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Michael Hirsh on Iran

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Michael Hirsh, former Foreign Editor and chief diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek, reflects on his recent 10-day visit to Iran with Joshua Hammer via Hirsh describes a “gulf of misunderstanding” between perceptions of Iran and his observations hinting that part of this gap is due to the prolonged lack of diplomacy between the United States and Iran:

“One of the more distressing things I heard Condoleeza Rice say in the last few weeks was when she admitted that they basically have no senior level Farsi speakers at all in the State Department…a whole generation has gone by without developing that expertise because we haven’t had diplomatic relations with them apparently.”

Micheal Hirsh’s article in Newsweek describes his visit to Qom and the dynamics of the reform movement within the clerical establishment. Qom, an influential center for Iranian politics is among the world’s largest (if not the largest) centers for Shi’a scholarship. Hirsh concludes:

“Those in the West-especially in the Bush White House-who are still pining for regime change in Iran should pay heed to what’s going on in Qom. Maybe one day there will be a newer, more American-friendly regime in Tehran, but this is how it will almost certainly happen: from within, incited by the Iranians themselves, rather than by $75 million democracy promotion programs run by Voice of America. In contrast to the monolithic view of clerical control in Iran that is still so prevalent in Washington, a startling degree of debate – democratic in the truest sense-is taking place in Qom.”

Update (7-18-07): George Packer criticizes Hirsh in his article in The New Yorker.

Just as the neoconservatives concocted a simple case on Iraq and, now, Iran—claiming that the locals would welcome regime change from outside—people like Hirsh want to make a simple case, too. It’s a great temptation to say that, because X is true, Y, which seems to point in a different direction from X, must be false. We all want total vindication. But in politics there is no total vindication, on Iran or anything else. The regime there is brutal, and we should talk to it.

Irancove @ July 10, 2007

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