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You All Know Hanoi Jane, Now Meet Tehran Todd

BY RUSS WELLEN
11.16.2007 | POLITICS

(Memo to the NSA: The views expressed below are strictly those of the author, not the website on which they're posted.)

Jane Fonda will never live down the worst junket ever. During her trip to North Vietnam 35 years ago, she frolicked around anti-aircraft guns. She used the North Vietnamese airwaves to beseech American pilots to consider the effects of their bombing. Worst of all, once home she branded returning POWs who described torture sessions "hypocrites and liars."

Despite apologies, fine screen performances and her string of exercise videos, to those on the hard right Jane Fonda will always be Hanoi Jane. That, of course, was an allusion to Tokyo Rose, the handle that Allied forces in the South Pacific slapped on anonymous English-speaking women who broadcast Japanese propaganda.

In fact, the hard right turned former pin-up girl Fonda into a poster girl for their caricature of liberalism. Considering how excruciating her exhibition was, even to those on the left, you could scarcely blame them.

In recent years, the hard right has also fired its share of broadsides at Hillary Clinton, George Soros and Nancy Pelosi. But Jane Fonda remains the figurehead that cuts the prow of their idea of a ship of fools.

However, despite those who thought Fonda had provided aid and comfort to the enemy, the Nixon Administration showed no interest in indicting her for treason. Maybe the president had a soft spot in his heart for her and, after Pat went to bed, retired to the East Room with a drink (or six) for a screening of "Barbarella."

An example of a true traitor was Mildred Gillars, an American who found work as an actress and an announcer with Radio Berlin before World War II. After the US entered the conflict, she stayed on and did the Third Reich's bidding.

Mildred identified herself as "Midge at the mike," but Allied soldiers called her Axis Sally. Mildred-Midge-Sally played American songs, attacked FDR, spewed anti-Semitism, and sought to plant doubts in soldiers' mind about the faithfulness of their sweethearts back home. Captured, she was tried and served 12 years in prison.

Today, Azzam the American (Adam Gadahn from California) alternately appeals to and threatens Americans on behalf of al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, those who view westerners working for Al Jazeera in the same light only reveal their ignorance of its professionalism and objectivity.

But there's still a nation that could sorely benefit from an American spokesman: Iran -- its government, that is, not its people. Their enemy-ness is as elusive as that of the citizens of any country we've fought in recent years.

Today, of course, we conduct hostilities against either governments or terrorists and, in Iraq, sectarian militias. The surest route for a government to attain enemy status in our eyes is to support said terrorists. Besides its support for Hezbollah during its bomb-throwing heyday, Iran cements its status as an enemy through its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Thus far, of course, Tehran has only sought nuclear power for peaceful ends. But it's hard to deny that it's got lust in its heart for nuclear weapons. At present, though, its efforts are akin to some guy browsing MySpace or Facebook in search of an under-aged girl to lure out of her cyber-lair.

While the American public ain't got no quarrel with them Persians, few of us voice our opposition to the administration's plans to attack them. Why don't we?

Possible explanations include:

1. The Iran hostage crisis is still an open wound on our national psyche. (Sort of like how Iran's never gotten over 1953 when the CIA helped depose Iran's elected president Mohammad Mossadegh and re-installed the shah.)

2. One of the kidnappers himself, president Ahmadinejad, has been only too happy to play bogeyman for us. Of course, his role in the hostage crisis is as apocryphal as his call for Israel to be wiped off the map. But the infamous holocaust denial conference he hosted was all too real.

Recently he boasted that Iran's nuclear program was now cascading (separating out the bad uranium from the good) 3,000 centrifuges. Once a program reaches this threshold, it's on its way to producing nuclear energy and, down the road, weaponizing it.

You've seen or heard of the movie "300," in which the Persians get their heads handed to them by the Spartans. Now see "3,000," in which Ahmadinejad's boasts bring down the wrath of Israel and the US on him and his country. (Though how 3,000 centrifuges stacks up against 10,000 nuclear warheads between the US and Israel isn't clear.)

3. When the names Osama and Saddam merged in the minds of Americans, it was one occasion when the use of that jargony word "conflate" (v. to bring together; meld or fuse) was warranted.

Because their names are much more similar, we're that much more likely to conflate the menacing Ayatollah Khomeini, who led Iran's 1979 Revolution, with its present "Supreme Leader" Ali Khameini. When it comes to niceties like getting foreign names right, Americans don't stand on ceremony.

