Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pretending That Iran Is a Normal Nation

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.

Stephens writes:

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.

He writes:

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.


Ares Olympus said...

I understand, it's tough being wrong, but eventually conservatives and NeoCons will grow up and stop pretending that Iran is worse than Saudi Arabia.

I wonder if Obama might consider normalizing relations with Cuba as a greater triumph. At least they're much closer, although also a history that reminders us that nuclear weapons are damn scary.

And Ron Paul doesn't begrudge Obama and Kerry for their progress.
When Peace Breaks Out With Iran… Ron Paul, Jan 17, 2016

This has been the most dramatic week in US/Iranian relations since 1979.

Last weekend ten US Navy personnel were caught in Iranian waters, as the Pentagon kept changing its story on how they got there. It could have been a disaster for President Obama’s big gamble on diplomacy over conflict with Iran. But after several rounds of telephone diplomacy between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, the Iranian leadership – which we are told by the neocons is too irrational to even talk to – did a most rational thing: weighing the costs and benefits they decided it made more sense not to belabor the question of what an armed US Naval vessel was doing just miles from an Iranian military base. Instead of escalating, the Iranian government fed the sailors and sent them back to their base in Bahrain.

Then on Saturday, the Iranians released four Iranian-Americans from prison, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. On the US side, seven Iranians held in US prisons, including six who were dual citizens, were granted clemency. The seven were in prison for seeking to trade with Iran in violation of the decades-old US economic sanctions.
How did the “irrational” Iranians celebrate being allowed back into the international community? They immediately announced a massive purchase of more than 100 passenger planes from the European Airbus company, and that they would also purchase spare parts from Seattle-based Boeing. Additionally, US oil executives have been in Tehran negotiating trade deals to be finalized as soon as it is legal to do so. The jobs created by this peaceful trade will be beneficial to all parties concerned. The only jobs that should be lost are the Washington advocates of re-introducing sanctions on Iran.

Events this week have dealt a harsh blow to Washington’s neocons, who for decades have been warning against any engagement with Iran. These true isolationists were determined that only regime change and a puppet government in Tehran could produce peaceful relations between the US and Iran. Instead, engagement has worked to the benefit of the US and Iran.

Proven wrong, however, we should not expect the neocons to apologize or even pause to reflect on their failed ideology. Instead, they will continue to call for new sanctions on any pretext. They even found a way to complain about the release of the US sailors – they should have never been confronted in the first place even if they were in Iranian waters. And they even found a way to complain about the return of the four Iranian-Americans to their families and loved ones – the US should have never negotiated with the Iranians to coordinate the release of prisoners, they grumbled. It was a show of weakness to negotiate! Tell that to the families on both sides who can now enjoy the company of their loved ones once again!

I have often said that the neocons’ greatest fear is for peace to break out. Their well-paid jobs are dependent on conflict, sanctions, and pre-emptive war. They grow wealthy on conflict, which only drains our economy. Let’s hope that this new opening with Iran will allow many other productive Americans to grow wealthy through trade and business ties. Let’s hope many new productive jobs will be created on both sides. Peace is prosperous!

Sam L. said...

Saudi Arabia does not have The Bomb, and is not calling us The Great Satan. Iran does, or soon will have it, and does call us TGS.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares, who's drawing equivalence between Iran and Saudi Arabia? The Saudis have more sophisticated and advanced technology to access oil, and greater reserves.

Why do you always feel so compelled to bring in odd things?

Here's what "NeoCons" care about: Israel. They care about protecting our greatest ally in the Middle East, and the nation that is most aligned with our Western democratic ideals. The ONLY one. If you care so much about drawing equivalence about the barbarity of Iran and Saudi Arabia, you might also draw attention to the one nation that is not barbarous. Then you'd make sense.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Or, perhaps one could say -- as I said of Saudi Arabia -- that the Iranians are useful to our interests... that they contribute to our foreign policy goals. Which, pray tell, would those be? We're paying the Iranians INTEREST on foreign assets frozen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Why, in God's name, would we ever do that? It makes no sense. We give the Iranians money so they can build a nuclear capability, an oil exploration capability, a petroleum refining capability? Well, which is it? Not one of those things are in OUR national interest! And we wonder why outsiders are attractive presidential candidates right now??? No one in the "conventional" channels is doing anything.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Oh, I know... "Let's cede the Middle East to Iran, and then maybe the region will go away." Yeah, good luck.

Dennis said...


I have long ago written off Ares, interesting screen name, as one who can find justification through moral equivalence sans any real foundation. Always enjoy your incisive comments.
Sadly, none of this is going away because Iran, et al are fighting for their existence and culture. Nothing we do or say will change that dynamic. The best we can do is not help them destroy us by not creating conditions that improve their chances of success and having the final war they believe in. Every action is predicated upon the belief in the Quran. One of the hopes that may impinge upon this desire is the more educated women, true almost every where to the detriment of Europe, the US and most advanced nations' cultural underpinning in the long run, in the ME become the less children they will have which the Shites and Sunnis well know, but have not figured out away to make women do otherwise. It is why rape and sexual harassment is such a large part of ISIS, et al.
I have to admit I do sometimes wonder if this has not all happened before both before and after recorded history which I believe was about 3700 years ago with the Sumerians. History seems to keep repeating itself and we seem unable to change the results. The only difference in the people who came before us and us is the technology we have available to destroy and maybe do something good with it.
Sorry to sound slightly sad, but Ares reminds me of why these things keep repeating themselves. Far too many people reach the point where they are just educated enough to be dangerous to themselves and everyone around them. Education is NOT the goal WISDOM is. To see the ramifications of ideas.