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Stop Demonizing Iran

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Not everyone wants the United States to improve relations with Iran. Some prefer war instead. Not because Iran is a threat to the American people, or the Israelis, but because a friendly Iran would no longer furnish the convenient enemy the hawks in the United States and Israel need.

So, despite overtures from the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s regime must still be demonized as a group of religious fanatics — mad mullahs — who cannot be reasoned with and who want nothing more than to lob nuclear warheads at the United States and Israel.

Nonsense. Over a decade ago, Iran’s leaders made credible offers of cooperation with the United States that included peace with Israel. In fact, after the 9/11 attacks, the Iranian government tried to cooperate with the Bush administration on a number of fronts. The two sides actually began working together at the end of 2001, until hawkish American officials put a stop to it, as reporter Gareth Porter explained in 2006.

Thus, Rouhani’s current efforts are not a “charm offensive” — as they are prejudicially labeled even by the media — but rather a renewal of Iran’s wish for détente.

We rarely hear about the previous offers, perhaps because they conflict with the mainstream media’s dominant narrative of Iran as an implacable threat. Apparently those who want war with Iran — the neoconservatives, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the members of Congress beholden to AIPAC, and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — make better news copy than would-be peacemakers. Too bad. War would be catastrophic.

Let’s remember that the Islamic Republic of Iran arose only after a U.S.-backed despotism was overthrown in 1979. Rather than seeking to make amends for what had been inflicted on the Iranians, successive U.S. administrations worked to isolate and subvert Iran until a more pliant regime could be installed. Diplomats who favored rapprochement were ignored or marginalized — which suited the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Arab regimes allied with the United States. (Iran is dominated by Shi’ite Muslims, the sectarian rivals of the Sunnis.)

Nevertheless, moderate Iranian officials continued to hope for détente. Faltering first steps were taken after the 9/11 attacks — Iran opposes al-Qaeda — but neoconservatives in the Bush administration, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and foreign-policy officers allied with Israel’s hawks, blocked progress. President Bush’s embrace of the neocons was signaled by his 2002 state of the union address, in which he included Iran in the “Axis of Evil” along with North Korean and Iraq.

That hostile American response undercut Iranian moderates and bolstered the hardliners. Yet the moderates persevered, partly out of fear that Bush would attack Iran when he was finished with Iraq. They made a new offer. “The proposal, a copy of which is in the author’s possession, offered a dramatic set of specific policy concessions Tehran was prepared to make in the framework of an overall bargain on its nuclear program, its policy toward Israel, and al-Qaeda,” Gareth Porter wrote. “To meet the U.S. concern about an Iranian nuclear weapons program, the document offered to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for ‘full access to peaceful nuclear technology.’” “Full transparency” and “full cooperation” were offered.

The Iranian proposal also endorsed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which the Arab League offered to recognize Israel’s 1967 borders and accept a two-state solution with the Palestinians. “The [Iranian] document,” Porter added, “also offered a ‘stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad, etc.) from Iranian territory’ and ‘pressure on these organizations to stop violent actions against civilians within borders of 1967.’ Finally it proposed ‘action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon.’”

In return, Iran asked for American help against anti-Iranian terrorists, an end to U.S. “hostile behavior,” and the termination of sanctions.

The Bush administration rejected the proposal and reprimanded Swiss diplomats for delivering it.

According to Muhammad Sahimi, an Iran expert at the University of Southern California, President Rouhani and his foreign minister, Muhammad Javad Zarif, “played key roles in the ‘grand bargain’ proposal.”

All that stands between America and Iran are those who are bent on war.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.