Why Is Iran Our Enemy? | The Nation

Coming from the US foreign-policy hawks whose Middle East interventions lit the fuse of civil war, religious fanaticism, and barbarism, the charge that Iran is the source of regional instability is absurd.

It becomes more so when you consider that Iran is arguably the Middle Eastern country that is most unequivocally opposed to ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militant Sunnis. Indeed, Iranian support for the Iraqi army and the affiliated Shia militias is now crucial to US success against ISIS, including the plan to recapture Mosul. As Vali Nasr, former adviser to Barack Obama and now dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, told The New York Times, “The only way in which the Obama administration can credibly stick with its strategy is by implicitly assuming that the Iranians will carry most of the weight and win the battles on the ground.”

Moreover, while our supposed allies, the Saudis, were busy covering up their links to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, the Iranians granted the United States permission to fly to Afghanistan over their territory, agreed to help rescue downed American pilots, and provided assistance to the Northern Alliance—America’s military ally in the US invasion. All of which American officials have acknowledged.

Fear of the West is enormously useful to the Islamic reactionaries in their ongoing struggle to keep control of Iran’s future. The conservative Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rules for life and commands the loyalty of the armed forces. But there is a sizable and growing popular movement in Iran for more liberal foreign—as well as domestic—policies, including more contact with the United States. Despite the obstacles to democracy, in 2013 the people elected a progressive reformer, Hassan Rouhani, as president, who, after a two-year struggle, led Khamenei to accept the nuclear agreement.

Evidence of growing Westernization is widespread in Iran—in the shops and shopping malls, the billboards advertising appliances and cars, the cellphones and selfies, and especially in the visible pushback by women against the strict Islamic dress code. Social life is nowhere near as repressive as in the US-supported theocracies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, or Turkmenistan. Women in Iran drive cars, manage businesses, and are elected to public office.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews live in Iran—the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel. There are some 60 synagogues, a Jewish Member of Parliament, and a memorial in Tehran to Jewish soldiers who served in the war with Iraq. Jews, like Christians and Zoroastrians, are allowed to practice their religion, but not to proselytize. It’s no liberal democracy, but hardly Nazi Germany—or Saudi Arabia.

So, as the Iranian villager asked, why does our government hate them so much?

The only answer that makes sense is that it reflects the subordination of US policy in the Middle East to the interests of 1) the despotic dynasties that rule Saudi Arabia and the gulf sheikdoms; 2) the Israeli government, especially under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and 3) the American politicians, pundits, lobbyists, and national-security bureaucrats whose careers and bank accounts are enhanced by both. It is in the interests of all three to divert attention from the catastrophic consequences of our intervention in the region.

How else can you explain the Bush and Obama administrations’ reluctance to confront the ruling classes of the gulf sheikdoms for their nurturing of ISIS and other terrorists groups inspired by the Saudis’ own Wahhabi fundamentalism? Only when ISIS threatened the Saudis themselves did their support for the Islamic State cease, although it continues to flow to the principal Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. And how else can we explain the US supply of weapons (including cluster bombs) and aerial intelligence to the Gulf States’ intervention against the Houthi Shias in Yemen, while letting them go AWOL in the war against the Sunni ISIS?

To Barack Obama’s credit, he was willing to push through the snake pit of divided Washington loyalties to achieve the nuclear deal—far more important to our national security than isolating Iran. To complete the deal he must also make sure that the United States lives up to its promise that it will not punish international bankers who provide capital for urgently needed economic development projects in Iran.

A growing economy should in turn reinforce the still fragile shoots of liberal democracy sprouting in that ancient land. It will of course take time to erode the mutual mistrust between the governing classes of the two countries. But for ordinary Americans, understanding that Iran is not our existential enemy should help us to answer the larger question of exactly what we are doing in the Middle East.

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