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The Words Behind "But Iran Hates Us!"

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

Admittedly, last week’s post “We Can’t Be Alllies with Iran...Iran Hates Us!” was light on details. I dismissed the “they hate us” excuse for starting a war because hatred isn’t a reason to go to war.

Reading it, Eric C challenged me, “Do we know whether Iranians hate Americans?” Hmm. I didn’t know, so I looked up the answer. Consider today’s post the research edition of last week’s post.

First up, do American leaders hate Iran? Most American politicians won’t openly admit this. However, if you accuse someone of the most vile accusations imaginable--being a terrorist, using child soldiers, hating freedom, believing in death above life--then even if you don’t say, “I hate Iran”, you still said, “I hate Iran”.

American elected officials have said such things about Iran. Case in point: President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union, when he unveiled the “Axis of Evil”. Pay particular attention to the last paragraph:

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

Our enemies send other people's children on missions of suicide and murder. They embrace tyranny and death as a cause and a creed. We stand for a different choice -- made long ago, on the day of our founding. We affirm it again today. We choose freedom and the dignity of every life.

Second, do the American people hate Iran? I couldn’t find a poll that explicitly asked this question. Gallup, though, regularly polls Americans on the question, “Who is our greatest enemy?” This year Iran took home the gold. Gallup says 32% of Americans call Iran our “greatest enemy”, a higher percentage than for any other country. (68% of Americans also didn’t choose Iran.)

Third, according to polling, do Iranians hate Americans? Historically, Iranians have loved America more than any other Middle Eastern nation...a strange position for a nation which allegedly hates us. Since Iranians live in a police state--something I don’t support or deny--most Iranians avoid criticizing their own government, in public or private. So when an outside pollster tries to gauge Iranian attitudes about America via telephone, many Iranians will simply hide their true feelings.

Which means that the best study on Iranian feelings--from the Rand Corporation--has some difficult obstacles to surmount. According to Rand’s survey, a plurality of Iranians do not favor re-establishing a diplomatic relationship with America. Of the polled Iranians, the ones most uncomfortable with the survey were more likely to oppose re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran.

In fact, the Rand study, while appearing to show that Iranians hate Americans, actually shows their desire to renew a strong relationship with America. Thirty nine percent of Iranians do favor or somewhat favor re-establishing diplomatic relationships with the U.S. Iranians, though, still haven’t forgiven America for the two dramatic interventions into their sovereignty: the installation of the Shah in 1959 and America cutting all ties during the 1979 revolution.

Can we really say Iranians hate us? Not based on any polling.

Fourth, what do journalists who have visited Iran think about “Iranians hating Americans”? Every time a journalist travels to Iran, they return with the same story: the leaders may hate America, but the people do not. First up, Nicholas Kristof speaking to Fareed Zakaria on GPS 360:

“ZAKARIA: So what was your dominant impression, given this access? Because you have been to Tehran, but what felt different about being outside Tehran?

“KRISTOF: Well, as you know, one of the extraordinary things about Iran is how pro-American everybody seems at the grassroots. You go to Pakistan, you go to Egypt, and we pour billions into these places and everybody seems to hate us.

“We go to Iran and everywhere you go, people want to buy you tea or invite you into their homes. It is -- I mean, it's just stunning, the pro-American quality of the country. I think more broadly politically, I was reminded, absolutely, there is still support for the regime, for the government in rural areas, among less educated people, people who don't have access to satellite television.

“But all of the larger social forces seem to me to be working against the government. More educated people, more urbanized people, people who do have international connections just are more and more fed up with the system. They're upset by the economic downturn and they don't really blame the West for sanctions. They blame their own government.”

Nicholas Kristof goes to even further lengths in his column on The New York Times website, but this one quote probably captures the mood best, “this may be the most pro-American nation in the Middle East.” He also doubles down on the fear pervading the society; a fear which makes it seem like normal Iranians “hate” America.

The trend of journalists visiting Iran and discovering--surprise! they don’t hate us--isn’t a recent phenomenon. I just found this article by Tim Cahill for Outdoor magazine through Byliner (via Byliner’s inappropriately titled “Why Iran Hates America”) which--though nine years old--comes to the exact same conclusion as Kristof.

Of course, some comedians have visited the land of ancient Persia as well. And guess what? The Daily Show finds that Iranians generally love America too:

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seven comments

One could say, “Just because a country is your enemy doesn’t mean you hate them.” and point to the bible as proof. Jesus did say, “Love your enemies”.

Unfortunately, while that may be one of Jesus’ greatest sayings, it’s also one of his least followed.

(1) I don’t care whether Iranians hate the US or Americans, and I don’t care if “Iran”, by which I mean their government, hates, fears, or loves us, whichever of us we mean. Hate does not require a war. Iran can be there, we can be here, and we can ignore each other

(2) By bombing the Iranian nuclear labs, we would commit ourselves to invading and subduing Iran…a country about three times bigger than Iraq. After nine or ten years of constant battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be insane. In 2003, I argued that the invasion of Iraq failed the “just war” test, and failed a sanity test. Iran would be worse. (Note: my son served in the Army National Guard, 2002 – 2009. He met his wife, a Regular, during AIT. She served 2002 – 2008. Both were deployed once. We know many other military parents, and no part of deployment was fun. I also used to count the divisions and their assignments — the NJ ARNG, those weekend warriors, are deploying again. There are not enough troops to fight another voluntary war.)

John, I served as well, and I agree with your assessment except for one detail. The best way to prevent a war with Iran is not to ignore Iran, but to trade with it. If two countries send each other millions or hundreds of millions or billions in goods, services and cash, then they are much less likely to go to war. It happened with Afghanistan, Iraq and could happen with Iran.

And yes the Iraq war did fail the just war test as most voluntary wars do.

For the sake of having him show up, Hamid Dabashi had a pretty clinical takedown of Kristof’s visit to Iran: (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinio..

I don’t agree with everything Dabashi says; he has a tendency towards rabble-rousing that I find endearing if at times overwrought. But it’s a good puncture to the self-congratulatoriness of some of the “Iranians don’t hate America” logic. It’s a way for folks to say “They love us for our freedom!” while using the foreigners as sock puppets.

I agree, Michael. Trade…do not use banks, SWIFT, etc, to bludgeon Iran.

Have you all read the neo-cons who planned the Iraq war, and publicized the “democratic tsunami” that was to follow? Perle, Wolfowitz, Kristol, in a collection published in 2000 arguing that the collapse of the USSR gave the US a “world historical” moment to remake the universe to our liking. I forget the name of the collection, and probably threw it away a few years ago.

Important though: the same cluster of advisors is pushing on the same doctrine.

Yeah, I don’t think saying Iranians “like” us is saying they like us for our freedoms. I see how that has a neo-con-ish connotation.

On the other hand, I don’t think anyone can say Iranians hate us. If they do it is completely ignorant. How can you hate a people you have never met? Or, because obviously it has happened, why would anyone hate someone they have never met?

Okay I just finished the Hamid Dabashi column. While he labels Kristof as an orientalist, he also labels him part of the imperialist apparatus of the U.S., and I just don’t hop on board that argument as easily.