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Tomatoes Are to Iran as a Gallon of Gas Is to the US

03.15.2007 05:47 | DISPATCHES

In "The view from Tehran" on Salon, Hooman Majd reports that tomatoes, an essential ingredient of salads, stews, and kebabs in Iran, are no longer affordable to most of the Persian public, much to their despair. The rich continue to buy them in places like Tehran's trendy Bejhatabad food bazaar. But they "discuss the price they paid at dinner parties with the same seriousness they reserve for discussing. . . foreign exchange rates."


If the price of gas -- not a problem for Iranians, to whom it's 35 cents a gallon –- acts as a barometer for America's mood, Iran's national morale may be pegged to the price of tomatoes.


Thanks to the UN sanctions, Iran has seen foreign assets frozen and, due to US pressure, it's being given the cold shoulder by European banks. Meanwhile, President Ahmadinejad's promises to share oil wealth with the public have proven wildly optimistic. Thus has Iran's unemployment level reached 20% or more, nearly the level of the US Depression. Yet, writes Majd, while the public complains about Ahmadinejad, it's hardly the "prelude to the fall of an entire political system." In other words, the Islamic Republic of Iran, 30 years removed from the revolution, is in no way -- delusions of the Neocons to the contrary -- ripe for overthrow.


In fact, according to Farideh Farhi in "Keeping All Options on the Table: A Roadmap to Negotiation or War?" on Foreign Policy in Focus, Iran's political environment, while "highly contentious and fractured" is a "source of strength [emphasis added] rather than weakness, allowing for a wide range of input in the decision-making process."


In other words the tension between Ahmadinejad and the ruling Mullahs, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, over Iran's nuclear program mirrors our checks and balances system. For all intents and purposes, Iran already has the democracy drawn up for them by the resurgent Neocons ("the dodos of Washington," according to Robert Dreyfuss, "simply too dumb to know when they are extinct").  Furthermore, writes Farhi, Ahmadinejad's other opponents, like moderate former presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, "have shown no hesitation at all in closing ranks behind the hard-line position if they perceive the Islamic Republic or its vital interests to be at stake."


To many Iranians, the goal of the tug of war between Iran and the US over uranium enrichment, even more than the right to nuclear power, is maintaining its own elected regime. After all, the last time the US engineered regime change in Iran, we helped oust elected president Mossadegh and installed the tyrannical Shah. Iranians, explains Farhi, just want to be treated fairly.


Truth, justice, and the Iranian way of life are all well and good. But wouldn't fear of a US attack drive Iranians to pressure its government to halt uranium enrichment? Apparently not, according to Majd. Iranians, he writes, "by and large do not believe that the United States will attack Iran, mostly because they cannot envision that the White House could be. . . so foolish as to attack a country where 10-year-olds have been willing to strap grenades to their waists and run under enemy tanks [as in the Iran-Iraq war]."


They believe American saber rattling and deployment of aircraft carrier groups to the Persian Gulf are a "psychological war to frighten Iran."


Many Americans scoff at the idea that the administration would attack Iran. After all, we're overextended in Iraq. We asked Ms. Farhi if Iran, as well, is steeped in denial.


"Given lack of polling on this issue," she replied, "it is difficult to gauge exactly what the Iranian public thinks. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that after a short period of concern, which came about when there was almost daily talk of attack on Iran in the European and American press, the Iranian public doesn't think much about the issue. Iranian New Year is coming next week, and basically thinking about what may be an impending war is not a nice way of living. So my bet is that most of the Iranian public is ignoring the issue not necessarily because there is denial but out of the necessities of everyday life.


"What is significant, however, is that Majd is correct and much of the political class, particularly those with a conservative bent, thinks that only extreme irrationality would make US attack Iran. Ahmadinejad has even said in an interview that the US would not be so stupid. The Iranian military brass and hard-line newspapers have also talked about the assessment that most of what is going on is psychological war."


Ultimately, according to Farhi, unless actually invaded, what Iran has going for it "is the ability just to continue what it has been doing for nearly three decades, carry on while limping economically." In other words, as Majd says, Iranians are not "willing to forgo what they believe to be nuclear independence in order to buy cheaper tomatoes." 


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