Letters to the Editor (actually, comments)

Do you ever comment on articles you read? For the most part I think it’s lunacy. If you want to slide into a deep depression about the state of humanity, read through the comments following a Fox News online article. Our only hope is that those comments represent a small portion of America. I’m less and less convinced that’s the case. And it’s not just Fox – most online comments sections go straight to racism, misogyny, etc.

The New York Times (NYT), however, moderates its comments. As far as I can tell, the NYT does a good job of allowing comments that are critical of the NYT and its authors. I regularly criticize Thomas Friedman and the other Iraq War cheerleaders. Probably a terrible move for a freelancer who would kill to get asked to take photos for the NYT.

In the moment, it feels worthwhile to write a response to an article. But we’re all just screaming into the abyss, aren’t we? All the time. I bet most Americans don’t want a war with Iran – but that never matters, does it?

Anyways, I posted two comments at the NYT related to the USG’s assassination of Suleimani. One was in response to Ryan Crocker’s op-ed. I was a junior (now former) FSO in Iraq when Crocker was the ambassador. Agree or disagree with him, he spent a lifetime working in the Middle East advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives*. I thought he made some good points in his op-ed, and I liked that it went well beyond the Pompeo / Graham school of foreign policy in a soundbite – he evil bad guy need terminate. I had one major criticism, though – Crocker conveniently framed his op-ed beginning with the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. It seems to me that any discussion of Iran-U.S. relations has to mention that the CIA overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953. Back to the Pompeo / Graham school – we good guys and do good things don’t worry about 1953.

My comment:

Like you, I’m not shedding any tears for Suleimani. He was a willing participant and decision-maker in the long war you’ve mentioned. With respect to the current articles and cable discussions, your thoughts are infinitely more comprehensive. But it still comes up short. You started your chronology in the 80s. You should have mentioned that in 1953 the United States overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran, leading to the long reign of the Shah. Our elected officials and media are routinely describing Russian social media propaganda as an act of war. That pales in comparison to an actual overthrow. We need more honest, in depth discussions about these issues. You could have made this piece a lot better.

I also responded to an Azadeh Moaveni opinion piece that I thought was excellent. It doesn’t shy away from the complexities, and it’s an Iranian perspective – “…Being here again makes me feel that I — an American citizen of Iranian origin — have been here so often before.” Moaveni provides the context that is so often lacking in today’s discussions about world events. I remain convinced that just about the worst thing you can do to follow world events is watch TV. TV news is a joke. There are only a handful of programs that will explore issues beyond a simple soundbite. And that’s across the board.

Here’s an example of some of the context that Moaveni provides:

The American-backed 1953 coup destroyed both my grandfather and great uncle’s careers, until then in service of the government, and sent the latter into exile. America’s support for, and then eventual abandonment of, the Shah helped shape the 1979 revolution, disrupted all of our lives, with the new authorities expropriating our assets, and landing an uncle in prison for belonging to that educated, pro-Western class that built modern Iran and saw the revolution as its demise.

The years that followed only deepened the American-Iranian chasm. There was the 1979-81 hostage crisis at the American Embassy in Tehran, which killed nobody in the end but poisoned relations to this day. The United States scarcely concealed its support for Iraq in the devastating years of the Iran-Iraq War. And in 1988, as the war dragged to a close, continued skirmishing resulted in the U.S. Navy shooting down an Iranian passenger plane flying over Iran’s territorial waters, killing 290 people. Deeply regrettable, lamented President Ronald Reagan, but honors and medals for the naval officers.

My response was too long, but here it is. I left the typos in. Typing in that little comments box isn’t easy. I bet there’s a way to enlarge the typing area haha. Not great with tech.

A very good piece, nice to have some different perspectives. I’m fed up with the good guy bad guy discussion that U.S. leaders and media entities want to shove down our throats.

I have no doubt that Suleimani was an adversary of U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Middle East, often a violent adversary. But the chorus that he was an evil terrorist with U.S. blood on his hands is the oversimplified argument that the neocons and military industrial complex want you to be having. The rah rah go team dumbed down discussions will keep us in this violent loop. The discussions need to be honest, in depth, comprehensive.

We overthrew Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953 and helped install the Shah. We conveniently forget to discuss that. I’m not going to shed any tears for Suleimani, but I’m also not going to fall for Pompeo’s moronic soundbites. Suleimani knew what the USG did in 1953, he likely believed the U.S. supported Iraq vs. Iran in the 80s, he knew that the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian airliner that killed 290 people, he knew that U.S. ally Israel regularly assassinated Iranians in Iran, and he knew that the world’s superpower, which has publicly advocated for regime change in Iran, has armies for almost 20 years in the countries bordering Iran. More pieces like this please, ones that down shy away from the complexities or treat others as a faceless, monolithic, unthinking evil.

* Warning, rambling afterthought ahead. You’ve been warned.

State Department employees aren’t mindless robots. There are a few things that lead to State Department jobs. The first one is that you’ve graduated with an international affairs degree , which leaves about 3 options – State Department, NGO, or United Nations. There are loads of offshoots from those 3 primary entities, but you get the point. (Any degree works, just joking a little about options for international affairs grads.)

The second thing is a belief that the United States should work with and communicate with foreign neighbors and partners. Most of it is extremely rewarding. Look out for fellow Americans traveling or living abroad, work on climate change agreements, help coordinate aid for an area hit by a disaster, eat a chocolate croissant on the way to the embassy in Paris. Some of it isn’t as appealing. For example, I was dead set against Bush’s Iraq War. I joined the State Department and got sent to Iraq.

From day one, FSOs are reminded that the job is to carry out the foreign policy of the United States. If you can’t do that, you need to walk away. I’ve always viewed that as a strength of the State Department. Its career employees do the job, but that includes providing honest, candid information to policy-makers, the hope (the very naive hope) being that policy-makers will use that information to make better decisions.

The part about walking away sounds good in theory. It happens. But it gets a lot harder to do when you’ve got 17 years in, a mortgage, and a couple of kids headed for college.