Western experience—by the repetition of poetry, folktales, and ceremony. Moreover, national history is studied everywhere and often in Iranian schools, colleges, and universities. Additionally, much is encapsulated in the pervasive and passionate religious observance of the Iranians’ Shia sect of Islam.

That is the easy part of my answer; I illustrate it in the following pages. The harder part is what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious—the real but hidden memory of what a society accepts as its heritage and the guide to what is normal. It is this shared substratum of heritage that makes a society distinct. We are guided by it in our choice of what is right and proper, but it is so common that we normally pay no attention to it unless we lose it. What it amounts to is, of course, much harder to document, but we may take it as the summation of the historical experience. I attempt to bring it out by using the historical events as building blocks for my interpretation of Iran.

Related to the collective unconscious—indeed, evolving from it—is what political philosophers have sometimes referred to as the social contract. That is a crucial but often elusive concept. To put it simply, the social contract is the implicit relationship of a people to one another, to their institutions, and to their leaders. Such an understanding usually evolves over a long period of time as changing circumstances cause shifts in the internal relationships. Sometimes such a contract is made explicit. In the American experience, the social contract was made explicit in the Pilgrims’ first document, the Mayflower Compact, and, later, when America’s Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution.

Underlying these documents was an implicit agreement on what was right. If this agreement is overthrown, as occasionally happens in revolutions and wars, then military or police power becomes a paltry force. Put in more familiar circumstances, if the implicit social contract of, say, the inhabitants of Dallas were to be overturned, the whole American army could not keep the peace there. That is exactly what happened in Iran in the months preceding the 1979 revolution: The huge army and security apparatus of Muhammad Reza Shah could no longer control even Tehran. I mention this here to point out that underneath the events we can document in history are other, more intangible mores, conventions, and habits that are real, effective, and pervasive. Thus, for reasons I make clear in this book, I am certain that the inhabitants of Iran today are largely governed by their past regardless of whether they consciously remember it. Because Americans and the British are not part of that heritage, I attempt to make explicit what to Iranians is largely implicit. Thus, I have offered you in this book what might be termed a historical portrait rather than a chronology or a fully spelled-out history.

*   *   *

Why is this worth considering? The humane reason is that we live in a world whose manifest diversity both challenges our understanding and enriches our lives. It would be boring if everyone in the world actually was, as the war gamers profess, interchangeable. A great civilization, Iran is special. The great English scholar of things Persian, Edward G. Browne, at the beginning of the last century compared Iran to a beautiful garden filled with flowers of innumerable kinds and remarked that nothing could compensate the world, spiritually and intellectually, for the loss of Persia.

I agree with him—enjoyment of diversity is enriching to life—but in these difficult times in which we live, I would urge that there is also a practical purpose in figuring out how to get along with people whose cultural guides are different. To put it in crass terms, what will be the reaction of the Iranians, who are governed by a cultural code that is not that of America or Britain, to the threat of force? Fifty years ago, answering that question was a challenge to British strategists who sought to hang on to their oil fields in Iran. They failed. Today, understanding what the Iranians will do in response to threats and incentives, particularly on the nuclear issue, is the challenge that the American government is attempting to meet, so far unsuccessfully. The war gamers would have us believe that Iranian beliefs, mores, and memories are irrelevant, or nearly so. Such a view could mislead us into disaster. But the danger is certainly clear and present today—we can see by current events that Iranians have not reacted as we assumed they would. Perversely, they refuse to act like Americans or the British, and their reactions often appear to us not to be governed by logic. They are people, not players.

Thus, as I write, American and British strategists debate whether the application of threats, imposition of more severe sanctions, or actual employment of force will convince the Iranian government to abstain from attempts to acquire a nuclear weapon. They assume that if threats do not work, sanctions might. If relatively mild sanctions do not work, then more severe measures might. That line of action leads next to a blockade, which is, in itself, an act of war. Ultimately, if none of these measures work, bombardment and invasion will.

