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Iran Hawks and ‘Normal’ Countries

Brian Hook writes an op-ed today full of things we know to be untrue:

America stands ready to engage an Iranian government with mutual respect, in pursuit of mutual interests. But in order to make this opening possible — in order to normalize ties and enjoy all the benefits that would follow — the regime must first decide that it wants to be a normal country and not a revolutionary cause.

Claiming to want normal relations with another state while demanding that their government capitulate to yours under threat of punishment is not credible. The idea that Iran is not a “normal” country is also hard to take seriously. What is it that “normal” states refrain from doing abroad that the Iranian government does? Has Iran invaded and bombed any of its neighbors as the Saudis and Emiratis have? No, it hasn’t. Has it illegally occupied territory for decades? It has not. Has it forcibly overthrown foreign governments? Oddly enough for a “revolutionary” government, it hasn’t done that, either. The problem here isn’t just that the U.S. and its clients engage in similar or worse behavior, but that when Iran does anything to pursue its own interests it is taken as proof that their government is behaving like a “revolutionary cause” rather than a “normal” state. Like other Iran hawks, Hook cannot acknowledge, much less accept, that Iran has legitimate security interests just as any other state does, and so he portrays everything they do to protect those interests as aberrant behavior.

Among other demands, Hook says that Iran has to “end the pursuit of nuclear weapons,” but of course Iran gave up on any work related to nuclear weapons more than 15 years ago and has complied with the nuclear deal for more than three years. Including this on his list of demands shows that Hook is promoting the lie that Iran hasn’t given up on acquiring nuclear weapons, and it also reminds us that the administration can’t take yes for an answer. Even when Iran does exactly what they are demanding, they are incapable or unwilling to acknowledge that it has happened. Whether it is because they are so reflexively hostile that they can’t admit it when Iran’s government has done something right or because they are seeking to invent a pretext for conflict, Iran hawks lie about Iran and nuclear weapons all the time. I don’t see why anyone should believe any of their other claims and promises when they are willing to tell such egregious lies about something so important.

If the Trump administration were interested in engaging Iran with mutual respect, it would not have banned Iranian nationals from coming to the U.S. The bogus waiver process that the administration has used to defend its obnoxious travel ban is a bad joke: only 6% of applicants from affected countries have received waivers to get a visa. Iranians have been disproportionately affected by the ban because they make up the largest number of applicants. There aremany cases of engaged and married couples arbitrarily separated for years by this ban, and the lives of tens of thousands of people have already been adversely affected for no legitimate reason. It is ridiculous to claim that the administration respects Iranians when it absurdly treats everyone in the country as a potential security threat.

Hook’s talk of reconciliation is extremely misleading. The administration seeks to force Iran to abandon its foreign policy and nuclear program and to pursue regime change in all but name, but most Iranians don’t want their government to make the sweeping concessions that Trump and Pompeo have demanded. Iran hawks are always happy to talk about what the Iranian people want, but they are almost always projecting their own preferences onto them. Hook claims to know what the Iranian people want, but here he is clearly just imposing his own views:

The Iranian people, including women who are denied even their most basic dignity, are pressuring the regime from inside. They want nations to support them with pressure from outside.

It would be one thing if there were any evidence to support this, but there isn’t any. Iranians are not clamoring for foreign governments to sanction their country, and it is an insult to the intelligence of his audience that Hook thinks anyone will believe this. It is bad enough that Hook and the rest of the administration inflict collective punishment on an entire nation to pursue their own goals, but to claim that the people want to be sanctioned is simply deranged.

Hook declares:

If nations choose not to hold this regime to the same standard as all other nations, we must expect more of the same violence abroad and oppression at home.

We know that the administration isn’t trying to hold Iran’s government to the “same standard” that it applies to all others, but instead applies a very different and much more exacting standard to Iran while holding many others to much lower ones. The Saudis and Emiratis are responsible for much of the violence in Yemen, but the administration holds them to no standard at all. If there aren’t many other states that share the administration’s Iran obsession, the fault does not lie with them but rather with the people in this administration who seek to isolate and punish Iran no matter what it does or doesn’t do.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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