Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Iranians vs. Iran ... Rick Steves and the Shahab-3

As I've said before, I really appreciate Rick Steves' European shows on PBS. When I found out he also maintained a blog (who doesn't these days?) I was instantly hooked! He gives hidden insights and sneak previews, but also shows the entertaining soft underbelly of his job (grumpy tourist office in England, stupid rules in Turkey). When he mentioned he would be going to Iran to separate the real from the rhetoric ... well, honestly I was nervous. This has been used frequently by the peaceniks among us as a euphemism for their peace-at-all-costs world view.

All told, it was a courageous and a valuable thing he did. We'll all be better off if we can humanize this conflict a bit. I agree with him that individual-to-individual contact can lead us all to greater understanding of each other. I share his hope that understanding breeds compassion and even solidarity.

But Rick showed his liberal underpants a bit. While his aim was to present an "even view" of the country, his result was to give glibly cursory coverage to the hate-mongering propaganda spewed forth by the insaniac Iranian government. Does he really mean to suggest that "Death to America" is just a cute figure of speech? I give him kudos for covering every smile and "we love America" he observed from the Iranian citizens. However, by over-emphasizing these, he showed he could not resist the temptation to counter-balance the White House's predilection for fear mongering. with opposite-but-unfortunately-equal myopia.

Here's my take on the Iran:

  • To quote Reagan, "People do not make wars; governments do." In this context, the meaning is that the conflict does not really involve the common citizens of either country. On both sides, they're more interested in living their lives comfortably and being left alone than geopolitics. He went on to say, "A people free to choose will always choose peace." I saw this firsthand in the early 1990's in the former USSR - the people never did hate Americans. Had no reason to, except the fear preached them by their government. And they were just as afraid of their own government as ours. Rick did a good job of demonstrating that (many) Iranians are no exception.
  • To repeat Reagan: "People do not make wars; governments do." His statement has a second meaning: Governments do, indeed, make wars on behalf of their countries. Acknowledging my first point (and Rick's) does not repudiate the fact that the Ayatollah Insane-y and the rabid Ahmadi-nejad army could cause great harm to life and limb in the US, Iran, and most likely anyone else who has the misfortune of getting their attention. Sanctions, containment, diplomacy, saber rattling, and outright aggression may well be necessary in response to their actions.

The fact that an American can traipse around Iran (with government minders) gathering smiles and hugs from children and grandmas alike calls attention not to the power of peace or the senselessness of war ... but to the tragedy of it. I'm quite sure the average middle-class, non-fundamentalist Iranian (if there are any left in that place) is as anti-war as his American counterpart.

However, that (mythical ?) average Iranian does not have his finger on the "launch" button of the new Shahab-3 nuclear-capable intermediate range missile. Nor does he have the key to the national purse. He has no vote on whether his own dire, hopless, poverty-stricken existence is worth the billions being wasted by the government on their nuclear program.

It is FOR, not AGAINST these people that aggression against their government may be necessary.

I'll let Reagan wrap up my argument: "We can not play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent." We must engage Iran with respect, but from a position of strength. We don't need to be the world's daddy, but we do need to ensure our own safety.

If we can serve as a global role model of freedom and respectability, we achieve dual success of furthering our own self-interests while at the same time elevating the world's lowliest and most suppressed. To that end, we should be willing to expend our own treasure and flex our own muscle. It's a long-term proposition, which makes it politically dificult. Greatness is not for the short-sighted.

Photo credits:
Rick Steves in Iran: Rick Steves Blog (http://www.ricksteves.com/blog/index.cfm?fuseaction=archives&month=6&year=2008)
Iranian Missiles: Sepah News (http://www.daylife.com/words/Sepah_News) via AFP

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