As administration spokesmen stepped up last weekend to tout both the demeaning hostage exchange with Iran but the implementation of a nuclear agreement that has immediately made the region and the world less safe, Barack Obama was signalling that normalized relationships with Iran were his greatest foreign policy achievement.
But, Bret Stephens remarks astutely this morning, it was not just about normalized relations. It was all about normalizing Iran, making it appear that Iran was a normal nation, a nation we could do business with.
Members of the Church of the Liberal Pieties believe that George W. Bush’s second most egregious error was placing Iran on the axis of evil.
Stephens quotes a Brown University professor, one Steven Kinzer, who wrote in Politico that America should stop demonizing Iran.
In Kinzer’s words:
The demonization of Iran is arguably the most bizarre and self-defeating of all U.S. foreign policies. Americans view Iran not simply as a country with interests that sometimes conflict with ours but as a relentless font of evil.
The solution: we must de-demonize Iran. Why demonize Iran when we can happily demonize Republicans and anyone who commits a thought crime? Is it not somewhat ironic that the administration and its flunkies wants to de-demonize the most misogynistic and homophobic nation on the planet?
We can demonize anyone who uses the correct pronoun or disagrees with the dogmas that prevail in the Church of the Liberal Pieties. But, right thinking liberals must de-demonize a regime that murders political protesters in the streets, that executes adulterers and homosexuals, and that insists that it wants to destroy Israel and to kill as many Jews as possible.
Obama’s kind of people.
The Obama administration does not go as far as Kinzer, but its triumphalist rhetoric about the hostage exchange, coupled with the John Kerry’s pathetic fawning over the ayatollahs for releasing American sailors quickly—but only after the Iranians made a propaganda video showing America on its knees-- leaves little doubt but that Kinzer’s view is the administration’s view… only the administration refuses to say so in quite those terms.
Now, Iran is no longer part of the axis of evil. To be fair, the Obama administration has always treated the Iranians with great respect. When the Green Revolution broke out in Iran in 2009, when the Iranians were murdering and imprisoning and torturing democracy protesters, the Obama administration said absolutely nothing. We helped overthrow Mubarak in Egypt and Qaddhafi in Libya, but we bow down to the Ayatollah Khamenei.
While never speaking ill of the ayatollahs, the Obama administration has never ceased to demonize the prime minister of Israel. Even today it continues to try to pressure the Israelis to make concessions to Palestinian terrorism.
For his part, Stephens offers an excellent summary of the Obama administration’s liberal foreign policy, a policy that combines appeasement with moral equivalency:
Today’s liberal foreign policy, to adapt Churchill, is appeasement wrapped in realism inside moral equivalency. When it comes to Iran policy, that means believing that we have sinned at least as much against the Iranians as they have sinned against us; that our national-security interests require us to come to terms with the Iranians; and that the best way to allay the suspicions—and, over time, diminish the influence—of Iranian hard-liners is by engaging the moderates ever more closely and demonstrating ever-greater diplomatic flexibility.
True enough, past American presidents have hoped against hope that their own goodness, their reaching out to Iran could change the regime. After all, it worked for Nixon in China; why could it not work for Iran.
Previous American presidents seemed to be able to understand when the policy was not working.
The Carter administration hailed the Ayatollah Khomeini as “a saint.” Our embassy was seized. Ronald Reagan sent Khomeini a birthday cake, along with secret arms, to facilitate the release of hostages in Lebanon. A few hostages were released, while others were taken in their place. The world welcomed the election of “moderate” President Mohammad Khatami in 1997. Iran’s illicit nuclear facilities were exposed during his second term.
And, let’s not forget the 1983 massacre of American marines in Beirut, massacre ordered by Iran.
The Obama administration does not want to blame Iran for anything. It does not want to hold Iran responsible for anything. It is caught up in a guilt narrative, whereby America is the primary cause of the world’s evil. If only America would be nicer to the Iranians, the Iranians would be nicer to us. See how quickly they sent our sailors back.
As it happens, there is no evidence and there has been no evidence that the liberal policy has worked. Stephens suggests that the Iranians have always been willing to appear to be conciliatory in order to receive rewards for bad behavior. But, as long as Iran remains an Islamic Republic, nothing will change.
Or merely one that is again being given good reasons to believe that it can always extract a bribe for its bad behavior? The notion of moral hazard, fundamental to economics, has a foreign-policy dimension, too. Any country that believes it will never be made to pay the price for the risks it takes will take ever-greater risks. It’s bad enough when the country in question is Greece. This is Iran.
Iran will become a “normal” country only when it ceases to be an Islamic Republic. In the meantime, the only question is how far we are prepared to abase ourselves in our quest to normalize it.