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Cotton’s Reckless Iran Policy

Hard-liners everywhere always assume that the other regime in any negotiation is getting the upper hand.

Newly-elected Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton wants to make our Iran policy even worse:

Cotton recommends adopting a clear policy of regime change; “cease all appeasement, conciliation, and concessions toward Iran, starting with these sham nuclear negotiations”; enact immediate, crippling sanctions; and make our military threat more credible [bold mine-DL].

As Noah Millman pointed out in his excellent post on North Korea last week, the difficulty that the U.S. faces in its dealings with recalcitrant regimes and their patrons is not that our threats are not believed. On the contrary, the U.S. suffers from having a very well-established and well-known record for subverting and/or directly attacking regimes it dislikes, and that makes it very hard for other regimes to believe U.S. officials’ pledges when they try to pursue a negotiated compromise. Hawks assume that Iran doubts that the U.S. would attack and therefore thinks that it can do whatever it wants with impunity, but in reality the Iranian regime assumes that Washington seeks their downfall one way or another and views every tactic as a means to that same end.

Hawks imagine that Tehran sees Washington as weak vacillating when Iranian leaders have consistently perceived the U.S. as an extraordinarily powerful, menacing, and implacable foreign power. The Iranians are the ones caught in the bind of having to appease Washington or potentially face even more serious consequences. Our threats are not doubted. It is our pledges not to strike that so few believe, and after the last fifteen years it is no surprise. To think of U.S.-Iranian diplomacy in terms of American officials appeasing Tehran is to be utterly confused about which side is making concessions and which side is imposing intrusive demands. Of course, hard-liners everywhere always assume that the other regime in any negotiation is getting the upper hand, because that is what being a hard-liner requires, but it makes for appallingly bad “analysis.” This is what we can continue to expect from Cotton and his allies, so it is important to remember how thoroughly wrong they are on these matters from start to finish.