The Devil We Know

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-08-18
  • Publisher: Broadway Books

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Over the past thirty years, while the United States has turned either a blind or dismissive eye, Iran has emerged as a nation every bit as capable of altering America's destiny as traditional superpowers Russia and China. Indeed, one of this book's central arguments is that, in some ways, Iran's grip on America's future is even tighter. As exCIA operative Robert Baer masterfully shows, Iran has maneuvered itself into the elite superpower ranks by exploiting Americans' false perceptions of what Iran isby letting us believe it is a country run by scowling religious fanatics, too preoccupied with theocratic jostling and terrorist agendas to strengthen its political and economic foundations. The reality is much more frighteningand yet contained in the potential catastrophe is an implicit political response that, if we're bold enough to adopt it, could avert disaster. Baer's on-the-ground sleuthing and interviews with key Middle East playerseveryone from an Iranian ayatollah to the king of Bahrain to the head of Israel's internal securitypaint a picture of the centuries-old Shia nation that is starkly the opposite of the one normally drawn. For example, Iran's hate-spouting President Ahmadinejad is by no means the true spokesman for Iranian foreign policy, nor is Iran making it the highest priority to become a nuclear player. Even so, Baer has discovered that Iran is currently engaged in a soft takeover of the Middle East, that the proxy method of war-making and co-option it perfected with Hezbollah in Lebanon is being exported throughout the region, that Iran now controls a significant portion of Iraq, that it is extending its influence over Jordan and Egypt, that the Arab Emirates and other Gulf States are being pulled into its sphere, and that it will shortly have a firm hold on the world's oil spigot. By mixing anecdotes with information gleaned from clandestine sources, Baer superbly demonstrates that Iran, far from being a wild-eyed rogue state, is a rational actorone skilled in the game of nations and so effective at thwarting perceived Western colonialism that even rival Sunnis relish fighting under its banner. For U.S. policy makers, the choices have narrowed: either cede the world's most important energy corridors to a nation that can match us militarily with its asymmetric capabilities (which include the use of suicide bombers)or deal with the devil we know. We might just find that in allying with Iran, we'll have increased not just our own security but that of all Middle East nations.The alternativeto continue goading Iran into establishing hegemony over the Muslim worldis too chilling to contemplate. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

ROBERT BAER is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: Sleeping with the Devil, about the Saudi royal family and its relationship with the United States; and See No Evil, which recounts Baer’s years as a top CIA operative. See No Evil was the basis for the acclaimed film Syriana, which earned George Clooney an Oscar for his portrayal of Baer. Baer writes regularly for Time.com and has contributed to Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Middle East.

From the Hardcover edition.



The Iranian Paradox

One Friday morning in 2005, I attended prayer services at Tehran University. I was traveling with a crew from Britain’s Channel 4, and we were treated as VIPs. Security checks were waived and we were given the press booth right next to Ayatollah Kashani, who addressed the faithful for the next two hours. The vast hall was only half full, but Kashani’s sermon was long and furious, something straight out of 1979.

Out on the street, a demonstration was forming. There were effigies of President Bush, blood running from his pointed teeth. Across the street, some demonstrators unfurled banners: Marg bar amerika—“Death to America.”

I walked for a time among the demonstrators. There was one old man who seemed especially passionate about bringing death to America, shaking his fist and shouting. I walked up to him. “Do you mean all Americans?” I asked.

He looked at me curiously. “Where are you from?” he said. I told him I was American. He winked and leaned in closer to me.

“How can I get an American visa?” he asked.

Iran is a country of nuances. Unfortunately, at just the time it most needs to, the United States doesn’t see those nuances, or under- stand Iran for what it is: a country that’s deeply pious, yet desperately trying to modernize. Iran’s religious parties generally receive only about 10 percent of the vote—considerably less than in Turkey, a member of NATO and an American ally.

Americans see Iran’s president and mullahs as relics from a dark age, when in reality they’re a driving force behind Iran’s modernization. Since the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s true, there’s been a conservative retrenchment, with hard-liners winning the presidency and a majority in parliament. A U-turn like this was all but inevitable with hostile armies on two of Iran’s borders. But once the wars are over, Iran will no doubt return to modernizing.

Iranians watch our movies, read our books, listen to our music. They have taken to the Internet and modern technology with an obsession equal to our own. Today Persian is the most common language on the Internet after English and Mandarin Chinese. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad writes his own blog.

In some ways, Iran has matched our own modern standards. The country’s population growth has plummeted from a high of 3.2 in 1986 to 1.2 in 2001, only slightly higher than Americans. The Iranians also keep an old Shia practice with regard to pleasure and sex, one that Sunni Muslims consider morally forbidden: zawaj al-mita’—“pleasure marriage,” or sanctioned prostitution. The way it works is, a mullah will grant a license for a man and a woman to marry for a set period—two hours, a week, a month. The mullah’s only concern is making sure the man pays for the child if the woman becomes pregnant. It’s paradoxes like these that make Iran so difficult to grasp.

The signs of change are everywhere. One of the most popular dramas on Iranian state television is about an Iranian diplomat who saves French Jews from the Nazis during World War II. The average age of marriage for an Iranian woman today is twenty-five; during the Shah’s last year in power, it was thirteen. And doctors reportedly perform more sex-change operations in Iran than in any other country except Thailand, with the Iranian government even paying up to half the cost for some transsexuals.

If you stroll around north Tehran, the part that runs up into the hills, that’s where you’re really struck by the contrasts. There are food courts serving Thai and Chinese food, with plastic trays and soft drinks. Young unmarried girls and boys share hookahs at outdoor restaurants, the girls’ head covers pushed back, down around the neck. In

Excerpted from The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower by Robert Baer
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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