Ten Indications Iran Wants Business Not Bombs

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Editor’s Note: Below, longtime Middle East correspondent Charles Glass offers his droll, insightful and entertaining personal take on the much-debated threat presented by Iran. He sees every indication that the country is much more interested in business than in war. (To read an excerpt from Charles Glass’s book Syria Burning, please go here.)

There are two Irans. One wants bombs. One wants business. Business Iran, for the moment, is on top. The big bomb goes on ice, and American and European trade comes back. After all, it’s only business. In Iran, even senior clergy are businessmen and have the millions to prove it. Iranians have at least ten reasons to go along with the agreement. They are:

ONE. Iran’s accord with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) will end the sanctions imposed in 2006 under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737. The sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy, and pressure to end them is widespread.. A friend of mine, who grows pistachios, a major export, wrote to me recently: “I think if you look at Iran’s development in the last few years, it looks very much like its economic and business interests have surpassed its obsession to prove to the world that it is capable of working on nuclear weapons. Double digit inflation and unemployment and low levels of production and inadequate investment have forced [Ayatollah] Khamenei to reevaluate his priorities. The election of a pro-western president [Hassan Rouhani] shows that the country needs to open up to the world and attract foreign investment. A healthier economy will provide a happier population and greater power and respect in the long run.” The farmer represents growing sentiment in Iran that opening the economy to world trade can help prise the country from the clergy’s iron grip.

TWO. Despite the shouts of “Death to America” in the increasingly unenthusiastic demonstrations periodically orchestrated by the government, Iranians love Americans. They are about the only people on earth who do. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan, whose people have hated Americans at least since America invaded them.  Or South America, where countries over the last dozen years have repeatedly defied Yankee domination. Or the Arab world, where Americans are more likely to be kidnapped than invited home for coffee. Why do Iranians love Americans? For one thing, most have not seen any real Americans since 1979. Young people don’t remember the thousands of American military advisors with diplomatic immunity and the intelligence agents who guided the Iranian secret police, the much-hated SAVAK, in suppressing dissent. On my visits to Iran before the revolution, animosity towards Americans was ubiquitous. Since the revolution, Iranians have lavished hospitality on me because I was American. Of course, when thousands of American tourists descend on the country that could change; tourists of any kind wear out their welcome fairly quickly.

THREE. American businesses and Iran have already jumped into bed, like a couple who can’t wait for the wedding night. With sanctions still in place, dozens of trade delegations have flown to Tehran. The Iranian oil minister invited seven major US oil companies to return to Iran two years ago, and an oil delegation turned up in Tehran last May. A month earlier, Iran welcomed twenty-two American entrepreneurs, investors and consultants, and the Iranian hosts impressed the visitors with their openness and expertise.  In July, the “Iran-EU Conference on Trade and Investment” met in Vienna, where  hundreds of business people from all over Europe showed up to stake a claim to the Iranian market.. The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is discussing ways to sell iPhones and open Apple Stores in Iran. Boeing is ready to supply spare parts for the commercial airliners the Shah of Iran bought before he was deposed in 1979. If Congress approves, Boeing might begin selling airplanes as well. When an Iranian friend was complaining about conditions in her country, I joked, “At least, you don’t have McDonald’s.” She replied, “But we want McDonald’s. It’s terrible, but it would mean we are normal.”

Photo credit: Alan / Flickr

Photo credit: Alan / Flickr

FOUR. Iranians are already among the most modern–and youthful– people in the world. The UN reports that sixty per cent of Iran’s 76 million people are under the age of thirty. It is not unusual to see young men and women holding hands in Tehran’s Jamshid Park or sipping espresso in the cafés of Tehran’s many shopping malls.The level of education is higher than in most western countries. Ninety-eight per cent of the youth are literate. A friend of mine from Iran put her daughters in school in London, where they immediately went to the top of the class and excelled in science. The slogans that motivated a previous generation to overthrow the Shah in 1979 mean less to today’s youth than finding decent jobs and houses.

FIVE.  With sanctions having driven them into poverty (not unlike the way the international bankers have starved the Greeks)  Iranians today know that America holds the keys to their financial future. No one wants to forfeit the positive developments in education and health made since the Islamic Republic came into being in 1979. You have only to watch Iranian director Rakshan Bani-Etemad’s film Tales to understand Iranian diversity. Bani-Etemad’s seven interwoven stories of lower class life in Tehran demonstrate, as a visit to Tehran would do, that people’s concerns are more personal than political. They don’t like being pushed around by bureaucrats, and women demand fair treatment from their husbands. The young respect the old in a manner the West abandoned long ago. Americans who come to make money in Iran to need understand that, if they behave as they did under the Shah, the bomb lobby may regain the ascendancy.