4. Nor do we sweat the small stuff when it comes to stretching the meaning of a term. Even though terrorist groups are, by definition, non-state actors, we don't object to Bush & Co. designating the Revolutionary Guard, with its elite Quds unit, as a terrorist organization.

They cite the arms with which they believe Iran supplies Iraqi Shiite militias. Especially EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) which are taking the "improvised" out of IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

If these devious devices are crossing their mutual border, the Revolutionary Guard's guilt has yet to be supported by evidence. In fact, as the erstwhile Gareth Porter explains, while their use is down in recent months, constructing them has been one of Iraq's new cottage industries.

It just that, given the Revolutionary Guard's past as a mentor to Hezbollah, supplying Iraq with arms sounds like something Iran would do. Also, the Guard supports Iraq's Badr brigade and may have provided training for Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army.

Still, the Guard's support for Shiite militias is a drop in the bucket compared to the funding our allies, the Saudis, funnels to Iraq's Sunni insurgents. Also, an unwritten rule holds that you don't go to war over the actions of another nation's proxies or intelligence agencies. Were that the case, the whole world would have been warranted in declaring war on us decades ago for the wholesale depredations of the CIA.

5. Ahmadinejad may crow about his centrifuges and Cheney and the Neocons portray Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons as nearly a done deal. But there's another reason why we think Iran is on the yellowcake road to nuclear weapons. It's hard to believe that, when all these other countries have developed them, Iran is still playing with test tube like high school students in chemistry class.

After all, the technology has been around 60 years. Aren't a brainy college kid, the Internet, and a good machine shop all you need today to toss together a rudimentary bomb?

Iran may have benefited from the technical and material largesse of Qadeer Khan, the "grandfather" of Pakistan's nuclear program. But between the shutdown of his black market (since rumored back in action) and the International Atomic Energy Agency breathing down its neck, its nuclear program has two strikes against it. One shudders to think of the third –- an attack by the US.

6. Thus skeptical of Iran's nuclear innocence, we find ourselves secretly rooting for the administration to bust a bunker or two hundred belonging to Iran's underground nuclear program. The debacle of the Iraq War has failed to disabuse us of the notion that we can still get in and out fast, like in the Gulf War.

Iran may be it own worst enemy at times. But it can also be its own best friend -- and, if we let it, ours (maybe not BFFs, but joined in a marriage of convenience).

In a recent eye-opening Esquire article by John Richardson, former Bush administration officials Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann catalogue Iran's overtures to us. After 9/11, not only was it eager to help us subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan, but to hold -- drumroll, please -- unconditional talks.

"'It was revolutionary,' Mann says. 'It could have changed the world.'" The administration's reaction? It slapped away the olive branch Iran was extending as if were a gun pointed at its face.

Again in 2003, Supreme Leader Khameini's son-in-law presented an intermediary, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, with a detailed proposal for peace in the Middle East. "Scanning it," writes Richardson, "Mann was startled by one dramatic concession after another -- 'decisive action' against all terrorists in Iran, an end of support for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, a promise to cease its nuclear program, and also an agreement to recognize Israel."

In other words, beat those swords into ploughshares, stick daisies in rifle barrels, break out the warm puppies, and let's celebrate peace in the Middle-East. The administration's response this time? To complain to the Swiss government about their ambassador's meddling.

Obviously, it's tough for Bush & Co. to justify attacking Iran. Maybe they should try the truth: that we want to be top dog in the Middle East in order to best allocate energy resources to ourselves. With the rise in oil prices giving no signs of abating, most of us would overlook how much Big Oil stands to benefit and support a resource grab. After all, a nation has to do what it has to do to survive.

But it's a measure of how desperate more and more of us are to thwart an attack that we might be ready to resort to desperate measures -- for our own sakes as well as Iran's.

For example, why not furnish Iran with its own version of a Hanoi Jane, Axis Sally, or Azzam the American -- a Tehran Todd, if you will.

Such a person could apply for work with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, from which to broadcast Iran's point of view to Americans. For instance, Tehran Todd could inform us that at a recent major Friday prayer service in Tehran one Ayatollah Kashani stressed the peaceful civilian nature of Iran's nuclear program.

He reiterated that not only do nuclear weapons play no part in Iran's defensive doctrine, but they contradict Islamic values and teachings. Besides, TT could point out to us, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty grants the acquisition or development of nuclear energy to every country that's signed on to it.

