As Protests in Iran Spread, Americans Continue to Misunderstand the Country

June 27, 2018 | Amir Taheri
About the author: Amir Taheri, formerly the executive editor (1972-79) of Iran’s main daily newspaper, is the author of twelve books and a columnist for the Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

In the past several days, protests in Iran have grown in size and intensity, with crowds now chanting “Death to Palestine!” (an alternative to the usual “Death to Israel!”) and even “Death to the Dictator!” (in reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei). Meanwhile, writes Amir Taheri, there remain many Americans in positions of influence who refuse to believe the Islamic Republic is a brutal dictatorship and thereby perpetuate false alternatives for dealing with it:

The pro-Khomeinist chorus builds its case on [the] notion [that] in dealing with the Islamic Republic, the choice is only between surrendering to its every whim or total military invasion. In her latest book, Fascism: A Warning, the former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright reduces policy on Iran to a simple question: “Do we want to repeat the adventure in Iraq?” . . . Ben Rhodes, a former national-security assistant to President Barack Obama, [sees] Iran . . . as a model for the Middle East. . . .

Successive American presidents have worked hard to persuade the Khomeinist regime in Tehran to modify aspects of its foreign policy, so far with no success. The reason may be the inability or unwillingness of successive U.S. presidents, and a good part of the American political and cultural elite, to . . . understand the nature of the Khomeinist regime.

Jimmy Carter believed the Khomeinist seizure of power represented the return of religion to the center of public life. Members of his administration described Khomeini as “a holy man” and “the Gandhi of Islam.” . . . President Bill Clinton saw the Khomeinist regime as “progressivist,” a view shared by many American liberals who think anti-Americanism is the surest sign of progressive beliefs. . . .

This regime has executed tens of thousands of Iranians, driven almost six million into exile, and deprived the nation of its basic freedoms. It has also killed more Americans, often through surrogates, than al-Qaeda did on 9/11. Not a single day has passed without this regime holding some Americans, and others, hostages. . . .

The same lobbyists [in the West who portray the ayatollahs as benign] discourage any attempt by the major powers to adopt a policy aimed at helping, persuading, and cajoling Iran into restoring its identity as a nation-state and behaving like one by closing the chapter of a revolution that has plunged Iran and a good chunk of the Middle East into conflict and uncertainty.

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