Home/Daniel Larison/The Opportunism and Desperation of Iran Hawks

The Opportunism and Desperation of Iran Hawks

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

Nicholas Miller picks up on a perfect example of how leading Iran hawks make false and misleading claims to promote their failed “maximum pressure” campaign:

For those that may have forgotten, Mark Dubowitz is the head of the so-called Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the main hard-line anti-Iran think tank responsible for conceiving of and promoting the sanctions policies that the Trump administration has been carrying out. He has a significant stake in the success of the “maximum pressure” campaign, and so he is always searching high and low for proof that it isn’t the failure that we know it to be. There isn’t any proof to be found, so he and his allies are reduced to grasping at straws.

This is hardly the first time that Dubowitz has offered completely contradictory “analysis” on Iran depending on the propaganda needs of the moment:

This sort of opportunism isn’t surprising when we understand that this “analysis” is coming from an ideologue pushing an agenda, but this is why news outlets shouldn’t be relying on someone like this as a source when reporting on these issues.

The original AP story that quoted Zarif’s interview with NBC News presented a hypothetical from the foreign minister as if it were a serious proposal to negotiate on Iran’s missile development. Everyone following these issues closely understands that Iran considers its missile program to be a very important part of its defensive capabilities, so their government is not going to give it up or negotiate it away. The AP has since updated and corrected its reporting to reflect Iran’s real position. Dubowitz seized on the original AP story’s misinterpretation to declare victory, but almost immediately after the story came out the Iranian government clarified that the report was wrong and there was no chance of any such negotiations:

The episode matters not just because it shows that Dubowitz will spin anything that happens as proof that “maximum pressure” is working when it isn’t, but also because this same desperate need to claim success for the bankrupt Iran policy is shared by the Trump administration. The New York Timesreported on Iran’s position in a subsequent article:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that Iran appeared willing to negotiate over its missile program “for the first time,” in what he and President Trump presented as evidence that sanctions and military pressure were working, less than a month after the president halted a planned military strike against Iran.

But within hours of the statement to reporters, delivered before a cabinet meeting at the White House, the idea was shot down by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in New York for a meeting at the United Nations. His spokesman said that the two men had misinterpreted Mr. Zarif’s public statements, in which he repeated past demands that if the United States “wants to talk about missiles, it should stop selling weapons, including missiles, to regional states.”

The U.S. should stop selling weapons to these states for other reasons, but the reason Zarif mentioned them together was to emphasize that his government sees their missiles as necessary to their defense when the U.S. is arming their neighbors to the teeth. Zarif’s remarks offered the U.S. an opportunity to understand why Iran refuses to negotiate on this issue, but as usual Pompeo and Trump squandered it. Pompeo and Trump are desperate to show that this policy is delivering something other than an increased risk of war, but it isn’t happening:

“I think the administration is desperately looking for any sign that this is working and that Iran is willing to talk,” said Philip Gordon, a Middle East official in the Obama administration who helped to negotiate the 2015 accord.

But Mr. Gordon, now at the Council on Foreign Relations, added that “even if both sides overcame the obstacles to talks, there’s no sign that Iran is remotely willing to accept the sort of deal the administration has said would be its bottom line.”

The Trump administration can’t acknowledge that its Iran policy has failed, and instead it relies on misinterpretation and spin to try to trick others into thinking that “maximum pressure” is anything but a costly and dangerous flop.

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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