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Beware the Fake 'Solidarity' of Iran Hawks
If we wanted to show genuine solidarity with the Iranian people, we would stop inflicting collective punishment on them for the actions of their rulers.
Goli Ameri and Ryan Crocker propose that the U.S. and its allies should have an even more hardline Iran policy, and it is about as bad you would expect:
The U.S. and allies should also officially announce support for free and fair elections in Iran—without picking a winner. Since Iran’s clerical regime will always seek nuclear weapons [bold mine-DL], place the JCPOA on permanent hold until a democratic government takes power.
The evidence-free assertion that the current government “will always seek nuclear weapons” is bizarre, since it has been almost twenty years since Iran had anything resembling a nuclear weapons program. Despite everything that has happened in the last four years between the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, Israeli sabotage and assassination attacks, and escalating economic warfare, the Iranian government has chosen not to seek nuclear weapons. Instead of taking advantage of this extraordinary reluctance to pursue the weapons that they are supposedly so intent on acquiring, the U.S. and its allies have squandered the opportunity presented by the Iranian government’s past willingness to compromise. Assuming that the current government will “always seek” these weapons when the record shows that they have not been doing this and have gone to considerable lengths to do the opposite is a profound and critical error that makes it impossible to trust the authors’ other assessments and recommendations.
Putting the JCPOA “on permanent hold until a democratic government takes power” amounts to abandoning any attempt to find a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue. That is consistent with reckless opposition to the nuclear deal, but I fail to see how this advances U.S. interests. If we place such a political condition on nuclear negotiations with Iran, that is a good way to make sure that there will never be negotiations with the current government on this or any other important issue. It means betting everything on an improbable change in government, and it would send a signal to every other authoritarian government that the U.S. is more interested in pursuing regime change than it is in getting cooperation on particular issues.
The “debate” over the nuclear deal has rarely been a fight over the nuclear issue itself. The one real divide that does exist on Iran policy is between those that want regime change no matter what the Iranian government does or doesn’t do and those that do not support pursuing this destabilizing and destructive goal. Iran hawks have been vehemently opposed to any agreement since before it was negotiated because diplomatic success in resolving the nuclear issue would make it harder for them to strangle Iran economically and isolate it from the rest of the world. By depriving them of their pretext for confrontation and conflict, the JCPOA was a major obstacle that had to be destroyed. They may finally be getting their wish as far as the deal is concerned, but it is imperative that they are not able to get the rest of what they want.
One of the reliable signs that an argument about Iran policy is weak is when the authors refer in earnest to their government as “the mullahs.” Ameri and Crocker do this at least once and even capitalize mullahs for extra effect. Matt Duss has called this “Ledeen’s Law,” which he defines this way: “There's an inverse relationship between the scholarly rigor of any article on Iran and the number of times that article refers to Iran's government as “the mullahs.” Talking about “the mullahs” is a tell that you are dealing with ideologues instead of careful analysts.
Ameri and Crocker frame their proposal as somehow transcending the “partisan” divide over Iran, but anyone paying attention for more than a few weeks would realize that there is not much disagreement over Iran policy along partisan lines. Most members of both parties strive to outdo one another in supporting the cruel and destructive policies that have brought us to the current situation. Republicans attack Democrats for being “soft” on Iran, and Democrats desperately posture to prove that they are just as stupidly hardline as their domestic opponents.
It is almost amusing that the authors claim to be breaking out of the “Beltway echo chamber” when they are so clearly part of that echo chamber. Like any other Iran hawks, they think that the answer is choking off resources, closing off channels of communication, and agitating for regime collapse. What the authors propose is to have the few remaining advocates for diplomatic engagement and nonproliferation give up and throw in their lot with regime changers. This amounts to taking a consensus that was quite hawkish and making it uniformly so. U.S. Iran policy has already suffered for decades from groupthink and conformism, and they would like to stamp out the remaining pockets of dissenting views in the name of a “unified American voice.”
The U.S. has made some of its most egregious blunders when it suppresses internal disagreement in the name of showing unity. The emphasis on putting up a united front usually means shutting off our brains and then predictably opting for the most brain-dead policy available. Looking at the wreckage that “maximum pressure” has already created and the bankruptcy of a policy based on economic warfare, the authors would have the U.S. continue and intensify the economic war while making more noises about democracy. If this is what passes for creative policy thinking in Washington, it is no wonder that so many of our policies fail and blow up in our faces.
The wiser but less politically convenient course would be to press on with negotiations to salvage the nuclear deal. Failing that, the U.S. should still provide sanctions relief for humanitarian reasons in recognition that economic warfare has done and continues to do enormous harm to ordinary Iranians. If we wanted to show genuine solidarity with the Iranian people, we would stop inflicting collective punishment on them for the actions of their rulers. Ameri and Crocker would rather tighten the grip around their throats and punish them more in the name of solidarity.