Let’s leave aside moral and legal considerations and focus just on the issue of effectiveness. As stage after stage in the growing and extremely dangerous—indeed potentially catastrophic—confrontation has been reached, Iran has moved steadily forward with its own plan. So it seems reasonable and useful to ask, Why is its reaction to this pressure what we see it to be? I seek to answer that question in terms of the Iranian experience. Because both the answer and the experience are complex, I use history to construct what the intelligence analysts call an appreciation of Iran.

*   *   *

I propose, therefore, that you both enjoy the Iranians for the many fascinating experiences embodied in their past and also move toward a world in which we can all live in a greater degree of peace and security. Please join me in both of these quests.

William R. Polk

March 7, 2009

NEW INTRODUCTION TO UNDERSTANDING IRAN

As I wrote the final words of the first edition of Understanding Iran, the outlook both for understanding Iran and for mutual understanding was grim. While the Iranian and Western, particularly American, governments were not quite so close to the brink of war as they had been a few years earlier, they were still, as our grandfathers would have said, at daggers drawn. The objective of the George W. Bush administration, regime change, remained the goal in the first term of the Barack Obama administration, although the means employed to try to achieve it were less bellicose.

The leaders of each government believed the worst of the other. The Americans thought that the Iranian government was moving rapidly toward acquisition of nuclear weapons and was engaged in subversive activities around the Middle East that damaged American interests. The Iranians were convinced that the Americans were intent on reducing them to submission and destroying their regime by starving them with economic sanctions and naval blockades and by provoking civil disturbance with their own espionage agents and by supporting Iranian terrorist groups.¹ There was enough substance in the views of both sides to shape their thoughts and actions.

Moreover, both governments were goaded or threatened by hardline domestic forces. In Iran, the right wing of the religious establishment was bitterly hostile to any sort of accommodation with America. Meanwhile, in America, the neoconservatives and pro-Israeli lobbying groups were pushing Congress, the administration, and the media toward military action. Those on both sides who sought negotiation or even understanding were often attacked, dismissed, or unheard. The man who later would play such a key role in moving toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict, Ambassador Javad Zarif, was dismissed from Iranian government service. Meanwhile, America’s 16 intelligence agencies reached the firm and unanimous conclusion that Iran had no nuclear weapons and no current plans to produce them, but their finding does not seem to have been considered. Outside of government, the advice and counsel of specialists on Iran² were, apparently, unheard. No more than the Iranian leaders were their American counterparts willing to listen either to one another or to those of their own people who urged them to move away from violent confrontation.

Only the military of both sides seemed to have a clear and simple policy. The Iranians, fearing an American invasion, prepared for a prolonged guerrilla war on land and at sea. On the American side, the military and their congressional supporters looked forward eagerly to engagement. As Senator John McCain summed up their position in 2008, singing to a popular tune, it was Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran. Nor was the move toward conflict set out just in song. War games, positioning of forces, procurement of equipment, and proclamations of intent to invade were the order of the day.³ Leaders on both sides turned to their military commanders and to their intelligence chiefs for guidance.

Predictably, the generals and spooks on both sides saw no scope for resolution of the conflict, except through employment of their own violent means of action. As Javad Zarif, then Iranian ambassador to the UN, said to me, don’t forget that we have our ‘crazies’ and lovers of war just as you have.

At best, there seemed to be little hope of achieving a lasting peace, and at worst, there was a clear and present danger of yet another ruinous, expensive, and pointless Middle Eastern war. To some of us, and certainly to me, our two nations seemed to be on the edge of an almost unimaginable disaster.

Was this worry really justified? Answering that question is useful because it sets a base marker that enables us to evaluate the accommodation we have reached, or almost reached, in recent weeks.

*   *   *

Serious and well-informed observers agreed that military intervention of any kind in Iran would set off a process likely to be far more damaging and disruptive than anything experienced in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Somalia.⁴ Such intervention would also be more costly and painful to America. Bluntly put, with its overwhelming military capability, America would win all the battles. Whether by aerial bombing or land invasion, or both, Iran would be destroyed and its people would be reduced to desperation, hunger, and misery. As a former chief of the U.S. air force described another shock and awe campaign, implementing this policy would take them back to the stone age. But what would happen then?

