Arrogance in full bloom bears a crop of ruinous folly – Aeschylus, The Persians 472 BC
My 3:00 PM consultation this afternoon was with Haroom Zade Kooni-goh Ahmagh, president of the Iranian Patriots Society, a neoconservative group composed mostly of wealthy Iranian expatriates and headquartered in Los Angeles, California. He is in Washington this week on one of his regular trips here to lobby for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, also known as the Mojahedin-e Khalq, the MEK, the MKO or the PMOI. Since I knew he was coming, I had my private security contractor sweep my office for surveillance devices twice, once at 6:00 AM and again at 2:30 PM. Due to the nature of my business, I have them sweep my office, car and home for spy kit regularly anyway, of course, but experience has taught me that a visit from someone representing an organization with the fraught history of the MEK to the United States congress would attract more bugs than a church picnic in July, and I was not disappointed. It turned out that, according to my contractor’s analysis of what they found, no less than fifteen entities, including MI6, the Mossad, the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, the DIA and three different units of the Iranian Intelligence Coordination Council had managed to place new microphones and / or cameras in my office since the last sweep five days ago. Remarkably, my security contractor informed me, four devices were actually replaced after being found in the morning, presumably at various times between then and 2:30 in the afternoon. To the sneaky, cheeky bastards who managed to accomplish that, all I can say is, in the immortal words of Albert Camus, “gentlemen, hats off!”
And people complain about my hourly rates! Do they think world-class security experts work for nothing? Believe me, dear readers, in all honesty, the majority of my fee is comprised of some pretty damn horrendous overhead like that, I just wish more of my regular clients realized it. And it goes without saying that I’m still wondering why all those spooks even bothered – couldn’t they figure out that, with somebody like Haroom Ahmagh paying me a visit, they could just wait until the next day, when I would inevitably post what the SOB said in this Web log? Maybe they don’t trust my photographic memory. Or is it my writing style to which they object? In any case, those security sweeps were for the benefit of my legitimate clients, naturally, by which I mean the ones booked before and after his appointment, and certainly not for the benefit of a pathetic bozo like him. So before I go any further, I would like to offer my apologies to those esteemed clients of mine who had appointments today in the morning and in the afternoon before half past two. Hopefully, those four intelligence agencies aren’t interested in anything you said, and you must admit, I’m Mister Due Diligence here, anyway. What’s more, I promise next time I have the representative of a front for a militant socialist Islamic Shiite cult dropping by for a consultation, I’m going to be even more careful. At least this one paid in cash on the barrelhead, and with security sweeps not getting any cheaper, once I saw the results of the 2:30 sweep I resolved that the next one would pay my regular fee plus a stiff premium.
“Mr. Collins,” Ahmagh whispered as he cautiously approached my desk, “a person I have reason to believe followed me here… is sitting… out there.”
“One moment,” I dryly responded, motioning around the room at the chairs and the couch, indicating that he should sit down and make himself comfortable, while picking up my iPhone and texting Gretchen at her station outside the heavy oak doors in the reception area.
“Who’s out there at the moment?” I inquired.
“Your next consultation,” she texted back.
As I suspected, it was the policy analyst from NIST who always shows up early and reads the magazines spread out there on the credenza until her appointment starts. I think maybe she does that because my reception area, like my office, is very tastefully furnished, and it’s always exactly seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, all the magazines in the reception area are absolutely current and include titles like the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper’s, the Economist, Vanity Fair and Scientific American. Plus there’s a top-quality self-service San Remo espresso / cappuccino machine on top of the credenza and a Smeg mini-fridge with fresh organic grass-fed milk, heavy cream and bottles of flavored syrup inside it. And I provide a very respectable collection of imported teas and chilled mineral waters, too, of course, and the credenza always has plenty of sparkling clean Mikasa bone china mugs and Waterford crystal glasses stored next to the fridge. Actually, she’s far from being alone in her proclivity – lots of regulars either show up early or linger after their appointments. Gretchen teases me about what the DC zoning board will do when they find out I’m running a intellectual’s cafe on the side.
“Nobody out there unknown to us,” I informed Ahmagh as I put down my iPhone and he selected the chair to the left of my desk. “In your case, sir, I doubt that those who have an interest in following your movements would be so amateurish as to allow you to notice.”
At that, he blushed so profoundly it was clearly evident, despite his dark complexion. “I suppose not,” he muttered, staring down at the handmade antique oriental rug.
“Not to worry,” I assured him, “just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean nobody’s out to get you. Especially in the case of someone such as yourself. Now, how may I assist the Iranian Patriots Society today?”
“Trump is balking,” he complained. “We were almost there, and then he turned back.”
“You’re referring,” I surmised, “to war between the United States and Iran?”
“Yes,” he nodded.
“A big shooting war, with a huge bombing campaign, hundreds of cruise missile strikes, a quarter million boots on the ground, and ten tank divisions closing in on the Caspian coast?”
“Right,” he confirmed.
“Drones remotely guiding smart munitions to explode on Revolutionary Guard field command posts?”
“Of course,” he agreed.
