(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)
Last week I unveiled my solution to the Iran problem. In short, most people think that America and Iran can never become allies. I think we can. I think America could make Iran one of our greatest allies in the Middle East if we wanted to.
My critics don’t really have a compelling reason for why this can’t happen. If pressed, their arguments boil down to what a child said in my post last week, “Iran is so mean, and they hate us.” Today, I want to look at that first point, “Iran is so mean”.
Of course, academics and pundits don’t just call Iran mean; they dress it up with complicators (hostile intentions, duplicitous actions, most severe security threat) or exaggerations (greatest threat to the free world), but the grade school retort of “Iran is so mean to America,” basically sums up their position.
And in one sense, the critics have a point. Look at the following Iranian actions over the last thirty five years:
- In 1979, Iranians took over a hundred Americans hostage, and held them for two years.
- In 1988, Iranian ships attacked American ships, kicking off a mini-war.
- From 2003 to 2010, Iran funded Shia extremists in Iraq with explosively formed penetrators, one of which likely killed one of my best friends from college.
- Iranians constantly threatens Israel with annihilation, and Iran funds Hezbollah which conducts terror attacks on Israel.
- Iran says it wants to eradicate Israel.
Looking at that list, it is easy to label Iran hostile or duplicitous (though evil is still a stretch).
But let’s look at a different series of events, American involvement in Iran. Do these events qualify as “mean” or hostile?
- In the 1950s, America overthrew the Iranian parliament to install an American friendly dictator, the Shah.
- In 1979, after the Shah fell, America instituted trade embargos against Iran.
- During the 1980s, America backed Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, even as Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in attacks on Iranians.
- In 1988, America sunk multiple Iranian ships during Operation Praying Mantis, killing thousands of Iranians.
- Most recently, America may have supported the terrorist group MEK and may have launched a cyber-attack dubbed “Olympic Games” using the Stuxnet worm.
This arguments comes courtesy of a lecture we attended a few months back by General Stanley McChrystal. He hoped the audience would come to the same conclusion as he did: Iran has plenty of reasons to distrust Americans.
Arguably, we started the fight.
Historical amnesia causes both sides to label the other hostile, and ignore their own hostility. Most Americans don’t remember or even care that America overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected government in the fifties. (How would Americans feel if China installed a dictator in Washington D.C.?) Most Iranians don’t believe their government supports terrorists as America alleges. (Do any Americans believe the CIA supports terrorists as Iran alleges?)
What will solve this crisis is a move past simplistic language, and the humility to admit America’s own mistakes when dealing with Iran. A few weeks back, an On V guest post used the phrase, “the blame America first crowd”. The other side of the coin is the “never blame America” crowd who, like a delusional sports fan who believes their franchise can do no wrong, pretends America is the first perfect nation. Admitting America has wronged Iran isn’t “apologizing for America”; it’s acknowledging our human fallibility. No person, and indeed no nation, is without sin.
Iran is mean. So is America. So are plenty of countries. Let’s stop hyping and exaggerating the threat Iran poses, and solve this problem once and for all.