The George W. Bush administration worked on the principle that if aerial strikes were not followed up by boots on the ground, they would be self-defeating, counter-productive in the current phrase. Aerial shock and awe was necessary but not sufficient. Unless the native government’s capacity to rule was totally destroyed, it would try to acquire means to defend what remained. And the means it would be driven to adopt would almost certainly, sooner or later, include attempts to acquire the weapons of mass destruction. That is, the Iranians would be driven on almost any terms to acquire the weapons they did not then have and which we were determined to keep them from getting. Even more certainly, the Iranians would fight to drive out the invaders—U.S. soldiers and any allies acquired—with guerrilla tactics for which they were already well prepared. American ground troops would be required and, in the ensuing combat, American casualties would run into the tens of thousands and the monetary costs would run into the trillions of dollars.

Moreover, the war would spread: as hatred grew in the wake of the misery and humiliation of the invasion, the Iranians would almost inevitably try to carry the war to American interests in other parts of the Middle East, Europe, and America. Even if they were not successful, American businessmen, students, and tourists would find travel dangerous. Our whole way of life would come under even more intense pressure than we now feel.

On every count, the costs of military intervention would have been horrendous. Yet few people seemed to have added up the costs. Instead, there was a groundswell of support for military action. Some politicians, advisers, and journalists even advocated the use of nuclear weapons against Iranian targets.

As I listened to discussions on these threats, I was particularly conscious of the nuclear danger. This was made especially vivid to me, as I have written in this book, by my own experience during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But as I met with public affairs groups around the country and lectured at dozens of universities and colleges, I found that very few of my American contemporaries realized the extent of the danger—because memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had long since faded and the idea that nuclear war could be limited had become accepted in the defense establishment and in the think tanks it sponsored.

Even if, despite the frequent threats, the use of nuclear bombs on Iran was not likely, the use of conventional bombs on Iranian nuclear installations was dead certain. Such bombing, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions,⁵ would definitely result in the spread of radioactive detritus and highly toxic chemicals.⁶ The effects on Iran and on Iranians would probably surpass Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Practically no one with whom I spoke seemed to have considered this result of military action.

Of course, it was not just the foreign military action that would create the new order. Nor was it only the attempt of any conceivable Iranian government that emerged from the conflict to fight back. Indeed, no government might emerge for a long time. More likely would be the collapse of all civic order. Ironically, as we have seen in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Libya, the more completely we won, the worse the problem would become. The breakdown of order into warlord statelets, each intent on enriching itself, would probably result, in Iran as it has elsewhere, in a massive flood of refugees desperately trying to find a safe haven in which to survive.

Beginning already in the first Bush administration and going through the Clinton and second Bush administrations, some senior current and former government officials warned that military action led nowhere we wanted to go, that there was no light at the end of the tunnel, and that hostilities would become unending. For years, such specialists were unheeded, but by the middle of the second Bush administration, even the most extreme of the hawks concluded that striking Iran would cause its government to do what we were trying to prevent,⁷ going flat out to acquire nuclear weapons.

That realization did not stop the military and espionage programs, but it did foster the use of what seemed the only available coercive means to get the Iranians to adopt the reforms we were demanding. Those means were the application to Iran of sanctions.

*   *   *

Sanctions are the modern equivalent of the biblical double-edged sword: they harm both the countries against which they are employed and the states that employ them.

Consider first the cost to those that employ them. In just the one year of 1997, the Institute for International Economics found that applying sanctions cost U.S. businesses between $15 and $19 billion and diminished the income of at least 200,000 American workers.

Sanctions also create or exacerbate rivalries and resentment among friendly and allied states because some states and corporations will seek to evade them in pursuit of their own interests. For example, when the European bank Paribas sought to increase its profits by violating American-imposed sanctions on Iran, it was forced to pay the U.S. government a nearly $9 billion fine or lose its right to carry on its business in America.

Paribas, other banks, and their governments deeply resented the American-guided policy. As The Financial Times commented (July 2, 2014), The punishment goes to the heart of why US sanctions have become so controversial among banks, because they allow the [American] authorities to police business arrangements that do not involve Americans.

