Erlich: Optimism in the Trump era

On December 3, 2018, The Resistance Center was pleased to host Reese Erlich. An award-winning journalist and author, Erlich has been reporting on the Middle East  for over 40 years. He joined community members at the Unitarian Society in Northampton, MA to discuss his latest work: “The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story from Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with US Policy.”

Erlich began with a hypothetical: what if a known journalist was invited to a Middle Eastern country’s consulate, and was then murdered and dismembered with the government’s knowledge and approval?

A darkly familiar reference, Erlich’s hypothetical summarizes current events in Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration has been slow to react to the Saudi government’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. President Trump’s statements about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement are noncommittal, dismissive, and, as Erlich states “Trumpism in action.” The Khashoggi murder made it clear that US officials will go to incredible lengths to maintain its profitable relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Erlich went on to speculate, “What if this country was Iran?”

The audience murmured in agreement as Erlich described the outrage US officials would entertain. Iran has been painted as an enemy of the United States since US-created conflict in the 1970s. More importantly, the country has one of the largest oil deposits in the world. Would the US drop bombs? Put boots on the ground? Intervene in the name of human rights and democracy? It wouldn’t be the first time.

In his 20 years of interviewing Iranians, Erlich has not met a single person who wants a US style democracy, likely because of the their democracy’s downfall in 1953 caused by the CIA. Although, the Iranian people, he observed, do not necessarily view US citizens in the way they view the US government. Many Iranians have personal ties to the US, and recognize the wrongdoings of the government as separate from its people. Contrarily, US culture vilifies both a government and its people. Erlich states this is intentional—justifying a war to the public is much easier when the victims are viewed as “personifications of evil.”

Erlich reviewed the years of interventionism that brought the US to power. The tactic, he described, is to find the enemy, and then find a reason to vilify them. And as Erlich somewhat comically pointed out, “the US cannot go to war because Exxon Mobil didn’t make enough profits.” Instead, US officials must ask what scare tactic best justifies US intervention. Erlich stated, “If it’s not nuclear weapons, it’s terrorism.” Needless to say, if the Khashoggi murder happened at the hands of the Iranian government, the US may be finding feet back in the country.

Erlich admitted this dark history of US interventionism is daunting. But here’s the good news: he’s optimistic. Erlich claims Trump’s weakness is beginning to bring him hope. Trump’s policies have started to backfire. In a controversial decision, the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal– a violation of international law. He has a number of foreign powers angry, including Russia and China. Nations are navigating their way around US sanctions, or blatantly disregarding them. The US is losing global credibility.

Additionally, momentum is building among the US people. A recent poll shows 75% of US citizens oppose US involvement in Yemen, and the majority of people oppose all US military sales to Saudi Arabia. The Trump presidency has moved thousands to action, and Erlich is confident a “grassroots, antiwar sentiment is bubbling in the US.”

We’re in a critical moment– is the Trump presidency the beginning of a new resistance to US interventionism? It’s a heavy question. And Reese Erlich is thinking about it. Listen to his full talk here

Check out more of Reese Erlich’s work on his website: