Podcast: Michael Doran on Why the Coronavirus Is Hitting Iran so Hard

The foreign-policy expert joins us to talk about how things there have got so bad, what the regime is thinking, and what it means for tensions with America.

Volunteers spraying disinfectant on a car during the coronavirus pandemic on March 31, 2020 in Tehran. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images.

Volunteers spraying disinfectant on a car during the coronavirus pandemic on March 31, 2020 in Tehran. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images.

April 2 2020
About the authors

A weekly podcast, produced in partnership with the Tikvah Fund, offering up the best thinking on Jewish thought and culture.

Michael Doran is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at Hudson Institute. The author of Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East (2016), he is also a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director of the National Security Council. He tweets @doranimated.

This Week’s Guest: Michael Doran


In the past two months, the coronavirus has spread rapidly around the globe. As disruptive and damaging as this pandemic has been in the United States, Israel, and Europe, it has been far more devastating in Iran. Official statistics paint a dreadful picture of the situation there, but the truth seems to be worse even than that. Iranian citizens are taking to social media in protest and to raise the alarm, and so many are dying that mass graves are being dug.

The news prompts any number of questions. Why has Iran been hit so hard? Is there any truth to the Iranian foreign minister’s complaint that American sanctions are to blame? What implications will the coronavirus crisis have for the tensions between Iran and the U.S.?

And these questions prompt one more: Who else would we rather ask for insight than the Hudson Institute senior fellow and frequent Mosaic writer Michael Doran? Which is exactly what we did, sitting down with him last week to go over the coronavirus and Iran. Listen in below.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as “Ulterior” by Swan Production.



Excerpt (16:20-18:23)


Michael Doran: As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear in some statements a couple of days ago, the Iranian regime has a long history of taking humanitarian aid and channeling it in other directions to line the pockets of the elite and to shore it up politically. Iranian social media—and you have to be careful with these sources because it’s very easy to fabricate stuff on social media—is full of pictures of warehouses of medical supplies that are not being directed to Iranian hospitals, of medical supplies that have been clearly acquired from Europe but then the seals are broken and they’re sold in stores and presumably the contents have been diluted or emptied and filled with something else.

We know that corruption, embezzlement, mismanagement, and cynical political action is endemic to this regime, so there’s no reason that the United States should believe that any money that it delivers to the regime is actually going to go to help alleviate the suffering of the average person. Money is fungible. They’re gonna to use it to shore up the regime and to shore up its activities in Iraq and in Lebanon. Their proxies recently killed two Americans in Iraq. We just learned yesterday that they lied for years about Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent who was taken hostage in 2007 on Kish Island—they lied about his being in Iranian custody for years and years, and then he died and they lied about that. 

This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity.




For more on the Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic, which appears roughly every Thursday, check out its inaugural post here.

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More about: Coronavirus, Iran, Michael Doran, Politics & Current Affairs