Resentment did not stop there. Some non-American businesses, particularly in the energy field, charge that the U.S. government also uses sanctions in ways that cause them to lose market share to the eventual benefit of their American competitors.

Here, the sword is truly double-edged: while some cuts may help American overseas trading, others harm it. American corporations that abide by sanction restraints lose sales opportunities to European or Asian companies and countries that continue trading. Consequently, sanctions are unpopular among businessmen and their governments everywhere. This explains why, as a study by the Congressional Research Service pointed out, it took more than a quarter of a century of arm twisting by the American government to get most others to join in the sanctions the United States applied to Iran in 1979.

Sanctions are aimed primarily at national or macroeconomic targets. Thus, Iran was not allowed to sell its oil and natural gas to the European Union, Japan, and South Korea. This boycott caused the loss of about a fifth of the country’s exports. All financial transactions were banned. That made even those products that were not banned difficult to trade. And foreign governments impounded $100 billion of Iranian funds. Thus, the Iranian government had less money to carry out its projects.

Some of the Iranian government projects were military and, from the American perspective, should have been curtailed, but others were beneficial to the Iranian public. A few were also supportive of overall American policy goals.

But sanctions cannot be used precisely. Just as the Bible described double-edged swords, they divide asunder … the joints and the marrow. They are not like surgeons’ blades. They cut deepest into the lives of the poorer, less politically connected inhabitants of the target country. Even when aimed solely at governments, the effects on the health, education, and welfare of the whole population can be catastrophic because governments will cut back on social services as funds dry up. Businesses also pass along the damage. In Iran, when the rial virtually collapsed in October 2012 and inflation rose to over 50 percent, businesses were forced to close and hundreds of thousands of laborers were thrown out of work.

And it was not only laborers who were affected. What sanctions did in Iran was to slow down or stop the development of a prosperous, responsible, educated, and healthy middle class, something America has always believed was crucial to its security and the spread of democracy. So the sanctions we imposed in 2006 and 2007 directly harmed the group we should have been doing the most to help.

Was damaging the middle class, causing laborers to lose their jobs, depriving the young of access to education and health facilities a price we were willing to pay to force the Iranians to do what we wanted them to do? Apparently so, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously said of our policy in another country.⁹ But do sanctions work?

In Iran as elsewhere, privileged groups, those that are politically effective—the rulers, their political allies, the military, and the security forces together with their families and supporters—are largely protected from the effects of sanctions. As former President Jimmy Carter observed of sanctions in another area, the political elite do not suffer. Sanctions hurt Iran but not its decision makers or its generals.

Consequently, in Iran as elsewhere, sanctions are generally ineffective. In more than 100 cases where they have been employed, it is hard to find a clear example of their success in getting a country to change its policy. The United States imposed sanctions on Iran for 36 years and, by its own criteria, they did not get the Iranian government to change its policies.

But, even when they do not work, the sanctions swords are hard to get back in their scabbards. Savvy congressmen have long sought to avoid the charge of being soft on Iran; better to leave even sanctions that did not work in place rather than incur the onus of repealing them. The result, as one business-oriented and politically conservative commentator remarked, is that we are caught in a policy of sanctioning madness in which the growing use of economic sections to promote foreign policy objectives is deplorable.¹⁰ So it was that in one year, congressmen introduced over 100 bills not to repeal ineffective sanctions but to add additional sanctions. They realized that attempts to abolish even the least effective would be as unpopular as measures to raise taxes.

*   *   *

If military action and economic sanctions did not work or were too expensive to be employed, the only thing that was left was diplomacy.¹¹

Among those who spoke out in favor of negotiation were former Secretary of State General Colin Powell¹² and two men who had personally experienced the low point in American-Iranian relations—the chargé d’affairs and the chief political officer of the U.S. embassy in Tehran who had been held hostage during the long siege.¹³ Neither they nor others were successful. Diplomacy was inoperative and such contact as remained between the two governments had become a dialog of the deaf. As one journalist quipped, Hang up! Tehran is calling.¹⁴

It sounds at least trivial if not irresponsible to suggest it, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the opportunity to employ diplomacy, when it came, was at least partly a matter of luck. It was not sanctions or military threats but the coincidental election both in Iran and America of reformist and moderate presidents that made negotiations possible.

