Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The New Yorker

The Rubble-Strewn Road to Damascus

A Biblical land and its people are being wiped out by weapons and warlords of the twenty-first century. Damascus, after almost five years of war, is strewn with the rubble of a shattered state, a fractured society, and a demolished landscape. To the north, the grand city of Aleppo—the formerly bustling heart of commerce, often likened to New York but dating back at least five millennia—is now compared to Stalingrad, because of its devastation. To the east, the Roman ruins in Palmyra, including the majestic Temple of Bel, from the first century, and the towering Arch of Triumph, from the second, have been pulverized.

The question now is whether Syria--both politically and physically--can be put back together again. My analysis in The New Yorker. Read on...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The New Yorker

Genesis and Grow of a Global Jihad

I witnessed the first suicide bombing attacks against American targets, in the 1980s, during my many years in Beirut. Back then, I would never have believed I'd be covering the same story--bigger, badder and more global--three decades later. Here's my reflection on how the extremists' Jihad against the West has evolved since those first days. Read on....

Friday, October 30, 2015

The New Yorker

An American Hostage in Iran--Again
Next Wednesday, November 4th, is the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which led to a mass hostage crisis that dragged on for four hundred and forty-four days. Thirty-six years later, the Iranians are still at it. For more than two weeks, U.S. media, including The New Yorker, have been withholding information—at the request of the family—about yet another American seized in Tehran. The embargo was broken late Thursday with published reports that Iranian security had detained Siamak Namazi, an American businessman of Iranian descent who was once tapped as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Namazi was taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison in mid-October, according to friends and colleagues. He is a business strategist, normally based in Dubai, and was visiting his family. His mother’s home was ransacked; his confiscated computer has since been used by an intelligence wing of the Revolutionary Guard to launch cyber-attacks against his contacts. I was among those hacked. So was the State Department. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran's Generals Are Dying in Syria 
 My new piece about the rising costs of Iran's military intervention. At least seven brigadier generals and one major general have died fighting in Syria. Just where and how they died tells a lot about the scope of Tehran's engagement on three distant fronts -- and against even more enemies. Two generals were killed in October alone. So was a senior bodyguard of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At least four hundred more--including other senior officers--have died in a campaign to back the government in Damascus. Read on!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif 
on Russia and Peace in Syria
My interview in The New Yorker: 
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is in demand these days. On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, he shook hands with President Obama and met twice with Secretary of State Kerry. (Zarif and Kerry have been nominated, jointly, for the Nobel Peace Prize, to be announced this week, for their two-year negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal.) He hosted both Republican and Democratic officials from previous U.S. Administrations, breakfasted with editors, huddled with American nuclear experts, and briefed the Times editorial board. He also squeezed in a session with the University of Denver, his alma mater. The event was streamed live from the Waldorf-Astoria, because Iranian diplomats are not allowed to travel beyond a twenty-five-mile zone around New York.
The day before Zarif returned to Tehran, I spoke with him -- about what's next with the US, the Russian intervention in Syria, and his own peace plan -- at the residence of Iran’s U.N. ambassador, on Fifth Avenue, near the Metropolitan Museum. Read on...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Our High-Price Mercenaries in Syria
My piece on "America's High-Priced Mercenaries in Syria" in The New Yorker. The US program to create a ground force to fight the Islamic State is a real flop. The US admits it has produced only" 4 or 5 fighters" in a $500 million dollar program designed to train 16,000 rebels. And a tragedy for Syria, where 80% of the population now lives in poverty, life expectancy has plummeted by 20 years, and unemployment is 60%. More than half the population (of 23 million) have fled their homes due to fighting. And no end in sight
So read on.....

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The New Yorker

Two Artists and a Revolution
        I met two extraordinary artists this year. Both are Iranian. Both are women. Although decades apart, they were born in the same town, a bastion of religious conservatism. Yet both ended up as incredible innovators in art and film and photography. One (at age 91) had a one-woman show this spring at the Guggenheim in NY; the other (a mere 58) currently has a show at the Hirshhorn in Washington. Both ultimately had to decide between Iran and the US. They took divergent courses. But they admire each other greatly. This is their story...

Friday, September 11, 2015

The New Yorker

Trump's Bluster on Iran
By Robin Wright 
       Donald Trump's utter ignorance and bluster on foreign policy is dangerous.  His boast this week that he'd free the Americans detained in Iran -- even before taking office, no less -- was a reflection of his shallowness and, tragically, callousness. 
      At a Washington rally this week, he shouted that United States is "led by stupid, stupid people--very stupid, stupid people." But he's not so smart himself. He tweeted a story this week that reported on a SurveyUSA poll showing that  he would beat Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head race. Believe it or not, the story he linked to was from an Iranian media outlet. 
       I called former hostages seized over the past quarter century to get their reaction to Trump's statements on Iran. It was unanimous. In the words of Terry Anderson, America's longest held hostage, Trump is "a simple-minded twit."
Read on....

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran: A Done Deal
By Robin Wright
      It's I wrote in this piece in The New Yorker. 
      President Obama today won the riskiest gamble of his presidency. He now has enough support in the Senate to ensure that the Hill can not kill the White House deal with Iran. Some will still try. Cheney has joined the noisy opposition and will give a big speech next week. Trump, Cruz and Glenn Beck have scheduled a "Stop the Deal" rally on Capitol Hill next week. The debate still to come - as Congress goes through the motions - will be (memorably) nasty. But Obama has now basically ensured that the Iran deal will be the centerpiece of his foreign policy legacy. 

