Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

IRAN: Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

IRAN: Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation

Article excerpt

Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, by Barbara Slavin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007. ix + 227 pages. Appendix to p. 231. Notes to p. 243. Sel. bibl. to p. 246. Index to p. 258. $24.95.

Reviewed by John Limbert

Both specialists and those new to the subject would do well to read and re-read Barbara Slavin's book on American-Iranian relations. In a clear and lively style free of academic or governnment jargon, she untangles a complex and difficult subject. How is it, she asks, that the United States and Iran have become obsessed with each other and seem unable to move beyond a confrontation that benefits neither side? Best of all, she has humanized her subject and reminds us that political issues play out, not in the elevated world of think tanks and policy discussions, but in the immediate and daily concerns of ordinary men and women. That reality is one that political leaders, whether Iranian or American, disregard at their peril.

Slavin is master of the small but revealing vignette. During her first visit to Iran in 1996, her polite and pleasant translator turns cold when she tells him that Tehran reminds her of Cairo. She comments, "Iranians, I soon learned did not like comparisons with Arabs" (p. 2). Indeed they do not. At the very end of her book, she quotes a housewife shopping in south Tehran who speaks both of her and her children's admiration for America and their fears that the two countries could be at war.

"I would sacrifice myself and my four kids for God," she said. "Bush and the United States should not force their ways on us." Then she added with a sad smile, "We don't want anything bad to happen. Pray for us. We always pray for you" (p. 227).

She also provides some very memorable metaphors. Iran is the "Rodney Dangerfield" of Middle Eastern nations. Not only does it get no respect, but, even worse, the Arabs seem to get it all. She compares Iran and the United States to two adolescents maneuvering over who will invite whom to the prom (to which both want to go). Each is so afraid of rejection or appearing too eager, that when one finally advances, the other pulls back.

Slavin is not an Iran specialist, but she is a keen observer and a superb reporter, willing to observe and to listen to what people tell her. …

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