Home/Daniel Larison/The Absurdity of Pompeo’s ‘Normal Nation’ Rhetoric

The Absurdity of Pompeo’s ‘Normal Nation’ Rhetoric

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo. (State Department photo by Michael Gross/ Public Domain)

Mohammad Ataie reviews the history of pre-revolutionary Iranian foreign policy to criticize the Trump administration’s “normal nation” rhetoric:

The continuity in Iranian regional policies before and after 1979 contradicts the hollow “normal nation” litany that Pompeo and others in the Trump administration are spouting to justify their “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. The likenesses between the monarchical and clerical epochs show that Iran’s regional policies are bound by history and geopolitics. Both the Shah and the clerics pursued the strategy of backing non-state actors and utilizing historical and religious ties to Shii communities in the region for achieving deterrence against perceived threats.

Just as there was considerable continuity between pre-revolutionary Russian foreign policy and its Soviet successor, the same is true for Iran. That is one reason why viewing Iranian foreign policy through a distorting ideological lens that interprets their actions as an expression of “revolutionary zeal” is such a mistake. Iran sought to wield influence and play a significant role in the wider region under the monarchy, and it has done the same over the last forty years. Iran has national interests and aspirations that predate and do not depend on the “revolutionary nature of the regime” that Pompeo is so fond of talking about, and as one of several regional powers it is always going to be involved in regional affairs as it pursues those interests. Refusing to acknowledge that Iran has its own legitimate interests and treating the pursuit of those interests as “abnormal” behavior to be punished make conflict with Iran more likely, because the administration is demanding that Iran sacrifice things that it considers important for its national security that they won’t give up.

Pompeo used this “normal nation” line just the other day:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Iranian people should convince their leaders to change behavior and “act like a normal nation” to avoid military confrontation with the United States.

It is hard to miss the absurdity of American officials lecturing other governments about the need to be “normal” when our government’s foreign policy is anything but that. If there is any country in the world that is less “normal” in the scope and ambitions of its foreign policy than ours, I can’t think of which one it would be. Of course, Pompeo condemns Iran for its “abnormality” while touting the very destructive actions of the Saudis and the UAE, because he and the administration don’t object to destructive behavior if the “right” people are engaged in it. The idea that the Iranian people can “convince” their government to change its foreign policy is based on two false assumptions. The first is that most Iranians want their government to make these changes. According to the best information we have, that isn’t true. Most Iranians reject Pompeo’s demands. The second is that the Iranian people are in a position to force a change in policy when they are being suffocated by U.S. sanctions and faced with an increasingly repressive government. Even if most Iranians wanted their government to give in to Pompeo’s demands (and they don’t), hard-line elements in the government have been greatly strengthened by the “maximum pressure” campaign and the external threat to the country has made it that much less likely that Iranian leaders would consider making any more concessions to the U.S. Pompeo defines current Iranian regime behavior as “abnormal,” but it is Trump’s bankrupt Iran policy that is encouraging more of that behavior.

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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