Rouhani waves, smiling
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Photo/Tasnim News Agency CC BY 4.0)

Oakland author’s new book: Iran is more complicated than you think

Tensions are ratcheting ever higher between Iran and the United States. Only a week ago, President Donald Trump gave a Sept. 25 speech at the United Nations calling Iran a “corrupt dictatorship” with leaders that “sow chaos, death and destruction.”

That makes investigative reporter Reese Erlich’s new book on Iran even more pertinent.

Trump’s policies in Iran and the Middle East are a disaster,” the Oakland resident and author of five books told J. in a recent interview. “And they make it dangerous for everyone in the region, and the people in the U.S.”

Erlich’s latest book, “The Iran Agenda Today,” is a close look at the situation inside and out by a Jewish journalist who has been reporting on the Middle East for 30 years. It is subtitled “The Real Story Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with U.S. Policy.”

In conjunction with the book’s release, Erlich is scheduled to give a handful of talks around the Bay Area over the next five weeks, including a Wednesday, Oct. 10 talk at 6 p.m. at the Metropolitan Club, a private women’s club in San Francisco. (For admission to the talk, email sharon@sharonlitsky.com. For details on his other talks, visit reeseerlich.com.)

Erlich argues there is a danger in the U.S. pulling out of the 2015 deal to end Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal saw the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany and the United States lifting sanctions on Iran in return for various concessions, including inspections of its nuclear facilities. Trump announced the U.S. would pull out this year and re-impose sanctions, which has meant not only confusion for businesses (like Boeing and General Electric) trying to sell in Iran, but also discord with the other countries in the deal.

“The U.S. shouldn’t be just pulling out willy-nilly,” Erlich said.

Oakland journalist Reese Erlich's new book is "The Iran Agenda Today."
Oakland journalist Reese Erlich’s new book is “The Iran Agenda Today.”

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised Trump’s move, Erlich said an economically weak Iran would not help Israel’s security, but rather strengthen Iran’s hardline government. It also bolsters the claim of Iranian leaders that the U.S. and its allies are constantly conspiring against them.

“Stop giving the Iranian government an excuse to justify its actions,” Erlich said.

Erlich said the regime in Iran regularly uses U.S. opposition as a scapegoat, making it less likely that a more moderate opposition within Iran can actually gain a foothold.

For example, a recent deadly attack on a military parade in Iran was blamed by the regime on foreign involvement, particularly by the U.S. — and it’s the over-aggressive U.S. policy that makes it easy to make such a claim, Erlich said.

Erlich began his journalism career in 1968 as a research editor and staff writer for Ramparts, an investigative reporting magazine based in San Francisco. He taught journalism for 10 years at San Francisco State University and Cal State East Bay, and in 2005 traveled with actor and filmmaker Sean Penn to Iran.

In 2006, he shared a Peabody Award as a segment producer for “Crossing East,” a radio documentary on the history of Asians in the United States. In 2012, his radio documentary on the Syrian uprising won top honors from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He currently writes the syndicated column “Foreign Correspondent.”

He has been working in the Middle East since the 1987 and has reported from Iran since 2000. He co-authored “Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You” in 2003, and also wrote books on Cuba and Syria and a previous one on Iran in 2007. During his reporting, he’s had plenty of opportunities to talk to people on the ground in the Middle East, and he’s found anti-Semitism to be minimal.

“In fact, the people are fascinated I’m an American reporter, and a Jew,” he said.

And he said that while institutional anti-Semitism exists — as does a lot of misinformation that Erlich attempts to dispel when and where he can — it’s not apparent in his day-to-day interactions with people.

“There’s not people actually saying, ‘You’re a Jew, I hate you.’”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.