A Q&A with foreign correspondent Reese Erlich, an expert in Middle East issues and author of the recently released “The Iran Agenda Today”
By Marilyn L. Pinsky
My children and I sponsor an annual lecture in my husband’s name, the Philip C. Pinsky Lecture, and this year’s speaker is foreign correspondent Reese Erlich, an expert in Middle East issues and author of the recently released book, “The Iran Agenda Today.” He was the New York Times expert on a trip I took to Iran last year and his perspective was very thought-provoking. This interview took place upon his return from Turkey and Lebanon in October.
Q. How did you become an international reporter?
A. I was a leader in the student and anti-Vietnam War movements in the 1960s. I was indicted on felony conspiracy charges, along with six others, for organizing a militant anti-war/anti-draft demonstration in 1967. Members of The Oakland 7, as we were known, were acquitted of all charges. I went to work for Ramparts, an investigative reporting magazine in San Francisco. I later taught journalism for 10 years at several Bay Area universities and have continued to work as a freelance journalist. Starting in the early 1980s I began reporting from abroad. I now write a nationally distributed column called “Foreign Correspondent.”
Q. I know you disagree with the United States’ Iran policy. What is it that you believe is wrong with our policy toward Iran?
A. Ever since the popular revolution overthrew US-allied Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979, the US has tried to isolate Iran. Instead of treating Iran as a sovereign nation with the right to control its own economic, military, religious and social policies, the US sought to bring Iran back into the US sphere of influence. As I detail in “The Iran Agenda Today,” the US-backed Saddam Hussein’s attacks on Iran in the closing years of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. President Bush supported ethnic minority terrorist groups in Iran, particularly in the Balouchi region in the southeast, and imposed horrific sanctions on Iran from 2010-14. President Trump’s current policies are an intensification of actions that have been continuing since 1979.
Iran engages in many domestic and international policies with which I disagree. It brutally represses its own people and violates the rights of women, for example. It seeks regional hegemony in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. But over time I think the Iranian people will change those policies. They don’t want the current government replaced by a US-imposed strongman. They already had that experience when the CIA overthrew the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the shah as dictator.
Q. Is Iran a nuclear threat to the US or Israel?
A. My book details how even major US intelligence agencies admit Iran has had no nuclear weapons program since 2003. The Iranian government argues strongly that it never had such a program. But both the US and Israel use the myth of an Iranian nuclear bomb as a means to scare people and to justify military assaults on Iran.
Iran has one of the largest oil reserves in the world. It occupies a strategic geopolitical position near the vital shipping lanes of the Straits of Hormuz. Successive US governments have sought to return Iranian oil to control by western oil corporations and to establish military bases in the region. But US presidents can’t argue “we are waging war for oil.” So they demonize Iran with false claims of a nuclear bomb.
Former Israeli government officials and experts know that Iran poses no danger of an offensive nuclear attack on Israel. Right now Tehran has the capability of launching a conventional missile attack on Israel but will not do so because it would justify the all-out destruction of their regime by the US and Israel. Tehran does fund and arm the Lebanese group Hezbollah and supports the Palestinian party Hamas. Israel’s security can only be guaranteed by the creation of two states, Palestinian and Israeli, living in peace. With a two-state solution, Iran’s views of Israel becomes irrelevant.
Q. We have a view that the US is the world’s peacemaker. What do you think is a superpower’s responsibilities?
A. I strongly disagree with the US’s self-appointed role of peacemaker. Where exactly has the US created peace? The US is currently at war with six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. Those countries have many internal problems but the US military only makes the situation worse. The US responsibility is to stop intervening militarily and economically, close its 750 military bases around the world, and use the money for much needed programs at home.
Q. Do reporters from different countries all see the same events the same way?
A. Mainstream reporters tend to reflect the debates occurring within their governments. During the Iraq War, for example, the New York Times and other major media reported with certainty that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Mainstream media in the UK and France were much more skeptical. That reporting reflected the wider opposition and debate about the war in those countries.
And now, a switch to the personal:
Q. In Iran you bought a rug that you had obviously researched quality, color and dimensions. What else have you bought on your travels? And what advice would you have on shopping for other travelers?
A. If you’re considering a major purchase, figure out what you want in advance. It makes no sense to buy a beautiful rug if it won’t fit in your room. Figure out how much you might pay for the item in the US. If you are visiting a country where bargaining is normal (which is much of the Third World), don’t be afraid to bargain, even in stores.
Q. Given your years of travel all over the world, what is your favorite cooking cuisine?
A. I do all the cooking in our house and specialize in kitchen confusion cuisine. I get recipes from all the countries where I travel and then adapt the food to American ingredients and tastes. I like spicy food, for example, but would never serve Pakistani food as eaten in Islamabad. It’s too hot! There’s a reason they call it the nuclear option.
Meet Foreign Correspondent Reese Erlich
Readers are invited to attend this year’s Philip C. Pinsky Lecture, which will feature foreign correspondent Reese Erlich, an expert in Middle East issues and author of the recently-released book, “The Iran Agenda Today.” The lecture is part of the Thursday Morning Roundtable, which will take place at 8 a.m., Dec. 6, at Goldstein Student Center, 401 Skytop Road, room 201ABC, Syracuse, NY 13210. For more information, call Emily Winiecki at 315-443-4137.