“Commandos hiding in the landscape, targeting long-range artillery barrages on troops dug into Iranian trenches?”
“Whatever it takes,” he asserted.
“Thousands of broken, twisted, blackened, smoking dead bodies strewn across the desert along the enemy’s line of retreat?”
“Targets of opportunity,” he murmured.
“Tehran engulfed in a firestorm by B-52 strikes?”
“One cannot make an omelet” he observed, “without breaking some eggs.”
“Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of civilian Iranian casualties?”
“Collateral damage,” he shrugged.
I paused for impact. “Nuclear weapons?”
At that, Ahmagh paused for a moment, too, pondering. “Well,” he allowed, “not big ones.”
“May one ask…” I pressed, “why?”
“Why?” My guest demanded, sitting bolt upright in a sudden storm of indignation. “What the hell do you mean, ‘why?’ Because Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei is a dictator, a madman, and a murderer! Because Hassan Rouhani is a thief, a liar and a corrupt despot! Because Ali Larijani is a greedy, mendacious puppet! Because Eshaq Jahangiri Kouhshahi…”
“And your uncle,” I interrupted, “who kissed up to the British and the CIA, and helped them overthrow the legitimately elected Mosaddegh government in 1953, he’s better than them? And your father, who was a vice-president in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and helped Mohammad Reza Pahlavi become Shah of Iran, is he better than them? And how about your cousin who was a Director in SAVAK, and imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of Iranian citizens for opposing the Shah’s oppression? Are, or were, any of your rich, privileged relatives who plotted with British Petroleum, Whitehall and Foggy Bottom to crush democracy in Iran for the sake of corporate profit and Cold War realpolitik any better than the new crop of hideous monsters running your home country at the moment?”
“Yes,” he insisted. “My father, my uncle and my cousin were all men of honor, educated at Oxford, Harvard and Yale. They were scholars with sophisticated points of view and an understanding of Western culture!”
“When it comes to behaving like a civilized human being,” I noted, “those qualifications and a ten million bucks will get your name on a plaque at the Hirshhorn Museum. Before we get started, let’s be frank with one another if you don’t mind. You and your expatriate friends and relatives, like those in the first wave of Cuban exiles after the 1959 revolution, are dispossessed oligarchs trying to regain the vast wealth that was expropriated when the current regime threw you out of your respective countries. You can call yourselves patriots if you like, and maybe there are some gullible fools who believe that, but you can’t sell guff like that to me. If you and your ilk got their way and became the new rulers of Iran, it would be precisely the same type of government that Iran had during the Shah. Now come on and admit it.”
“This… this… this is outrageous!” he sputtered. “How dare you…”
“Okay, then, here’s your refund,” I interjected, taking my business checkbook from the top drawer of my desk. I opened it and made out a check for his full fee, payable to the Iranian Patriots Society, and showed it to him. “Take it and get out.”
“No, no, wait!” Ahmagh relented as he grabbed the check and made a great show of tearing it up. “All right,” he sighed, tossing his hands upward in a gesture of resignation, sprinkling my handmade oriental rug with financial confetti, “yeah, we want Iran back so we can run it the way we did with the Shah. So what? If you were one of us, that’s what you’d want, too.”
“And in order to further that cause, you used your stolen expat Iranian billions to buy some pretty impressive endorsements from influential Americans,” I observed. “Governor Howard Dean, Governor Ed Randell, Governor Bill Richardson, FBI Director Louis Freeh, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, General James R. Woolsey, General James L. Jones, General James T. Conway, General Michael Hayden, General Peter Pace, General Anthony Zinni, General Richard Myers, General Hugh Shelton…”
“Yes, yes,” he interrupted, “governors, generals, mayors, FBI directors, all gentlemen of unimpeachable integrity!”
“… Lee Hamilton, Andrew Card, Porter Goss,” I continued, “Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Mitchell Reiss, Senator Robert Torricelli, Thomas Ridge…”
“Okay, okay, I can see you’ve done your homework, you can stop now!” he yelled.
“… and, of course, Ambassador John Bolton, the current National Security Advisor,” I concluded.
“Yes, yes, him too. What’s your point?” Ahmagh huffed in an exasperated tone.
“How much,” I needled, “do you pay such esteemed luminaries of American politics and public service to speak favorably of the MEK at various meetings and conferences?”
“Between… twenty… and… fifty thousand dollars,” he stammered, “depending on who it is.”
“Chump change,” I goaded, “for guys like you.”
“Should we pay them more for ten or fifteen minutes?” he protested. “That’s what they agree to take.”
“And lately,” I persisted, “your man Bolton’s done pretty well, what with him cozying up to the President of the United States, getting himself appointed National Security Advisor last year and now preempting the Defense Department, announcing deployment of aircraft strike forces to protect the Strait of Hormuz in the Arabian Gulf.”
“Persian Gulf!” he snapped. “Are you trying to get my goat?”
“Maybe,” I conceded. “What do you think Bolton’s trying to do?”
“Stand up for Iranian sovereignty!” he confidently proclaimed. “That’s what we pay him for!”
“I told you I’m not buying poppycock like that,” I reminded him.
