Murphy: Christmas in Tehran

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If you were to visit Iran’s capital city of Tehran over the holiday season, you would have likely seen some familiar sights, such as shops full of Christmas decorations and gifts.

If you were Jewish, you could have gone to one of the city’s 13 synagogues to celebrate Chanukah with the thousands of Jewish residents of the city.

Jews and Christians worship openly in Iran, and the growing Iranian Jewish population even has a representative in the Iranian parliament.

There were no Christmas celebrations in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, because it is a serious criminal offense to practice any religion besides Islam in Saudi Arabia and simply having a Christmas tree will land you in prison.

Saudi Arabia is a kingdom so there are no elections for their leader, and the news media is heavily controlled and censored, so if anyone protested these basic civil rights being violated you would probably never hear about it.

Strangely enough, Saudi Arabia is our ally and Iran is our advisory, even though our values are in most cases much closer to those held by Iranians than the Saudis.

In Yemen, we are told there is a proxy war between Iran and the Saudis, but the supposedly Iran-backed side has no air force, no navy and no Iranian troops helping them.

The Saudis have a naval blockade of the country, complete control of the airspace, and Saudi troops and tanks roam the Yemen countryside. Whatever support Iran is giving the rebels in Yemen must be very limited, though based on western news reports you would think they had bombers, warships and tanks like the Saudis are using.

Our relationship with the Saudis has always been hard to explain, because even though both Al Qaeda and ISIS were created, armed and funded by the Saudis, somehow Iran has been deemed the world’s biggest exporter of terrorism by our state department. It is even stranger when you consider that American and Iranian troops are both in Syria fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda, our common enemies.

One can only imagine what the response would have been if the Iranians had lured one of their journalists to their embassy and dismembered him, at the least there would be sanctions and perhaps even a military attack, but for some reason the outrage against the Saudis never approached that level.

We do, however, complain that Iran is not a genuine democracy, which is even stranger when we routinely elect presidents who lose the popular vote and are instead installed by the electoral college.

It is also ironic that in 1953 America overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran and installed a brutal dictator in his place, and the irony is heightened by our complaints that the Arab world has so few democracies. It is also ironic that we claim to believe in democracy but have so often worked to subvert it and replace it with dictatorships, like was done in Egypt.

American foreign policy in the Middle East has been a consistent failure but for some reason we are unable to learn from our mistakes or change course as the recent reaction to the plan to leave Syria has shown, even the idea of leaving Afghanistan after 17 years of fruitless combat still raises howls of protest from “experts” and pundits-not to mention politicians.

We can either continue to accept failure or we can choose friends based on something besides “they give us a good deal on oil,” because with friends like the Saudis who needs enemies?

Phil Murphy lives in Lakeport, Calif.