Iran Round-Up

In the world of journalism, it’s Iran Season. It’s too little too late, as those of us hawks who judged issues of national security to be more compelling than font frottage sorely missed this reportage in the weeks before November. But it is welcome nonetheless, and all the more interesting in the humid shadow of a politically unleashed Bush’s second term.

Mark Bowden appears in The Atlantic with a feature that sets the tone for the debate: through the more learned prism of post-Saddam Iraq, how should we view the complex forces at play in Iran? The political, intellectual and spiritual journey of the actual 1979 hostage-takers are used as the vehicle for exploration. It turns out that several of the former fanatical students are key leaders or ideologues of the democratic reform movement so vexatious to the Mullahcracy. The Columbia Journalism Review takes Bowden's lead and explores the same issues.

Most Americans remember them only as bearded and black-veiled fanatics. But the surprising, seemingly counterintuitive evolution of these former hostage-takers into some of the most prominent and courageous journalists in Iran offers a window into the complexities of the country's turbulent recent history -- and into its continuing estrangement from the United States. At a time when this neighbor of Iraq and Afghanistan, one-third of President Bush's Axis of Evil, is on the brink of entering the nuclear club, and at a time when there is much ominous talk of a coming "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, the remarkable trajectory of this handful of Iranian journalists, who years ago embodied our worst fears of such a clash, underlines how inadequate these vast abstractions are. It suggests that our understanding of matters like "fundamentalism," "Islamism," even "terrorism" may be more superficial than is commonly known.

Back in The Atlantic, James Fallows writes a companion piece describing the results of a formal Pentagon war game organized by The Atlantic. It involves some interesting players, such as David Kay, and CIA veterans Reuel Marc Gerecht and Kenneth Pollack, the latter having contributed so much to the Gulf War II debate (see Pollack's mea culpa here). The firm conclusion of the exercise is sobering: striking or invading Iran is wholly different in kind and scale from Iraq, and unlikely to succeed.

With muted glee, the Maureen Dowd set is celebrating Iran's latest diplomatic stick and move; but less illustrious media with more open ears reported today that the Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, disclaimed any conciliatory intentions while meeting with socialist hater and kindred spirit Hugo Chávez.

For a compelling sidebar, read (the beautiful) Iranian journalist Farnaz Fassihi's actual reportage on her troubles in Iraq. You'll remember that an informal version of her material, in the form of a private e-mail to friends, raced like a brush-fire across the blogosphere last September.

Posted by John-Paul Pagano at November 30, 2004 2:21 AM