The Dangerous Delusions of Iran Hawks
While he was justifying the killing of Soleimani today, Mike Pompeo made one of the more breathtakingly delusional statements he has made as Secretary of State:
Pompeo on CNN says US has “every expectation” that people “in Iran will view the American action last night as giving them freedom.”
— Josh Lederman (@JoshNBCNews) January 3, 2020
If Pompeo genuinely expects Iranians to be grateful to America that our military killed one of their most popular and respected commanders, he is in for quite a shock. This statement fits a larger pattern of the administration’s complete lack of understanding of Iran and its internal politics. The vast majority of Iranians today views the U.S. unfavorably, and almost the same number had a favorable view of Soleimani. According to last survey’s University of Maryland survey, 82% of Iranians had a favorable opinion of Soleimani. 59% held a very favorable view of him. Killing him will not only intensify anti-American sentiment in the country, but it will very likely make Soleimani even more popular in death than he was in life. In what universe would people celebrate the killing of one of their war heroes by a hated foreign power?
As we would expect, many Iranians are mourning him en masse:
Footage from Kerman, the hometown of the killed IRGC al-Quds forces leader Qassem Soleimani. pic.twitter.com/hmDL8OuzAn
— Aldin 🇧🇦 (@aldin_ww) January 3, 2020
In the real world, there will likely be a surge of Iranian nationalism in response, and the government is going to encourage that however it can. The government is going to use this to smother dissent and continue the violent crackdown against protesters that has been taking place in recent months, and they will presumably use national security as a pretext for further curtailing Iranians’ freedom. Just as the economic war has harmed Iranian political activists and impoverished the civilian population, a U.S.-Iran war is going to create even more suffocating internal conditions. Hard-liners are going to flourish in the new political landscape at the expense of both protesters and advocates for engagement.
Pompeo’s cartoon ideological view of Iran has nothing to do with the reality. The danger is that the president and his top officials know so little about the real Iran that every action they take is bound to boomerang and create more problems for the U.S. The administration talks and acts as if they expect Iranians to welcome and approve acts of war against their country, and so they are completely unprepared for the overwhelmingly negative and hostile reaction that results. Americans and Iranians alike are going to be paying the price for their clueless arrogance for a long time to come.