On the Iranian side, the key player was Hassan Rouhani. Trained as a lawyer at the University of Tehran, he joined the opposition to the government of the Shah as a young man. Fearing arrest, he fled Iran in 1977 to work with Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris. When Khomeini returned triumphantly to Iran in February 1979, Rouhani was already a trusted member of the revolutionary elite. One after another he was given a number of major assignments in the defense establishment and became the director of the Iranian equivalent of the U.S. National Security Council. In that post, he was for many years the lead negotiator on the Iranian side with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other Western and UN organizations. However, he opposed the policies of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and resigned in 2005. A prolific writer in English, Farsi, and Arabic, he returned to academic life and earned a doctorate at a Scottish university. The end of Ahmadinejad’s administration opened a new opportunity for Rouhani. Approved by the clerical establishment, he ran for the presidency as a moderate and was elected. He became president of Iran in August 2013.

While it is not acknowledged, it appears that early in his tenure in office, President Rouhani discreetly contacted President Obama to explore the possibility of ways to avoid war and abolish the sanctions program.¹⁵

With the consent of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Rouhani brought Javad Zarif back into government as foreign minister and tasked him with working out a deal with America.

Meanwhile, President Obama, against the advice of his own warriors, decided to give Secretary of State John Kerry the opportunity to negotiate with Zarif. Both men knew that they had limited scope and limited time. Their efforts were to be almost literally Herculean.

*   *   *

The irony of the task Javad Zarif and John Kerry faced was that it might never have been necessary. While I discuss this in some detail in the body of this book, it is useful here to single out two bits of what can be considered the preamble to the negotiations that produced the August 2015 Accords. Look first at the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

The timing of the revolution was formative in two respects. First, had it not taken place in February 1979, it might not have taken place at all or might have taken a very different form. Of course, might-have-beens don’t form history, but consider these circumstances. When the Shah died of cancer a year and five months after the revolution, his son and heir was just 20 years old. He lacked the determination, experience, and skill of his father and almost certainly would have been forced to allow the political reforms which I and others had urged on his father. If this happened, it is likely that a popular government, perhaps a multiparty constitutional monarchy or even a republic, would have been formed. Seeing the possibility of peaceful resolution of grievance, at least some, perhaps even enough, of those who would espouse the revolution might have opted for other means.

Second, Muhammad Reza Shah had been determined to make Iran a nuclear power. Beginning in 1959, with American government assistance, Iran got a small research reactor. The Shah was intrigued and arranged a remarkable program to educate himself in nuclear matters.¹⁶ He threw himself and his government’s resources into a nuclear program. During the 1970s, it was the most lavishly funded project in Iran with a budget of over $1 billion and at least 1,500 employees. It was, in effect, Iran’s Manhattan Project. At that point, the American government began to worry about the program and began to urge the Shah to exercise restraint.¹⁷ The Shah, however, was determined to acquire nuclear weapons.¹⁸ When he did not get everything he wanted from America, he turned to North Korea, Russia, and China. To get assistance from North Korea on delivery vehicles, the Shah arranged that Iran fund some of its programs and upgrade its missiles.¹⁹ Had the revolution been delayed one or two years, the new regime would have inherited membership in the nuclear club.

As it happened, the nuclear weapons program was still in its formative stages and was canceled by the incoming government on religious grounds.²⁰ After the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, continued the policy of restricting nuclear programs to energy production and research. Exhaustive investigations by the IAEA and by American, British, Israeli, and other intelligence services found no evidence of weapons development. Despite constant public clamor, particularly by ambitious politicians, to rid Iran of the bomb, it had no bomb to give up.

