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The Irrational Iran Obsession

Then-Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, speaking at a rally in 2013. He faces a senate grilling for his secretary of state nomination today.Mark Taylor/Creative Commons

John Limbert reviews the dismal record of U.S.-Iranian relations over the last forty years, and chides the Trump administration for returning to the old habit of “wallowing in self-righteousness and indignation”:

The current American administration, for reasons of ego and domestic politics, seems obsessed with Iran. It is determined to trash its predecessor and undo the modest gains he achieved. At best, the two sides will return to their “no war/no peace” condition of the last forty years. At worst, spewing accusations, lacking means of com­munication and deeply suspicious, a small misunderstanding could become a major conflict that would bring great harm to both sides and to the already fractured Middle East.

As Limbert points out earlier in the article, the obsession with Iran makes no sense given their government’s limited influence and negligible military and economic power. Iran poses no threat to the United States, it is outspent and outgunned by its regional rivals, and it has very little ability to project power beyond a handful of countries in the region. The fact that the U.S. treats a medium-sized regional power with no ability to harm us as one of its chief adversaries is an unintentional acknowledgment of how incredibly secure the U.S. is, and it reflects the extent to which our foreign policy has become divorced from the security of our country and our allies.

Administration officials are desperate to build Iran up into a major adversary to give them an excuse for more aggressive regional policies, but the facts simply don’t support their alarmist warnings. Our government and their remain hung up on vendettas and grudges accumulated over forty years of mistrust and abortive attempts at engagement, but there is no good reason why the U.S. and Iran should still be so hostile to one another after all this time. That hostility is obviously stoked and encouraged by regional clients that benefit from keeping the U.S. and Iran at odds, but that hostility hasn’t served American interests at all. At this point, this anti-Iranianism or Persophobia has become so ingrained in our foreign policy debates that it seems as if we will never be rid of it, but like any bad and destructive habit it can be changed if we are determined to put an end to it.

The U.S. and Iran are still very far from having a normal and constructive relationship, but improved relations with many other past adversaries show that it is possible. Unfortunately, this administration wants to reinforce what Washington called “inveterate antipathies,” and that means that at least for the next two years U.S.-Iranian relations will continue to worsen to the detriment of both countries.

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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