The targets of the tweets included think-tank analysts, human rights activists and journalists (including me). The common thread is that we are all perceived by regime change proponents and supporters of the Trump administration’s so-called maximum pressure policy to be soft on Iran because we are critical of crushing economic sanctions and the threat of the use of military force against it.
For these thought crimes, we are branded by @IranDisinfo and similar social media accounts as Tehran’s “mouthpieces,” “apologists,” “collaborators,” and “lobbyists” in the West.
I won’t speak for others who have been attacked, and my own views are irrelevant to this situation. From what I can see, though, we all appear to share the view that Iran should be secular and democratic. The main difference between us and those spreading these falsehoods against us is how we envision that change in Iranian politics coming about.
The absurdity of accusing Rezaian of all people of being a regime apologist is obvious, and it shows how indiscriminately and recklessly the people involved in this smear campaign fling such loaded accusations. The reality is that Rezaian frequently criticizes Iranian regime abuses, as do the other journalists and analysts being smeared as “collaborators,” and his criticisms of the regime are much more credible because he is not a hard-liner in pursuit of regime change. What the regime changers can’t stand is that Rezaian and others like him are also perfectly capable of holding our own government accountable when its policies inflict harm on the Iranian people. Regime changers are big fans of promoting dissent if it can be used to achieve their goals, but when it is turned against them and the policies they support they quickly become as intolerant of it as any other authoritarian.
Regime changers have a long and ugly history of falsely accusing their opponents of sympathizing with or working for the targeted regime. Opponents of the invasion of Iraq don’t need me to remind them that we were frequently labeled “pro-dictator” and other similarly unimaginative slurs by the war’s advocates. These accusations are always lies, and they are always risible, but regime changers and war supporters resort to them because their arguments for their own policy are so weak and because they view dissent from their ideological line as tantamount to siding with the enemy. Because they want to define what it means to oppose the regime, anyone that doesn’t fall in line with their program is smeared as “pro-regime.” The fact that this imitates the tactics of the very system they claim to despise is not lost on the people targeted by these attacks.
For these hawks, disagreeing with an aggressive and interventionist U.S. policy is not simply mistaken, but has to be denounced as corrupt and treacherous. They do this to intimidate opponents and scare people on the fence into staying quiet, but they also do it to reinforce their own self-serving story of who they think they are. If advocates for regime change want to portray themselves as fighting on the side of liberation, they will tend to portray the people that oppose their policy as quislings and lackeys of the repressive regime. The latter is obviously false, and as a general rule so is the former.