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Tuesday, June 14, 2005


mclaughlin in tehran

watching the mclaughlin group over the weekend, i was amused by john mclaughlin's firsthand reporting from the iranian capital. issue two in the transcript:

Next Friday, citizens of Iran will vote on who they want as president. I spent last week in Teheran, the capital of Iran, a busy spread-out city of 12 million people and an incredible number of cars and the scariest traffic in the world -- worse than Cairo, worse than Rome, with most cars manufactured, by the way, in Iran; bazaars, stylish shops, coffee houses, food courts, cinemas, art houses, and museums with some Iranian artifacts 8,000 years old, the cradle of civilization, plus stores with a full range of cosmetics from Paris, Tokyo, Toronto and Manhattan, through Dubai, brand names and locally produced prophylactics on full display in pharmacies, some labeled, quote, "a selection of fruity flavors for every occasion" -- all the trappings of a modern city, somewhat rundown, but not Havana, and not pre-Hariri Beirut -- extremely energized with lots of young Iranians in the restaurants and the coffee houses drinking their beverages laced with ice cream, Mort, during the alcohol-free cocktail hour. Women in Iran dress in black, but most with full faces exposed and head wraps drawn back from the earlier required forehead line, with the wraps now receding to mid-crown at the rate of about an inch a month and some skirts being raised at the same rate, now exposing naked ankles and naked feet.

I moved freely throughout the city, wherever I wished to go. On one occasion I attended what amounted to a campaign rally for Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

I greeted him but got no grant for an interview before the election. His son was there, his campaign manager, and I spoke with him briefly.

The event was staged for Iran's art, cinema and theatrical community. About 10 artists stood before the audience, with Rafsanjani sitting center stage facing the people, like a king. The artist called for more creative freedom and government funding. Rafsanjani took the platform and echoed their freedom call, and then warned against western intervention into Iran's performing arts -- a clever dual position to draw votes from both the right and from the left.

Rafsanjani was president of Iran from 1989 to 1997. Three years later, in 2000, he ran for the national legislature and was humiliated, finishing 33rd -- 33rd. Now he wants to regain standing, and the way to do that is to win the paramount trophy, which means relations with the United States and the end of Iran's quasi- isolation.

What he brings mostly to the table is his ability and power to work with a Muslim conservative, the supreme ruler for life, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, who succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.

Perhaps my biggest surprise in Iran was how effortlessly the regime was criticized, sharply, with one taxi driver telling me, among others, that he was not going to vote in protest because, as far as he was concerned, they were all SOBs and all on the take. So the turnout is expected to be small, and many will not vote for the taxi cab driver's same reason.

Question: Why is it that the reality of Teheran is so different from its U.S. image? Eleanor Clift.
well, elanor didn't really answer the question, but mclaughin had more.

Does Iran resent the U.S.? The answer is yes. Here's why. Iran is an ancient and proud nation, with participatory government, if not democracy itself, in place for centuries. Iranians believe that it is insulting for the U.S. to think that Iran's leaders would ever use a nuclear bomb in a first strike or even in a counter-strike.

They say history proves it. Saddam Hussein repeatedly used weapons of mass destruction, i.e. chemical weapons, against Iran's forces during the 1980 to '88 war. Iran refused to use weapons of mass destruction and retaliation to Iraq's poisonous chemicals.

Furthermore, Iran is probably the most fiercely nationalistic nation on earth, more nationalistic, I think, than even the United States. This nationalism is fed by the fact that they are Persians living in an Arab world. The mullahs are not and have not been saints by any means, and corruption has to be rooted out. But they refuse to use weapons of mass destruction. And their fierce nationalism is outraged at the thought that they would do so, and being labeled alongside North Korea and Saddam's Iraq on the axis of evil, as I was told repeatedly.

Question: Has our rhetoric against Iran become excessively bellicose and counterproductive? I ask you, Mort.
and mort zukerman did his best to reinforce the strawman/bogeyman by applying standards that the united states itself wouldn't pass and bringing up hezbollah as though hezbollah were unquestionably evil instead of a popular and widespread political party and quasi-institution.

mclaughlin's views on the real tehran -- not the propaganda image fed to us by our government and press, filtered through our biases and nationalism, but the one you see when you walk the streets there -- are important, i think. if popular support is not allowed to materialize for an iranian confrontation, the bush administration will be in a difficult way to manifest both its ideological campaign of global democratic revolution and its great-power-game strategy with respect to iran. part of denying that support can come with simply realizing widely in the united states that life in tehran is not, in many ways, so much different from life in chicago.

I would like to think that the government wouldn't try to start something with Iran but I don't know anymore.

Honestly, though, people like myself (an initially qualified war supporter) are the most to blame.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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I would like to think that the people of Iran, without American aid, will overthrow the totalitarian theocrats.

"Buh-bye ayatollah!"

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