It’s time to think again, not merely to recalibrate old formulas, in order to end the three-decade impasse in U.S.-Iranian ties, a breakdown of huge cost and menace. A non-relationship has locked itself in stereotypes as American threats (“the military option must be kept on the table”) and demands (stop the centrifuges) meet a wall of Iranian pride.
One place to begin that reflection might be in southern Tehran, where I was the other day on the anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s triumphant return from France. I’d been at an airport ceremony, featuring a kitschy reproduction of the Air France jumbo jet that brought him home, and found myself surrounded by graves near the Khomeini shrine.
The graves, many adorned with wrenching photos of 16-year-olds, stretch away, hundreds of thousands of them, mostly for victims of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which followed the 1978-79 revolutionary violence. Iran bled for a decade.
The psychological impact is still palpable. Iranians don’t want to bleed again; they want to get ahead. In this, they resemble the post-Cultural Revolution Chinese.