      Read on.....

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The New Yorker

My Interview: 
Obama on War and Peace 
By Robin Wright

President Obama was in a reflective mood when he met with a small group of journalists at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after he delivered a combative speech defending the Iran deal. He is, in private meetings, a congenial stoic, even as he chews Nicorette gum to stay ahead of an old vice. But Obama's frustration—that the bigger message of his foreign policy is being lost in the political furies over Iran—was conspicuous. He made clear that the proposed deal, the most ambitious foreign-policy initiative of his Presidency, is less about Iran than about getting America off its war track; Obama believes that Washington, almost by default, too often unwisely deploys the military as the quickest solution to international crises.
Obama makes many of his pitches in the Roosevelt Room, a modest, windowless chamber with a conference table. When the West Wing was built, in 1902, it was originally the President’s office. A portrait of Franklin Roosevelt is on one wall; a picture of Teddy Roosevelt, as a Rough Rider on horseback, hangs over the fireplace. The most striking piece in the room is the smallest: The 1906 Nobel Prize, the first won by an American and the first by a U.S. President, is encased behind glass. It went to Teddy Roosevelt for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese war. Only two other Presidents–Woodrow Wilson, for the League of Nations, and Jimmy Carter, after leaving office, for promoting human rights—had won it before Obama was named, just months after his election, more for his spirit than any specific achievement. As he enters the final eighteen months of his Presidency, he seems to want to prove that he deserves it.
Obama chose to give the Iran speech on the American University campus, where John F. Kennedy told the 1963 graduating class, “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough—more than enough—of war and hate and oppression.”
Obama echoed a similar message....Read on.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The New Yorker

Obama's Hard Sell on Iran
By Robin Wright
With the most important foreign-policy initiative of his Presidency at stake, President Obama has gone on the offensive to salvage his controversial Iran nuclear deal, amid a blitz of television ads and opposition, both at home and abroad. On Wednesday, Obama chose American University—the campus where John F. Kennedy outlined his vision for peace, in 1963, during the early age of nuclear threats—to make his strongest pitch to date. He framed the deal as the latest step in a half century of American policy to avert nuclear confrontation, invoking Kennedy’s diplomacy during the Cuban missile crisis and the arms negotiations with the Soviet Union launched by Ronald Reagan. Under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, he said, the historic Non-Proliferation Treaty and the SALT and START treaties introduced arms control.

“The world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets,” he said. The deal with Iran, reached after twenty months of negotiations, “builds on this tradition of strong, principled policy diplomacy.” 
After the speech, in an afternoon session with ten journalists, Obama acknowledged that the vote could be close. “Everything in this Congress squeaks by,” he said. “If I presented a cure for cancer, getting legislation passed to move that forward would be a nail-biter.” Read on:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The New Yorker

Who Would Kill a Giraffe?
Several years ago, I arranged for Neil Armstrong and his wife, Carol, to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Zoo. We stopped first to commune with Jana, the newborn giraffe. The zoo showed us a video of her being born. Giraffes give birth standing up, and Jana dropped some six feet to the ground as she slipped from her mother’s womb. The mother licked her calf, and in minutes the newborn got up on wobbly legs. Neil Armstrong was enthralled. You’d think he’d never seen anything interesting before.
Whatever the conservation merits, I’ve always hated to think of any animal confined behind the bars or walls of zoos, the equivalent of jail cells for animals. It seems particularly unfair for the world’s tallest creatures, the gentle vegetarians with flirty lashes and cinnamon spots. I lived in Africa for seven years, and few sights were as magnificent, or calming, as a herd of giraffes loping gracefully across the savannah. Giraffes seem the most harmless of beasts.

But giraffes are increasingly vulnerable in the wild. The world’s giraffe population has plummeted, by more than forty per cent, over the past fifteen years. “It’s a silent extinction,” Julian Fennessy, the executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, told me this week. “Already, giraffes have become extinct in more than seven African countries. Unfortunately, it’s not fully hit the attention of the world, including many governments and major conservation organizations.” Read on ...

Monday, August 3, 2015

The New Yorker

Cecil the Lion & Robert Mugabe
By Robin Wright
    I interviewed Robert Mugabe the day after he was elected in 1980. He's now the world's oldest leader--and maybe the oldest hypocrite. He feasted on baby elephant at his 91st birthday in February. Zimbabwe only demands justice for foreign poachers, not its own. Read on...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The New Yorker

"Death to America" & the Iran Deal
By Robin Wright 
The fate of the Iran nuclear deal may be determined less by details in a weighty document, drawn up by the world’s six major powers, than by a three-word chant still shouted  thirty-six years after Iran’s revolution. “Death to America!” hangs heavy, and maybe decisively, over the debate in Washington.

Read on....

Monday, July 20, 2015

The New Yorker

"Letter from Iran: Tehran's Promise" 

My piece about the Iranian revolution's mid-life crisis, the inside story of how the nuclear negotiations played out behind closed doors (and the five close-calls), plus what it all means for Iran's future. I had a riveting trip to Tehran. I even went to see Huck Finn--in Farsi!