Arguments That Don’t Get Better With Time

Defending recent suggestions that National Iranian American Council director Trita Parsi is an instrument of Iran, Reihan Salaam doubles down on one of the hoariest of hoary old conservative foreign policy arguments:

[W]hile Parsi is undoubtedly a believer in democratic liberalism who wants to see Iran radically reform its institutions, he objectively serves Iranian interests insofar as he discourages Western efforts to exert pressure on the regime. This doesn’t make Parsi a bad person. Plenty of Iranian dissidents believe that a democratic Iran should have a nuclear deterrent. Plenty want a denuclearized Iran, yet believe that Western pressure amounts to a kind of imperialism that should be actively resisted. This isn’t that complicated.

Iran doesn’t have an actual AIPAC. Instead, there is a loose network of policy scholars, activists, think tanks, civil servants, etc., who strongly oppose a forward-leaning U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf for a wide, sometimes overlapping variety of reasons. Some of these people have a real financial interest in a better relationship between Washington and Qom [sic], but most don’t. On some issues, members of this loose network get important things right. A lot of realists have raised important questions about the efficacy of sanctions, and they are right to do so. But it’s also true that these voices help today’s Iran. The Iranians among them have added credibility.

Remember when people who opposed the Iraq war — that is, the people who turned out to be right — were accused of being “objectively pro-Saddam”? They didn’t want the U.S. to invade Iraq, and neither did Saddam!


By this reasoning, those in favor of the Iraq war — that is, those who supported what I guess Reihan defines as “a forward-leaning U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf” — “objectively served Iran’s interests” insofar as the war removed Iran’s most hated foe and produced an Iraqi government dominated by Iran’s Shia Islamist clients. This isn’t that complicated. But it is very, very silly.

What is complicated, however, is answering the question of whose interests in Iran, exactly, would be served by further sanctions, or undermined by continued engagement. Reihan writes about “Iran” as if it were one group of people with one set of interests, but of course this is not the case, especially post-June 12.

For example, it’s pretty clear that the gasoline sanctions bill currently wending its way through Congress would hurt the Iranian people while benefiting the Revolutionary Guardsmen who control large portions of the Iranian black market. Does this make all of those who voted for and support the bill objectively pro-IRGC? I doubt anyone would say so. “Objectively pro-Evildoer X” arguments tend to apply only to those who don’t believe that “a forward-leaning U.S. policy” has to necessarily entail unilateral escalation and confrontation.