This week, with Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Van Evera, and Valentine Moghadam, we talk about the war in Iraq and ongoing U.S. military presence in the Middle East. Listen today at 2 pm or anytime at our website.

The assassination of Iran’s General Soleimani pushes the U.S. further down a path of violent intervention in the Middle East. What lies ahead of us seems grim; as Dina Esfandiary writes:

Who in the political establishment can expend political capital suggesting rapprochement with the US after what it has done and, importantly, after the level of public mourning? The answer is easy: no one.

Back in 2002, a collection of scholars published an ad in the New York Times with this headline: WAR WITH IRAQ IS NOT IN AMERICA’S NATIONAL INTEREST. The ad represented clarity, truth, and foresight, and this week, we talked with three of the people involved in the ad, as we sought similar clarity, truth, and foresight about our current situation. Those three: Stephen Walt of Harvard, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, and Stephen Van Evera of MIT.

Valentine Moghadam, professor at Northeastern who was born in Tehran, joined us, too, and further expanded our perspective. She says on our show:

What do I love about this country? Quite a bit, especially jazz, blues, and rock and roll, and I think that a lot of Iranians feel the same way. But I think we feel less sanguine about other aspects of American life, American history, and American foreign policy, in particular. Those of us who come from Iran—whether we know this through personal experience, or family experience, or we heard this from our parents or grandparents—we remember 1953, the coup d’etat against Premier Mosaddegh. This was a time of intense American anti-communism, and he was taken out on the flimsy charge of probably trying to bring communism to Iran, but in fact he was not a communist, he had a very bad relationship with the Tudeh Party, the Communist Party of Iran.

There’s a history of the U.S. intervening in Iran with something like imperial confusion, and this new phase suggests a continuation of that. As Paul Pillar puts it in a piece for Responsible Statecraft:

Trump has further discredited whatever he says about terrorism. To talk about Soleimani in the same breath as references to slain ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as Trump did in his statement following the assassination, grossly misrepresents Soleimani’s role and status. That status is reflected in the huge crowds of Iranians mourning his death. In a recent poll by the University of Maryland, Iranians named Soleimani as the most popular public figure in their country. And as for terrorism, part of the reason for that popularity was Soleimani’s leading role in successfully combating ISIS, which had conducted major operations against Iran.

Read: Miranda Popkey

Conversations, like those on our show, can bring us to a closer understanding of our problems, but we can also find different dimensions of those problems by way of conversation. In Miranda Popkey’s new novel, Topics of Conversation, a range of discussions swirl around our culture’s ideas about gender and desire, and the reader finds moments of disturbance, suffering, critique, reflectiveness, and absorption. Antonia Hitchens writes in the New York Times:

Popkey presents us with a shrewd record of the act of unflinchingly circling these amorphous notions of pain, desire and control, all the while quietly noting their clichéd contrivances in snarky, dark humor. I liked being inside her mind; it felt natural. She doesn’t arrive at a totalizing, liberated endpoint. The most we can do is listen to her story.

Watch: Uncut Gems

One problem nobody converses about directly in the Safdie brothers’ new movie, Uncut Gems, is gambling addiction, which apparently compels the most damaging behavior of the film’s hero, Howard Ratner (played with compassion by Adam Sandler). The movie doesn’t waste time diagnosing Ratner. It holds the viewer captive, terrifies and mystifies and delights with all the terror and mystification and delight of a gambling problem.

By focusing on the ecstasies and torments of a pathological gambler—rather than on the pathology itself—Uncut Gems moralizes as much as it evades conventional morality. It can have a haunting effect. You’ll probably continue to think about it days after you’ve seen it, in part because it doesn’t settle into an easy morality, and also because of the impression made by its jittery and angry and morally rich setting: New York’s Diamond District.

The Safdie Brothers are very much New Yorkers. Both this and their previous (highly recommended) film, Good Time, feel and sound and look like NYC, which is definitely one source of these films’ stressfulness. In Uncut Gems this New Yorkness surely owes something to their casting of non-professional actors, producing a near-documentary authenticity. But Uncut Gems is about fantastical, magical reverie as much as NYC’s material reality—the gem at stake in the film seems to contain galactic multitudes, revealed in gorgeously, narcotically cosmic images.

Listen: Johnny Hodges

The playlist for our Johnny Hodges show from last week here. The show has been getting rave reviews: “One of Lydon’s best podcasts ever,” wrote one fan on Twitter. What is it about Hodges on the radio? Maybe it’s about, as Adam Shatz of the London Review of Books wrote about our show, Hodges’s “grand, sumptuous, creamy sound.”

Here’s that sumptuous sound now:

French Music at the BSO

Alain Altinoglu conducts a rollicking and dreamy program of Debussy, Poulenc, and Saint-Saëns this week (last performance is Tuesday) with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Poulenc concerto and Debussy symphony both star organist Thierry Escaich and consequently immerse you in a richly harmonic buzz.


Here’s an example of Escaich in a past performance of the Saint-Saëns symphony, with Zubin Mehta and the Berliner Philharmoniker:

Come see us this week!

This week’s ephemeral library

Robin Wright on Donald Trump’s Iran problem. Remembering Neal Peart. Emily Witt on a history of mescaline. Susan Glasser’s profile of Mike Pompeo from last summer is worth re-reading. Noam Chomsky: America Has Built a Global Dystopia. Chris Hedges on War with Iran. Greta Gerwig on the Lives of Little Women. Everyone is Getting on the Bernie Train.

Who’s it gonna be? We have our office pool: MM-Biden, CL-Bloomberg, Conor-Mayor Pete, Adam: Lizzie Warren. Winner buys a round at The Sevens on Beacon Hill. Join us!

One More Thing:

We sent out our year ender newsie with highlights from 2019 and a soft pitch for donations. Check your spam folder, and think of us in your giving plans for last year or this one. It’s gonna be a biggie, folks. As you know, we depend on listener support to keep the OS train train running on time!

Happy New Year!

The OS Gang

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon.