Trump Names Neocon Regime Changer as Iran Envoy
With Elliott Abrams at the helm, the president found a way to make his Tehran policy even worse.
The New York Timesreports on the resignation of Brian Hook, who will be replaced by none other than Elliott Abrams:
Mr. Hook will be succeeded by Elliott Abrams, a conservative foreign policy veteran and Iran hard-liner who is currently the State Department’s special representative for Venezuela.
As the administration’s special envoy, Hook had no success in gaining support from other governments for the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. His brief stint as a negotiator with our European allies yielded nothing, and when he was trying to negotiate with them Trump famously had no idea who he was. He mostly served as one of the administration’s leading propagandists. He was responsible for lies about Yemen, cringe-inducing video messages, promoting the administration’s weird fixation with Cyrus the Great, and embarrassing historical revisionism about the 1953 coup. When he wasn’t trying to bribe ships’ captains to steal Iranian cargo, he was insulting our intelligence with phony claims of wanting to normalize relations with Tehran. Last year he came under fire from the State Department’s Inspector General for his role in the mistreatment of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, who was the target of political retaliation at the department on account of her support for the JCPOA and at least partly because of her Iranian heritage. Hook is described in the Times‘ report as a “survivor,” but they neglect to mention that the reason he has survived so long in the Trump administration is his cowardice.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the coverage of Hook’s resignation is that it is framed as somehow undermining the chances of diplomacy with Iran:
The departure of Mr. Hook, 52, appears to bury any remaining chance of a diplomatic initiative with Iran before the end of Mr. Trump’s term.
Having Abrams come on as a replacement signals that the Trump administration isn’t even pretending to care about a negotiated solution, but during Hook’s time as envoy the administration did everything it could to kill any chance of real diplomacy with Iran. Diplomacy with Iran was already dead and buried once Trump started an economic war against Iran and Pompeo issued his dozen preposterous demands. The mistake in the report on Hook is the same mistake that many other journalists have made in writing about Trump’s Iran policy: it takes empty talk about negotiations at face value and assumes that Iran hawks are operating and arguing in good faith when they typically do just the opposite. Hook’s professed interest in meeting with Iranian officials was always disingenuous in that it required Iran to agree to things that their government was never going to accept. As I said almost two years ago:
The Trump administration’s willingness to “negotiate” with Iran is very much like its readiness to make a “deal” with the Palestinians: the other side is expected to make extensive concessions in exchange for nothing and will be punished severely until they agree to these humiliating terms. It is no wonder that the Iranian government has no interest in “negotiations” that amount to capitulation.
Trump’s Iran policy was destructive and bankrupt with Hook, and his departure can’t undermine a diplomatic effort that was never real. Putting Abrams in charge of the regime change policy for Iran is appalling, but it is hardly surprising at this point. Unfortunately, it appears that Abrams will retain his role as Venezuela envoy. Naming Abrams as the new Iran envoy makes the administration’s goal of regime change that much more obvious and undeniable.