Vital Signs

Nuclear Baksheesh

For several months Republicans and Democrats have been jawing over the nuclear “deal” with Iran.  Unlike so many partisan debates, this one may actually involve issues of national security, but only if both sides are serious.  The Iranians have legitimate reasons to be afraid of an American Empire that has destroyed Iraq; plunged Syria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt into chaos; and taken the lead in being the first country since the end of World War II to bomb a European capital.

Americans, however, have their own reasons for harboring doubts about Iranian sincerity.  These are not the same people as the ancient Persians, whose simple moral code was “ride a horse, shoot straight, and tell the truth.”

Back during the Iranian hostage crisis, I became acquainted with an executive in an international oil firm who had just managed to get his family out of Iran.  He had spent much of his career in the Middle East and learned how to survive and succeed in a culture of dissimulation and baksheesh.  The Iranians were the worst of a bad lot.  Arabs and Turks, once they had taken a bribe, would frequently make good on a promise.  An Iranian would do nothing, typically, and if asked to fulfill his side of a bargain, would then ask for double.  As the executive followed the negotiations of the Carter administration, he shook his head.  “They don’t...

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