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U.S. Iran Policy: What is Great?

I returned last week from Iran as part of a 28-person peace delegation organized by Code Pink, a women-led peace and human rights organization. We went to Iran to learn of the impact of the U.S. sanctions on the Iranian people and to let them know that there are Americans who support the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) signed by the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, Germany, European Union, and Iran—the agreement that is working, according to all parties except Donald Trump, who has broken the US government’s word and unilaterally left the treaty and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran instead. Our delegation met with a variety of people, from people in the street to dignitaries, including the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.

News sources reported Friday that Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater and brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, had participated in an Aug. 3, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower regarding Iran policy. The New York Times reported on May 19, 2018 that the meeting set up by Prince included princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as an Israeli; Saudi Arabia and Israel being two of the most hostile countries toward Iran. These attendees were offering to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election. Did Trump supporters like Prince promise that Trump would abandon the nuclear deal?

Our trip and the news of Erik Prince’s meeting made me think of the word ‘Great’. On our trip we learned of Cyrus the Great, credited for human rights and freeing the Jews in Babylon. Cyrus’s vast empire respected the religions and customs of the peoples over which he ruled. He even had inscriptions on his palace in three languages. The gardens of his palace at Pasargadae were called ‘paradaiza’, from which we get the word ‘paradise’. He ruled in such a way that he did not need walls around his palace.

But what made me think about the word ‘great’ was how Iranians object to the name Alexander the Great. They call him Alexander the Macedonian. Alexander came through in 330 BCE, looted Persepolis’s treasures and burned the beautiful palace and nearby city to the ground. Is that great?

I am reminded of the German generals in Paris disobeying Hitler’s commands to destroy Paris; in that case they thought greatness was more than the forceful destruction and submission of others. We need to decide what we want ‘Great’ to mean for America.

Does ‘Great’ mean “Shock and Awe” as we pummeled Iraq? Is the resulting hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees and internally displaced people ‘Great’?

Or does Great mean that we honor our word including agreements which we negotiate and sign? Does Great mean we honor others as we would want to be respected or do we try to beat them into submission until they follow our directives?

In Iran, a number of people told us that they could not get cancer drugs because of the sanctions. Another told us that a relative could not afford to get married because the money they have, previously enough to buy a car, can no longer buy a refrigerator. We had to take cash because no foreign credit cards work there. A girl with a full scholarship to go to university in England could not go because with the currency devaluation they could not afford the plane ticket. A German tourist told me he now needs to go through extra steps to visit the U.S. because he has visited Iran. Do these sanctions make us Great? No Iranian official is suffering from these sanctions, but the people are. Great?

Although the Iranian government has its problems, I saw greatness in its people. The people overwhelmingly were warm and welcoming. They repeatedly told us they love Americans but don’t like our government. I never heard anyone raise his voice. We visited a school of disadvantaged children and the love and respect that teachers showed their kids was heart-warming. And half of the kids were Afghan refugees. I want America to be that humane and great.

Let’s stand up against corruption in our government, like the influence of hostile forces trying to buy our politicians and use our military power. Let’s oppose governments rather than their people. Let’s use our American strengths for good, or even better, for Greatness.

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Alex McDonald is a long time peace and human rights activist. He was a member of a 28-person Code Pink delegation to Iran returning in March 2019.

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