Simon Miles and Farzan Sabet advise against relying on ill-informed Reaganolatry as a guide for Iran policy. They explain why the Trump administration’s enthusiasm for modeling their Iran policy on the so-called “Victory” strategy against the USSR is misguided:
But Schweizer’s work is far from a complete recounting of the facts of the case. After all, he did not have access to U.S. or Soviet archives and all they revealed at the time of writing, and he disregarded anything that detracted from Reagan’s own role, such as the idea that the Soviet Union died of self-inflicted injuries. Missing from Schweizer’s narrative is any semblance of Soviet agency; Moscow is acted upon but does not act. This is not how the Reagan administration saw the Soviet Union, and, crucially, it is not how President Donald Trump’s should see Iran.
Ignoring the agency of other states and actors is a common error, and it is one that hawks tend to make quite often. Hawks regularly fail to take into account the other state’s interests, and they seem to be incapable of seeing things as their adversary does. They don’t anticipate that their preferred policies will produce resistance and intransigence because they assume that “tough” policies sooner or later compel other states to fall in line. The reality that the USSR collapsed mostly because of its internal failings and the pressures on the system from inside doesn’t fit their triumphalist view of how the Cold War ended (in which we “won” and Reagan was the author of the outcome), and so they tend to dismiss that explanation entirely. Post-Cold War hawks have routinely misappropriated and misrepresented Reagan’s record to suit their own purposes. I remarked on this a few months ago after Pompeo gave his predictable Iran-bashing speech at the Reagan Library:
First they credited Reagan with bringing down the Soviet Union, and then retconned the record of his presidency to claim that he achieved this only through hard-line policies of subversion and confrontation. When Iran hawks invoke Reagan in connection with Iran today, they certainly aren’t citing his dealings with Iran as a model. They are calling to mind the myth that it was the hard-line Reagan who caused the USSR to implode. They simultaneously give Reagan too much credit, they applaud him for all the wrong things, and then they apply it to a completely different country and situation. Iran hawks want to inflate Iran into a threat on par with the USSR, and they would like to pretend that they are imitating Reagan in their efforts to bring down the Iranian government, but the comparison of Iran with the Soviets and the misrepresentation of Reagan show just how far down the rabbit hole of ideological blindness they are.
The hawkish view is wrong and ahistorical, but it offers an easy-to-follow recipe for regime collapse. That is why many Iran hawks are now trying to do what they pretend Reagan did with the Soviets, but they misunderstand what Reagan got right and they are relying on an analogy between the USSR and Iran that makes no sense. A policy founded on this many shoddy assumptions can’t succeed, but the more important point is that we shouldn’t want it to succeed. There is no need for a “victory” strategy against Iran, because Iran doesn’t pose a threat to the U.S. as the Soviet Union did, and there is nothing for the U.S. to “win” by bringing about regime collapse. Instead of strangling the Iranian people in the reckless pursuit of destabilization and regime change, the U.S. should be pursuing a policy of engagement with the goal of establishing full normalization of diplomatic and trade relations. That won’t happen under this administration, but perhaps the next one or the one after that will recognize the bankruptcy of Trump’s approach and opt for an end to decades of pointless hostility.