Robert Baer, formerly a CIA operative, published a book in 2008 called The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, which I’m reading in preparation for our meeting next week. His theory is that Iran is rising and has imperial ambitions, that it has basically been at war with the United States for 30 years, and that the Iranians have already “half-won” the war. While America sees a country in the grips of Islamic fundamentalism, Baer says that underneath the religious veneer is nationalism and “a deep, abiding defiance of colonialism.” While we have been concerned with preventing Iran getting nuclear weapons, they have perfected the art of warfare by proxy, defeating Israel in Lebanon and hampering our own efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What it comes down to is this: Iran is the most powerful and stable country in the Middle East – a country the United States must either fight in a new thirty-year war or come to terms with.
I wouldn’t throw around the “superpower” label as easily as Baer, but he’s really using it as a rhetorical device. And he makes a key point early on (and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this as I continue reading). The US has unwittingly aided Iran’s rise by smashing its chief rival: Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Iraq. Baer believes that Iran has designs on Iraq’s oil, which if they came to pass, would see Iran producing more oil than Saudi Arabia. Not likely to happen soon – but remember that we will eventually have to withdraw our troops from Iraq, while Iran will remain right next door. The Saudis may be seeing the future that Baer envisions, because they’ve started making efforts at rekindling relations with Iran.
Baer talks about visiting the Nabatiyah martyr’s school in Lebanon, where the Iranian proxy Hezbollah trains children to become suicide bombers. He had come as a journalist (after retiring from the CIA) making a documentary, and listened to the teacher of a girls’ class explain why martyrdom is so important in Shia Islam. And yet when Baer asked the girls if they watched American TV, they all giggled and said they loved Oprah.
The sooner we understand how a girl from Nabatiyah’s martyrs’ school can watch Oprah, then strap on a suicide bomber’s vest and blow herself up in the middle of an Israeli patrol, the better prepared we’ll be to face what’s coming our way.