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Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies - Review

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Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies – Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation. Barbara Slavin. St. Martin's Press, New York. 2007.

Overall, Barbara Slavin's Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies is well worth reading, but with several qualifications that make the recommendation somewhat underwhelming. It is an uneasy read, something I could not quite put into thought until two phrases summed it up.


First the phrase "accurate yet superficial" came to mind, as what Slavin says is true, but does not carry a broader or deeper perspective that other works do. Most of what is reported here, other than some of her personal interviews, is very much newspaper level journalism, a phrase I use pejoratively indicating a narrow perspective that is available from reading or listening to most U.S. media rather than other media and more academic research. There is also a very important misrepresentation of information early in the work that helped set up the uneasiness of the read. I'll return to that in a moment.

The second phrase that describes this work is "out of context". As the title implies a duality and equality of some kind, and as the jacket cover states "Slavin portrays the complex love-hate relationship between Iran and the United States," there is actually very little of that duality or of the exploration of the relationship. The three last shorter chapters of the book finally do discuss the relationship, accurately, yet superficially. Before that, the text is almost completely about Iran.

Further to it being out of context, there are a few major omissions. Israel's role in the situation would make the title be more appropriately "ménage a trois" rather than the duality of "bosom buddies." Yet Israel is mentioned in passing very superficially and without any mention of the double standards of the U.S. perspective between Israel and Iran vis a vis terror, the Iraqi war, and nuclear weapons, among a few topics that could be explored. Another major omission, related to Israel, is the roll of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), its influence within the American regime, and the effect it has had on decisions and governance in general within Congress. AIPAC is only mentioned once in passing in the text and does not rank enough importance to make the index.

A bit more emphasis is given to Dick Cheney and the neocons, but again mainly in passing comments and without any real examination of their powers and influence within the American government. A real comparison of Iran and the U.S. should include these elements more critically exposed as well as a comparison of government structures and their abuse within the U.S.

Finally, while Russia, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Kurds, the Taliban, and all the other players in the Middle East are at least mentioned, there is no depth to the analysis, mostly a lot of information that could be gleaned from American media with only a small assist from outside media. As I indicated above, these are omissions, major omissions given the pretext, but what is included appears to be accurate and truthful.

There is however the misrepresentation of information that helped create my overall sense of unease with the text. In her second chapter "Iran and the Bomb" Slavin provides the information about Iran having "mastered centrifuge technology" in 2006 and is thus "able to enrich a small amount of uranium". She then continues, and it is worth a full textual quote:

"A year later, Iran had installed more than 1,300 centrifuges at Natanz and produced more than 175 tons of uranium hexafluoride, the gaseous form of uranium that is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. That's enough for more than 20 weapons.… According to former U.S. intelligence director John Negroponte, the Iranians "seem to be determined...to develop nuclear weapons."

(The uranium data is referenced to David Albright, March 27, 2007 and the Negroponte quote is referenced to a BBC broadcast.)

This implies quite directly that Iran is capable of producing 20 nuclear weapons. This seemed highly improbable from other materials available, leading to a reference search on David Albright. A different story appears.

Speaking with prepared testimony, David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Subcommittee on the Middle East and Asia, on March 15, 2007[1], presented a much weaker position for Iran, with much more nuance:

"Once the module is fully operational, Iran would need approximately 6-12 months to produce enough highly enriched uranium for its first nuclear weapon. The shorter time period assumes that the cascades operate near their theoretical peak performance." Three thousand refuges working full out and properly could produce enough enriched uranium for one or two weapons per year. "This benchmark could be reached within a year or two."

"As of late February, no uranium hexafluoride had been introduced into either of the two cascades under vacuum."

Albright emphasizes the "if" – if it is fully operational, if it is working full out, if it is working properly, and then provides some context to indicate that the Iranian facilities, while they might have 3000 refuges, there is a good chance they are not operating optimally and will not be able to for some time. As for Negroponte's view – remember this is one of the Nixonites who assisted in the murder of thousands of Hondurans for fear of America being attacked by hordes of communist sympathizers – the IAEA says that "the Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities."[2]  There is no reference provided for the twenty weapons that could be made from this amount of processed uranium.

Is it worth all this effort for a matter of half a paragraph from the whole work? Considering that the current push towards "World War III" is all about nuclear weapons and less and less about "terror", yes, it is very significant as it sets the tone for the whole book. While Slavin does not actually lie, she does by juxtaposition make Iran seem like a very well armed and potent adversary of a nuclear kind. The Israelis have been warning the west about this potential every year for the past decade or more, always with Iran a year or two away from making the bomb (of course, ignoring their own intransigence and recalcitrance in relation to their own nuclear weapons and the protection of their U.S. cohorts in arms).

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