An original, unsettling critique of America’s many blunders in the Middle East.
In Iran, a statue honors Howard Baskerville, and streets and schools bear his name. A young American teacher, he died in 1909 leading volunteers in defense of this nation’s fledgling democracy. After delivering this surprising bit of history, journalist Kinzer (International Relations/Boston Univ.; A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It, 2008, etc.) states bluntly that Iran, along with Turkey, the only Islamic nations in the area with vibrant democratic traditions, should be America’s closest allies, replacing Israel and Saudi Arabia. The author makes his case by recounting their recent history. Most readers recognize the name Kemal Ataturk, the charismatic leader who single-handedly revolutionized Turkey after World War I by introducing European institutions. Turkey is prospering and gets along with all Middle Eastern nations including Israel. When Iran threatened to nationalize British oil concession, a CIA-financed coup destroyed its democracy and established Mohammed Reza as absolute ruler. Kinzer reminds readers that after a broad-based—and not solely Islamic—1979 uprising overthrew the Shah, Iran opposed Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. After 9/11 it cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan until, in early 2002, President Bush branded it a member of the “axis of evil” along with North Korea and Iraq. Cultivating Turkey and Iran instead of the reactionary Saudi monarchy and pugnacious Israel makes sense, but Kinzer admits a major barrier: America is also a democracy. Smarting over the humiliation of the 1979 hostage crisis—but ignoring Iran’s humiliation in 1953—most American voters loathe Iran and support Israel uncritically.
An imaginative solution to the Middle-East stalemate, though perhaps too imaginative for most American readers.