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The Fantasies of Iran Hawks

The idea that Obama has pursued "indefatigable sponsorship of Iran" is a lazy smear that is utterly divorced from reality.

Mark Helprin wrote another deranged op-ed about foreign policy. The entire thing is a mess, but the conclusion is notable for its sheer absurdity:

Before World War I, the U.S. was focused on Pancho Villa, and sent a much heralded expedition that failed to catch him. But even as he was fading away, he captured the American imagination. All the while, Germany was rising, and because we were unable to see how this would play out, and because some saw Germany as our natural ally, we were blind to it.

Now we are blinded to Iran in favor of ISIS—in its horror and sensationalism the matador’s red cape that distracts from the truly mortal threat, the sword. We know that the Iranians are skillfully using this dynamic. The question is, given Mr. Obama’s seemingly inexplicable yet indefatigable sponsorship of Iran, and his slow-motion approach to ISIS, is he using it as well?

It is tempting to dismiss arguments like these as nonsensical raving and move on to something else, but it is important to counter them often to make clear why their claims should be rejected. The core Helprin’s argument is that Iran is growing into a regional behemoth that will soon be armed with nukes. Almost everything he says about Iran is untrue or misleading, which is quite a feat for an op-ed this long. He assures us that in less than a decade Iran “will possess nuclear warheads and ICBMs.” The first restrictions from the nuclear deal won’t even expire for 10 years, and Iran had no nuclear weapons program for years before the deal was negotiated, so Iran won’t have the means and likely does not even have the intention of building even one of these weapons for decades to come. Helprin treats something that is all but guaranteed not to happen–and which certainly won’t happen when he claims–as though it were a certainty. So Iran isn’t a “soon-to-be-nuclear” power, and even if it were it would still be weaker than its regional adversaries, one of which already has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons that Helprin naturally ignores. The “the toxic, threatening bridge that Iran has built from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean” doesn’t exist, and even if it did the supposed “politico-religious-military front” that he mentions would be hemmed in on all sides by stronger rivals. Helprin’s claims about Iran’s current and future power are false, but even if there were some truth to them he would still be engaged in the most overwrought threat inflation imaginable.

The idea that Obama has pursued “indefatigable sponsorship of Iran” is a lazy smear so divorced from reality as to discredit everything else Helprin says. It wasn’t a good idea, but Obama has armed Iran’s regional adversaries to the teeth throughout his presidency. He indulges the Saudis and their allies in an atrocious war on Yemen to appease them over the deal that has successfully limited Iran’s nuclear program so that it cannot build a nuclear weapon, and he has sided with them in their hostility to the Syrian government as well. No honest observer could look at all this and conclude that Obama was in any way “sponsoring” or helping Iran, but a blinkered ideologue making a tendentious argument might. Insofar as the war on ISIS benefits Iran, that is because ISIS is also their enemy and an enemy of their allies, which suggests that the U.S. and Iran have less divergent interests than Iran hawks wish to admit.