Friendly Advice From Iran

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Washington Post Foreign Service writer Karl Vick has delivered insight and wisdom in his recent report from Isfahan, Iran, "Iranians Offer Neighborly Advice."

Vick shares some governing tips from Iranians for their former enemies in Iraq. Frustrated by over 20 years of an increasingly corrupt centralized state clothed in supreme morality and wielding the nunchuks of a remarkably invasive domestic security apparatus, Iranians have a lot to say.

In 1979, a revolution unseated a dictatorial American ally distinguished by his exceptionally brutal secret police, the Savak. Fortunately for Iranians, the Ayatollah Khomeini dissolved the Savak. Unfortunately, he replaced it with the almost identical Savama, later known as VEVAK, the ministry of intelligence and security.

Americans do not understand the idea of Ministries of Intelligence and Security, and won’t for some time, as the Department of Homeland Defense is still in its formative years. We can thank the founding fathers for this pleasant, if doomed, condition of ignorance. They knew and truly feared the power of kings and central authorities to seek and destroy their domestic enemies. The Constitution, bright and brilliant, is supposed to constrain and proscribe the state. Ingeniously designed tension between judiciary, executive, and legislative branches is supposed to complicate and outwit inevitable attempts to super-size and centralize government power. But the founders had little faith in humanity’s tendencies, and so a third gift, humbly presented and easy to overlook, would be the Bill of Rights. These ten amendments were specifically designed to make it crystal clear to the salivating state that, all else failing, some individual freedoms were never to be touched.

We take our freedoms for granted. Thus we read with only mild interest what Iranians have to say about their own government, a government the majority of them worked to achieve, a government cloaked in Islamic justice. A government most Iranians today would not wish upon their worst enemy.

Vick interviewed Iranians on the street, young and old, men and women. What they said about Tehran and the Iranian oligarchy is a wake-up call, and not only for Iraqis.

“They talk of Islam but they don’t act on it.”

“This government is not good at all. It’s full of problems. There’s all sorts of wrongdoing. It’s full of theft. They don’t think of the young people. They only think of their pockets.”

“In the beginning of the revolution, the objectives were very good. But afterward people appeared to act only in line with their own interests. They’re busy accumulating money. They don’t think of the people. They don’t think of international relations. Iran has lost a lot."

Replace the words Christianity for Islam, "war on terrorism" for revolution, and America for Iran, and you could be listening to any average American on the street, speaking of the White House and Washington.

“They talk of Christianity but they don’t act on it.”

“This government is not good at all. It’s full of problems. There’s all sorts of wrongdoing. It’s full of theft. They don’t think of the young people. They only think of their pockets.”

“In the beginning of the war on terrorism, the objectives were very good. But afterward people appeared to act only in line with their own interests. They’re busy accumulating money. They don’t think of the people. They don’t think of international relations. America has lost a lot."

I’ve heard as much from real people, in conversation over email, on the phone, and in the local Wal-Mart. Think about Don Rumsfeld’s underling, Lieutenant General Boykin, telling everyone that George W. Bush was selected by God to be our President, or the incredible debt burden so casually thrown on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren, or the neoconservative cultivation of an American foreign policy of contempt, not humility.

Americans and Iranians have more in common than it might appear.

Iranians have been making their intentions clear in the past decade through votes, and more importantly through their individual daily choices and actions. The threat to the well-heeled clerics who comprise the centrally planned Republic’s oligarchy is real. The fight is on, and it is a fight by Iranians, for Iranians. 1953 and the lost potential of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh remain a vivid collective memory. This means the White House won’t be receiving any calls for liberation from within Iran, no matter how badly the frothing and misguided armchair emperors at the American Enterprise Institute wish it were so.

As we speak, Iraq’s revolution, unified in a goal of displacing the occupying forces, is only beginning. Amazingly, it seems to be welcomed by neoconservatives who fear Iraqi democracy only slightly less than they feared Saddam and his independence from Washington. Revolutions are nice for neocons and other would-be rulers, because only in the rare and lucky varieties do you get a liberty-protecting constitution and healthy contempt for centralized power. Usually you get Jacobin France, or Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or whatever we will see in Iraq next year. For neoconservatives, the mistake in Iran in 1979 was not the rise of the mullahcratic dictatorship, but the fact that it wasn’t our mullahcratic dictatorship. With 130,000 troops in Iraq and vastly superior firepower, we can at least manage to dominate parts of that country, post-revolution.

But what of America? The advice from our Iranian fellow travelers is a cool drink of water. Be wary of those who say they are good and wise because they are religious. Never doubt the ability of a state to enrich its politicians and friends over the best interests of its future generations, and to steal a nation blind of its treasure and the blood of its young men and women. Don’t be surprised at what is lost for a whole nation when its leaders are arrogant, self-serving, and corrupt.

This neighborly advice and wisdom for Iraqis is uncannily applicable for Americans, too.

Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.

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