SIX.  Iran stands on the threshold of perestroika and glasnost, although the actual Russian model does not appeal to most Iranians. When the Soviet empire collapsed, Russia suffered years of chaos that led to today’s elected tyranny. Iran is an empire of peoples: Persians, Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis, Armenians, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. With a new openness and the freedoms that come with it, fears that the country might break into constituent parts as the Soviet Union did are only realistic. Diplomatic detente with the US, and a growing American stake in the Iranian economy, should lessen American encouragement of secessionist movements.

SEVEN. The US and Iran have common geopolitical interests. The US went to war with Iran’s most troublesome enemies: the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Tehran and Washington are battling the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq. Differences remain. Iran champions the regime in Syria, the Shiite majority in Bahrain, the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, the Houthis in Yemen and Hezballah in Lebanon. The US opposes them all, mainly because Iran supported them. These differences, though, are not about the survival of  Iran or the US. They are negotiable, and discussion may achieve more than confrontation has.

EIGHT. Iranians, known as subtle and clever negotiators, believe they can hold their own, and more, in the arenas of international commerce and finance. The late Eduardo Galeano, whose We Say No became a catchphrase for Latin Americans struggling against American domination, wrote, “The big bankers of the world, who practice the terrorism of money, are more powerful than kings and field marshals, even more than the Pope of Rome himself. They never dirty their hands. They kill no-one: they limit themselves to applauding the show.” Yet the Iranians are confident they can outfox the bankers. Good luck.

NINE. There was no Iranian revolution in the Soviet sense. The ayatollahs did not abolish capitalism. They took it over. North Tehran remains the redoubt of a financial elite who live behind their garden gates much as they did under the Shah. Caviar, vodka and wild dancing are not unknown. A few mullahs moved into the neighborhood, but they distributed favors without redistributing wealth. The US at the beginning of the revolution in 1978 was not unhappy that the religious parties were crushing the leftists, who promised to share out the wealth among the population. The mullahs hate communists and trade unions more than Rupert Murdoch does. They should get along just fine with corporate America.

TEN. Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and the Saudis hate the agreement. That alone should be enough for the West and Iran to embrace each other.

Related front page panorama photo credits: Iranian women sitting (Zoom Zoom / Flickr), Shopping for scarves in Esfahan, Iran (Nick Taylor / Flickr) and Shahrdari Street Tajrish Tehran (Kamyar Adl / Flickr)

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12 responses to “Ten Indications Iran Wants Business Not Bombs”

  1. (Comment by reader @stephengotto) This is why you don’t need to fear Iran. They actually love Americans more than just about any other country….

  2. (Comment by reader @ClydeGriffith) Beneath the loud vociferous vocal rhetoric, comes reasoned observation for the rest of us seeking truth . . .

  3. (Comment by reader @PaleFaceRasta) ….they haven’t attacked anyone in 900 years?

  4. Fram60 says:

    Your antisemitism is showing and it’s ugly. Also, you say ‘Iran is an empire of people’, yet there is horrible persecution of Christians there.

    • russbaker says:

      Not sure who you are calling anti-semitic, but please restrain yourself. That’s a term that has been cheapened in its overuse. As for persecution, I think it’s safe to say that religious minorities have been persecuted widely in the world.

  5. Kevin says:

    >”Since the revolution, Iranians have lavished hospitality on me because I was American.”

    Really enjoyed this article. I was surprised to read the above. And I liked seeing the picture and the smiling Iranian faces. It helps humanize them rather than thinking of them as the “boogeyman” that the West would have us think of them as.

    It was interesting to me that you mentioned that Jews are part of the mixture of people in Iran. Maybe it’s naive of me but I was surprised by that. I would think they would hide the fact that they were Jewish out of fear of being harassed/attacked. If they’re not being harassed/attacked, it goes a long way toward showing how tolerant Iranians are. For what it’s worth, I know one Iranian girl in the US and she’s one of the nicest, most affable people I know.

    My last point is that it feels almost disappointing that Iran feels they need the US if they want their economy to thrive. Business investment from the US probably will mean more “Confessions from an Economic Hitman” (a very good book by John Perkins) type stories. It would be nice for Iran to not go down that route. Their people have suffered for a long time. It would be a shame if that type of thing was the end result.