Just because the treaty's original ratifiers failed to foresee that weaponizing nuclear energy would be less difficult in the future shouldn't penalize the signatory (fancy word for signee). Outrage at Iran for enriching uranium just because we don't like its face should be channeled into an initiative to amend the offending article (IV) of the NPT.

Now is not the time for Bush & Co. to make another end run around the law. They've already made a career of it and, as a result, expend much of their energy trying to keep the telecoms from being prosecuted for warrantless spying, as well as themselves for their illegal authorization of torture.

Tehran Todd could continue by pointing out that if Iran finds itself looking longingly at nuclear weapons, Americans have only the administration to thank. Its failure to pay more than lip service to another article (VI) of NPT and begin the disarmament process in earnest makes Iran, not to mention the rest of the world, nervous.

Even more nerve-wracking is Iran's proximity to Israel, a country which is light years more guilty of illegal nuclear acts. Not only is Israel a non-signatory of the NPT, it's never even formally owned up to it nuclear weapon program.

But it would behoove Tehran Todd to gloss over that little detail in light of the antipathy, both real and imagined, that Ahmadinejad has demonstrated toward Jews and Israel. Besides, to most of the US, the Holy Land can do no wrong.

Instead, air programs about inter-faith dialogues between Iran and the US. Many have been initiated by groups such as Search for Common Ground, Network 2020 and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, all of which have visited Iran. Also, interview Iran's citizens to provide them a forum for sharing their love of American people and culture with us.

Finally, TT, report that scholars recently converged on Tehran to commemorate the 800th birthday of the poet Rumi. Not only is he revered by Muslims (anti-life Salafis and Wahabbis excepted), he's arguably America's most beloved poet since the likes of Rod McKuen and Maya Angelou.

Don't forget to mention that, before the minister of culture honored Rumi with a speech, the ceremony opened with an address delivered by none other than President Ahmadinejad himself. Please, Tehran Todd, help us know the spiritual side of the man who Israel sees as Mr. Thirty Seconds Over Tel Aviv.

To those who retort that Tehran Todd is a traitor, he only need remind us that the only difference between his message and that of progressive commentators in the US is that it's coming from Iran instead of the West.

Here comes the inevitable question. You seem to know a lot about this. Why don't you put your money where your mouth is, apply for a visa (Americans can only enter Iran in a group tour at present) and volunteer your services?

I'm already doing my patriotic duty by paying off my credit card debt. Besides, this writer has a better idea. Actually it's that of another writer, the feminist and activist author Naomi Wolf, who suggests a new round of demonstrations.

Demonstrations? Where did they get us with Iraq? Anyway, we're too busy building a critical mass on the Web. Did you know that Vice President Cheney is sensitive to what he reads on blogs, whether it's the Drudge Report, Politico or DailyKos? Not.

Graciously appearing on a little-known blog (re-posted at AlterNet), Ms. Wolf provides detailed directions for sit-ins.

Demonstrations are bad enough, but sit-ins? They're so sixties. Hers, however, are the new and improved variety.

At first, they sound familiar: Set up a website for monthly events held in a public space; send a press kit to local media outlets.

Then Ms. Wolf gets inventive: Ask all attending to wear red, white, or blue shirts or sweaters. "A strong visual is more likely to get wide press coverage," she surmises.

Also, "Have people bring uniformly sized US flags." Not those dinky things you hold between your thumb and forefinger either. "It reinforces that this is pure support for the American system, not partisanship."

Finally, make music. "The civil rights movement sang," she writes, while progressives today make speeches. "For some mysterious reason, protests swell and move people when there is singing, but depress and dispirit people when there are only speeches or angry chanting."

Sit-ins, Ms. Wolf concludes, are "more effective now than a march; less cause for confrontation, more family-friendly. . . more of a community affirmation of American values and the Rule of Law." You remember law, don't you? Unfortunately, with possession nine-tenths, it's currently under the lock and key of Bush & Co.

But who among us has either the time or the network to initiate a series of sit-ins?

We can always appeal to those who have. For instance, try emailing an excerpt from Ms. Wolf's suggestions for her new demo model, as well as the link, to anti-war coalition United for Peace & Justice.

They might bristle at first, but if enough of us make ourselves heard, they'll eventually bend to the old adage that the customer knows best.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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