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  • Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation
  • Firoozeh Papan-Matin
Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation Barbara Slavin New York: St. Martin's, 2007xi + 258 pp., $24.95 (paper)

Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation is a well-researched book written in a lucid prose style for the nonspecialist reader. It offers an erudite analysis of the complex and perplexing relationship between Iran and the United States. Barbara Slavin supplements her research with her direct understanding of current Iranian politics, which she has been involved with as a journalist since the late 1990s, when she became the senior diplomatic correspondent for USA Today. Her career has included covering Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa and reporting on volatile stories such as the Iran-Iraq war, the 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya, and the Palestine-Israel peace process.

Titled after a popular Middle Eastern expression, the book makes an analogy between the relationship of Iran and the United States and any couple in a love/hate relationship and captures their interactions in an entangled web of conflict and infatuation. Slavin evaluates this tumultuous affair in the course of the modern history of Iran with a steadfast focus on the developments of the past three decades after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. She calls attention to the opportunities that both Iran and the United States have missed for diplomatically resolving some of their problems, now transformed into international conflicts.

The book is organized in twelve chapters and covers the major issues that surround this relationship. These include regional and international policy, radical Islam and its specific characteristics in Iran, the restless youth and its fascination with the West, public discontent, Muslim and secular intellectuals, the clerics, the law, terrorism, and the so-called axis of evil. It ends with a discussion of the prospects and the strategies that could be utilized in responding to these issues. Slavin addresses some of the questions that have been previously discussed by other writers; however, her analysis is strictly focused on the relationship between Iran and the United States, with the objective of understanding how the process of diplomatic negotiations has failed and how it can be restored. For instance, when she recalls the anti-imperialist fervor of the Iranian revolutionaries in the late 1970s and the subsequent hostage crisis, she is evoking historical memory to highlight the existing Iranian public attitude toward both the theocratic form of government and the United States. Slavin captures this transformation with skill and economy as she explains that Iranians still use the famous "Down with the U.S." slogan as a masquerade when they appear in government sponsored rallies and certain public events. However, when they are not being watched, they repeat this slogan humorously in its revised version as "Down with the Dear U.S." In the same context, she refers to the vigils that the Iranian public held in sympathy with the victims of the 9/11 catastrophe and in condemning al-Qaeda, which is a shared enemy for both Iran and the United States.

During the early years of the 1980s, the Islamic Republic succeeded in establishing itself as a theocratic form of government through a complicated process. The general election that was held after the shah was expelled from the country provided two choices on the ballot: monarchy or the Islamic Republic. Slavin is rash in her analysis when, without clarifying the details of this election, she states that the Islamic form of government was overwhelmingly elected. Notwithstanding this detail, her statement is valid in the sense that the general public did not effectively object to this form of election because of the oppressive preoccupation with U.S. imperialism and the fear of a coup against the young revolutionary state. Unfortunately, the absence of critical responses to the reactionary actions committed by the provisional government paved the way for the strengthening of Ayatollah Khomeini's followers, which included the majority of the secular and leftist forces. In the next few years, the war between Iran...


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pp. 349-350
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