The Iran “Experts” –Then and Now
Ken Follett has a new novel coming out in September, The Fall of Giants, which has proven to be the easiest, most enjoyable 984 pages I have read in a long time.
The Fall of Giants is the first installment in a trilogy about the 20th century, and it delivers a deeply interesting story about the lives and societies first shattered and then remade by the Great War. More on the book in future weeks, but it will not disappoint anyone and will impress even long standing Follett fans. It even stands a chance of making the Russian revolution accessible and even engrossing to American readers who have not had AP history in high school.
Because I hope to conduct a lengthy interview with Follett when the new novel is published in September, I have spent the first half of my vacation preparing for it with a close reading of the book and a rereading of some of his other works, including The Eye of the Needle, The Key to Rebecca, The Pillars of the Earth –and On Wings of Eagles.
Wings, for those who haven’t read it, isn’t a novel but a riveting, real life thriller of the still amazing story of the rescue of two American business executives from the chaos that was Iran in early 1979, a rescue organized by none other than Ross Perot. The book reminds people not only why Perot was and remains an American original but also of how vast have been the changes that have swept the globe in the past 30 years, right down to the ease with which Americans could contemplate smuggling pistols on planes into Tehran for the purpose of providing firepower in a privately organized jailbreak.
Sadly what has not changed is the American foreign policy establishment’s befuddlement at all things Iranian. As Follett’s story opens in late 1978 and early 1979, the senior ranks of the carter Administration are riven by struggles over how to treat the Shah and his enemies, including the Ayatollah Khomeini. Almost every move undertaken by State Department “experts” was ill informed and turned out poorly, and their inability to anticipate the events that unfolded in rapid fashion would have been comical had the consequences for the world not been so dire.
Now we are living through the revival of the Carter Years, and at center stage is a replaying of all the ineptitude that marked that failed presidency’s “Iran policy.” This time, though, the consequences involve nukes and the fanatics are not seeking power but seeking instead to preserve it while at the same time implementing their global messianic vision with a zeal that is, again, surprising the “experts” assembled by an idealistic but inexperienced American president.
Those who have never read On Wings of Eagles should carve some time for it this August, if only to relearn the lesson that the American foreign policy establishment’s understanding of Iran has never been remotely close to correct.
That crucial and indisputable conclusion doesn’t tell us much on what we should do, but it does help lay down some skepticism about those who are going to be offering assurances in the months ahead about what is possible and what must be accepted.
My bottom line: Trust the Israelis to figure out the nature of the threat and the best policy for the world vis-a-vis the mullahs, not this second-time’s-a-charm replay of the Carter appeasement.