A theocratic democracy?

Reese Erlich discusses moronic policy, complicated politics, and hopes for the future in Iran
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lit@sfbg.com
My old friend Reese Erlich is remarkably optimistic about Iran, which is a pleasant perspective. I’m glad somebody is.
In his insightful, if sometimes choppy, new book, The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis, he offers an alternative view of a nation and a culture that has been either ignored or demonized by the mainstream press for more than 30 years. His basic thesis -- that US policy toward Tehran is moronic, driven by foolish politics, bad information, and greedy geopolitical aims -- is hard to dispute. His subtext -- that there’s real hope for democracy in Iran -- is a bit of a tougher sell.
Erlich has done what few US journalists ever do: he’s visited Iran, repeatedly, and taken the time to meet not just with government officials and activists but with ordinary Iranians. Almost across the board, they condemn the United States and support the Islamic state.
We’re presented with “liberal” politicians -- which might be a bit of a stretch -- and radical activists, including Marxists, who offer a vision of a democratic Iran. Me, I’m dubious about any hope for theocratic democracy; as a proud atheist, I think that separation of church and state -- strict, inviolable separation -- is essential for any functioning democracy.
But Erlich’s willing to give other cultures and ways of thinking a break, which is one of the main reasons he’s such a good reporter. And in The Iran Agenda he presents a picture of a nation far more complex than the caricatures we’ve seen depicted by the administration and the evening news.
That’s the real value of this book: you get a sense from a veteran journalist of what you’ve been missing all these years. Erlich tries to sort out the ethnic geopolitics of Iran and explain which groups are aligned with whom (and why the United States supports some of them). It’s all somewhat dizzying, but that’s part of the point. This situation is more complicated than most American opinion makers are willing to admit.
And for all that, it’s a good read.
THE IRAN AGENDA: THE REAL STORY OF U.S. POLICY AND THE MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
By Reese Erlich
PoliPoint Press
192 pages, paper
$14.95
READINGS
Sat/22, 2:30 p.m., free
City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus, Auditorium (Room 109)
1125 Valencia, SF
Sat/29, 7 p.m., free
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
(415) 927-0960
www.bookpassage.com
For information on more Bay Area events, go to www.p3books.com.