But Iran was keen to develop a nuclear program, at least to produce energy. It asserted that it had the right to do so as a signatory to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This treaty did, indeed, confirm the inalienable right of all the 190 signatories to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Iran had been engaged in this activity for nearly half a century without any responsible charge that it had manufactured or was planning to manufacture nuclear weapons. To have developed a successful weapons program, it would have had to create facilities to test a bomb to see if it could work. All nuclear weapons producers have done so. There is no indication that it tried. What it has done, enriching uranium, is being done by some 19 other signatories to the NPT.²¹ No strenuous objections have been made to these activities. Nor has there been any attempt to punish either India or Israel for possible violations of this accord.

*   *   *

So what is the deal that Secretary Kerry, Minister Zarif, and their teams signed in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 2, 2015?

The first point is that as of this writing what they have produced is not a treaty or even a fully elaborated agreement but a framework on the basis of which the text of a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program remains to be worked out.²²

The second point is that although America has played the lead role, this is not just an American-Iranian agreement but one between the five permanent member

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    Attempting to understand a culture of today cannot be limited to just this generation or even the generation before that. To fully understand any culture, the researcher has to go back to the beginning and examine the history from that moment until today. In regard to the rich culture of Iran, William R. Polk attempts to do just that in his book, Understanding Iran: Everything You Need to Know, From Persia to the Islamic Republic, From Cyrus to Ahmadinejad.Polk starts as far back as in history as possible for Iran. From there he discusses the cultural, ethnic, and national identity of being Iranian. It is not just a matter of descending from those that lived there for generations. It is not just claiming a home there. It is much more intricate. The book explores the history of rulers and the impact each new wave of leadership brought upon the people who lived in the region known now as Iran. The see-saw of strong ruler with that of weak ones kept the nation in turmoil and laid the foundation of much of the problems of today. The book dives further into the European influence, revolutionary veins, and the explosion of that revolutionary wave leading to a unique Iran of today with strained ties to the world around it.The author sets out to understand the Iran of today by looking into the past starting with the original Persians. What most of the world knows about Iran is based on the struggles over the nation and the resources it possesses. Polk strove to get beyond the United States/Iran issue or the Britain/Iran issue and discover “what it means when we speak of Iran and Iranians.” He wanted to get to the heart of the people and culture.Understanding Iran is a very comprehensive book that does not start during the Persian and Greek wars. It does not start with the end of World War I. It starts at the beginning to get a more complete picture of the subject at hand: Iran and its people. The fact that the book is so encompassing and looks beyond stereotypes makes it a valuable resource. Polk does an excellent job of taking all aspects of the Iranian world (culture, history, and political) and bringing into a logical and understandable kaleidoscope. He lays out clearly how Iran’s past is not something to be swept under the rug as it is “directly remembered by modern Iranians because it is being constantly reinforced” through its own cultural activities, its politics, and its interaction between the rest of the world.As Polk desired to reveal more of the true Iran and everything that influenced what it has become today, the result was success. He states in an easy to read manner how Iran did not live in a bubble. The world within the boundaries and the world without had huge impacts on what one sees if they walked the streets of the Iranian cities and villages today. He clearly shows how the past is the present redefined and matured whether it is seen in a good or a bad light. There is no doubt what Iran is. Misconceptions are easily tossed aside as Polk examines the evidence in an objective and concise manner. The book could easily have been three times the size it was published at, but Polk wrote in a manner that was not lengthy yet to the point. He takes a country that “has had one of the world’s richest and most fascinating historical experiences” and gives the reader a glimpse into that past without having to spend weeks reading volumes of material.The book is set up in a manner that can be read just to learn more and not as an academic manner. This is beneficial in encouraging the learning of the history and culture of Iran while not limiting it to those in the upper educational classrooms. It is also laid out for easy search if one is using it for academic purposes with a well laid out index and an extensive notes sections as well as bibliography. The book alone would make a valuable resource tool, but it also helps the eager learner to explore further than the book in their hands.Missing from the book was any additional material in the form of maps, charts, or images. The book is not designed too much for the visual learner. The layout of the chapter is not broken out in sections with headings for easy reading retention or for research. Much is absent that would help enhance the book or bring about a more in depth learning. The visual reinforcement is not present in this book.

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