  6. Man on the street says:

    Yes SHIA Muslims are less hate infested, and Iranians are not as backward as the ragheads ARABS, however, my money is on the banksters!

  7. oh_look says:

    I worked with an Iranian man about a decade ago in a major manufacturing company. When I asked about Iran, he said he grew up in Tehran in a middle class family. His father owned a new car dealership. He said it is a lot like the West in many ways, but he said there were still some people who lived in more remote areas who still practiced “strict” customs.
    There is too much propaganda regarding Iran.

  8. Steve Sperdacion says:

    “TEN. Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and the Saudis hate the agreement. That alone should be enough for the West and Iran to embrace each other.” I suspect they just pretend to hate it.

    “Iran more interested in business than bombs”. What does this plan have to do with business, isn’t it all about stopping nuclear bombs? Beware deals that pretend to be about the economy like TPP.

    “In Iran, even senior clergy are businessmen and have the millions to prove it.” Sounds like corruption. Should we encourage it like it’s a good thing? So this deal will end economic sanctions. Great but beware buzzwords like “opening up the economy”. Beware the World Bank and IMF. Beware their shock doctrine loans. Beware what is happening to Greece.

    “The farmer represents growing sentiment in Iran that opening the economy to world trade can help prise the country from the clergy’s iron grip.” Are we going to make the clergy richer or pry the country from their grip? Can’t be both.

    Why do Iranians love Americans? For one thing, most have not seen any real Americans since 1979.” So let’s show them some americans . . . . so they can stop loving us? Glass why would you even type that out let alone hit post?

    “SIX. Iran stands on the threshold of perestroika and glasnost, although the actual Russian model does not appeal to most Iranians” In retrospect perestroika and glasnost just means sell out the country to oligarchs. Socialism is a good thing and economies collapse without it. Capitalism needs a state to feed on like a parasite. You not realizing this makes this all smell like propaganda.

    “Yet the Iranians are confident they can outfox the bankers. Good luck” This is sarcasm which shows you know it’s unlikely that they can outfox the bankers. You should have done an article on why that is so instead of this. The rest of your article is very false and clueless and it feels like you put that little bit of sarcasm in to show that you’re not actually stupid. Better to just not write a bunch of stupid stuff then. OK end of rant.

    • Kowalski77 says:

      I don’t think his article is that bad really,
      let me answer a couple of your questions,

      1) Although I also believe that the deal is good for the security of Israel but Bibi doesn’t sound like a rational person so he might really be against the deal, and the saudis don’t care about the outcome of the deal, they just hate Iran for historical reasons.

      2) This deal, according to high ranking officials including john Kerry, Zarif and the Iranian leader could open doors to new economic relations. Besides lifting sanctions imposed on the economy makes the deal somewhat related to economy right?

      3) Corruption and mismanagement would exist in Iran no matter what.
      As the Iran’s head of parliament stated” only a small portion of our problems is caused my the sanctions” and by that he was referring to the terrible mismanagement and corruption.

      4) When you make a country richer, the whole population benefits, some more, some less but everyone profits. Like the rich petrodollar states around the Persian gulf, their rulers are very corrupt, but they have so much money that even the small portion of the income that rubs off on the people is more that enough.

      5) it’s not just americans, Iranians love tourists and it has been so for thousands of years so need to explain why.

      6)—-

      7) I really think they can, if you read the history of Iran, you will that they have managed to survive the WORST! And i can tell you that the regime in Iran is much smarter that you may think! Just look at what they have achieved,
      They have managed to gain lots of influence through the region even though almost every nation in the ME is against them!
      They survived 35 years of sanctions aimed to topple te regime.
      They survived 8 years of war with Iraq that was supported by almost every nation in the world!
      They survived the Arab invasion while many other countries of that time didn’t.
      They survived the mongol’s invasion.
      They survived the greek’s invasion.
      I think they can survive world bankers as well!

    • oh_look says:

      It may be that Netanyahu has some kind of revenge-obsession since his brother was killed in the Entebe affair. I’m just speculating, but he really does seem to be a bit over-the-edge. But he’s super intelligent, which is why he is so dangerous, I think. My bets are on that he has a really high IQ….but mixed with an unstable mental outlook.

    • Steve Sperdacion says:

      hey they can survive bankers . . . that’s actually what these mid east wars are about, trying to install privately owned central banks.