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Iran Hawks’ Phony Interest in Normalization

Bret Stephens makes a disingenuous case for normalizing relations with Iran:

In short, under the terms of a normalization-for-normalization deal, Iran could relieve itself of all U.S. pressure by permanently abandoning its nuclear ambitions, its human rights outrages and its reckless international behavior. That’s not a big ask.

It may not sound like a “big ask” to Stephens, but that just shows that the “offer” is being made in bad faith. Stephens is essentially restating Pompeo’s preposterous demands from last year, as if repeating them again would make them any less unrealistic and excessive. Almost all of them are non-starters for the Iranian government, and they are also deeply unpopular with the Iranian people. The political reality that Iran hawks can’t or won’t acknowledge is that most of the Iranian behavior that they denounce has the support of most Iranians.

The U.S. has normal diplomatic and trade relations with almost every other state in the world. We do not usually condition those relations on having the other states completely change their domestic and international behavior, because the other governments would refuse at least some of those demands as an attempt to dictate how they govern their own countries. Normal diplomatic and trade relations are not a reward that the U.S. gives only to select states that meet a certain standard, but they are extended to almost all of them as a matter of course.

Washington’s Farewell Address said, “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.” He did not say that we should cultivate peace and harmony only with those states that already agree to do our bidding and reorganize their policies to our liking. Washington also warned us that “nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.” Our inveterate antipathy against Iran for the last 40 years has warped and distorted our foreign policy to such an extent that it is one of the only states in the world that our government shuns and punishes out of all proportion to its actions.

The refusal to have the same normal ties with Iran is the exception that needs to be justified. Iran shouldn’t be expected to abandon most of its foreign policy and all of its nuclear program so that it can be treated the same as our government treats Myanmar, Sudan, and China. The U.S. does not “ask” these things of its regional clients that engage in behavior that is every bit as destructive and repressive as Iran’s government. Our government not only maintains full diplomatic relations with the Saudis and the UAE, but supports and assists them in slaughtering Yemeni civilians. If Iran isn’t a “normal” country, the same goes for quite a few other states that have full diplomatic and trade relations with the U.S. Either Iran is much more “normal” than Iran hawks claim, or the U.S. should start cutting all ties with many more countries. We could start with the Saudis and the UAE.

Iran doesn’t have “nuclear ambitions” that it can abandon. Stephens’ inclusion of this on the list of demands proves that it is not intended as a serious proposal. Insofar as it ever had any ambitions in this area, their government abandoned them a long time ago, and its compliance with the nuclear deal has proven that they no longer have them. Every member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is entitled to develop a civilian nuclear program so long as it remains peaceful. Insisting that Iran be held to a much stricter, more draconian standard than every other member of the treaty is both unfair and unreasonable. This is, in fact, a huge thing to ask, and the U.S. shouldn’t be asking for it.

Stephens claims that his proposal will be “clarifying,” and I suppose it is that. It makes clear that Iran hawks feign interest in diplomacy only so they can make absurd and unreasonable demands that the other government will never accept. It makes clear that they are happy to starve and impoverish the Iranian people in pursuit of a pipe-dream of compelling Iran to capitulate to those demands. It makes clear that their idea of “normalization” is one based on coercion and humiliation rather than engagement and respect. We have known this for a long time, but it is useful to have it confirmed.

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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