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The Nuclear Deal and the Iranian Opposition

Peter Beinart made a good observation in a recent roundtable discussion of the nuclear deal:

I also don’t feel that opponents of the deal—who waxed moralistic about Obama’s failure to be vocal enough in supporting the Green Revolution—have grappled much publicly with what appears to be the overwhelming support of Iranian dissidents for this deal. If we believe that ultimately the most important thing is the potential for political change in Iran, and the people who would make that change want this deal, doesn’t that carry real weight? (I’m not saying this deal will bring political change anytime soon. Obviously, nobody knows if it will.) Call me cynical, but seems to me that hawks like using the Iranian dissidents when it helps them argue for a cold-war posture. But the minute it doesn’t, they pretend those dissidents don’t exist [bold mine-DL].

Beinart gets this exactly right. The loudest opponents of the nuclear deal were typically also some of the fiercest critics of Obama’s response to the Green movement protests. They were especially displeased with Obama’s relatively hands-off response to the protests in 2009-10 because they wrongly perceived those protests as an “opportunity” to bring down the Iranian regime. Because of this, these Iran hawks continued to berate Obama for “failing” to support the protesters and cast themselves as the friends of the Iranian opposition at the same time that they were agitating for increased sanctions and/or military action. Of course, the sanctions have only worsened conditions for Iranian dissidents and harmed the Iranian people generally, and military action would have done even more damage to both, but this doesn’t stop Iran hawks from claiming that they are on the side of the people against the regime. In the face of broad Iranian support for the deal–and the promised sanctions relief that goes with it–Iran hawks are suddenly indifferent to the preferences of the opposition and the people that they otherwise use as props when it serves their argument. Beinart isn’t the one being cynical here. Iran hawks are, and they have been for years. Not surprisingly, this is the part of Beinart’s argument that his more hawkish interlocutors don’t even try to address.

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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