“Oh, [expletive], what do you want me to say,” he barked back. “you want me to say, ‘start a shooting war with Iran?’ Okay – Bolton’s trying to start a shooting war with Iran, and we paid him to do it because we want to overthrow the current regime and take over Iran for ourselves. And we don’t care a rat’s [expletive] about the MEK, either. We only paid all those people huge speaking fees to get the MEK taken off the list of terrorist organizations because we want to use them to fill the power vacuum that will follow the fall of the Khamenei theocracy. Furthermore, we already know that we can get MI6 and the CIA to assassinate Massoud Rajavi and Maryam Rajavi, blame it on Khamenei’s followers, place a puppet in charge of the MEK, then orchestrate a takeover of the MEK provisional government, have any MEK members who object arrested or killed, and put us in power us so we can run Iran for BP and Exxon Mobil. And you know what? We say [expletive] anyone who doesn’t like it. How’s that?”
“Much improved since you walked in here,” I acknowledged. “Now let me guess – you thought you had the caper all sewed up and it was only a matter of days before the kinetic action commenced, and then Big Baby Trump got all scared and made a mess in his diaper and began to cry and changed his mind about what fun it would be to turn Iran into a slaughterhouse – right?”
“Yeah,” he agreed in a flat, resigned voice, “that’s right. So – how do we turn this situation around?”
“I have good news, and I have bad news,” I informed him. “Which do you want to hear first?”
“Good news?” he replied tentatively, leaning toward me with mixed expression of anticipation and apprehension.
“The good news is you and your expatriate Iranian plutocratic oligarch buddies will see the overthrow of the Khamenei regime.”
Ahmagh sat back and considered my statement for a moment, then spoke. “After a war?”
“Maybe,” I averred. “But not necessarily. Now the bad news, which comes in two parts. First of all, you’re backing the wrong horse with Bolton.”
Ahmagh shot me an extremely puzzled look. “What makes you say that?”
“Because Bolton’s ego is even bigger than Trump’s,” I explained. “Once Trump figures that out, he will fire Bolton.”
“And when will Trump figure that out?” Ahmagh nervously queried.
“When Trump realizes that Bolton doesn’t flatter him as much as Trump requires.” I predicted. “Bolton is convinced he’s decidedly superior to Trump and that notion will inhibit his ability to display the extreme level of groveling, lickspittle behavior required for extended tenure in the service of Donald Trump. What you need to do is find someone who, (a) can get into a high national security, intelligence or DoD post; (b) will do your bidding in exchange for your ‘speaking fees’ and, equally as important, (c) behave with the proper mix of obsequious, pusillanimous, spineless, sniveling, sycophantic behavior necessary to get Trump to do what he or she suggests. The next part of the bad news is, Trump will never order an attack on Iran without Putin’s approval.
Ahmagh’s eyes became the size of saucers. “Putin? What the [expletive] does he have to do with this?”
“With Trump in the White House,” I declared, “everything. If Putin doesn’t want an Iran invasion, there won’t be one. So you will need to revise your arrangements with BP and Exxon Mobile.”
His jaw dropped. “Revise?”
“If you and your cronies are going to take back control of Iran,” I elaborated, “You will have to do Iran’s petroleum business with Putin and his cronies, not with the British and the Americans.”
He cracked an ironic smile. “Now it’s my turn – why?”
“Take a look at the map, sir,” I advised. “Over the last forty years, it has changed, even if your fantasies of a triumphal return to Tehran have not. That country which used to be to the north of your homeland, the one called the Soviet Union, no longer exists. If the Soviet Union had invaded Iran to get at its oil, that would have deprived the so-called Free World of it, and the British, the Americans and their allies would never have tolerated such a significant reduction in their petroleum supply. But today, that country to the north of Iran is either Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan, depending on whether you look west or east of the Caspian Sea. And today, Russia, the country that replaced the Soviet Union, sells oil to anybody who wants to buy it, and it continues to dominate both of those nations, even if it does not now explicitly rule them. So if Putin wants to build an oil pipeline from Russia through either of those two countries to the oil fields of Iran, neither of them is going to stop him. And Russia is about three thousand miles closer to Iran than Britain and about ten thousand miles closer than the United States. And when you and your buddies take over Iran, the first thing Putin will do is start talking about that pipeline, and unless you want to end up like Ukraine, you had better be willing to go along with him.”
“Go along – with Putin?” Ahmagh shuddered.
“Yep,” I confirmed. “That’s the bad news, Part Two.”
“But… but… Putin will bleed us dry,” Ahmagh whimpered.
“Nothing personal,” I quipped, “he bleeds everyone dry.”
“Let me… ah… I think I need to discuss this… new perspective… with my fellow members of the Iranian Patriots Society,” he announced.
“No doubt,” I commented.
“Um, well, yes… thank you, then,” he concluded, silently rising, then slowly walking to the heavy oak doors leading to the reception area. Just as slowly, he opened one then turned to look back at me.
“I’ll… um… get back to you,” he softly spoke.
“The fee will be twenty percent more,” I told him. “Security considerations.”
He nodded, exited and closed the door behind him.