Iranian and American Hardliners--More Alike Than You'd think

After reading this article about what Iranian hardliners are saying on social media, I was struck by how much the hardliners in Iran and the hardliners in the U.S. mirror each other and feed off each other. The hardliners in Iran (inadvertently) strengthen the hardliners in the U.S. by giving them something to point to and say, "See, we can't trust the Iranians--they are going to violate the JCPOA and build missiles that threaten us." Meanwhile, hardliners like John Bolton (inadvertently) give the Iranian hardliners something to point to and say, "See, we can't trust the Americans". The similarity between American and Iranian hardliners even extends to their alarm at our trade imbalances with China. Our hardliners and Iranian hardliners might actually get along if they took their collective heads out of their asses and tried--really tried-- to see things from each others' point of view. But if they were accustomed to trying to view the world from other countries' points of view they would probably not be hardliners in the first place. Here are some excerpts from the article, but I recommend reading the whole thing.

. . .This theme goes hand in hand with Iranians’ historical distrust of foreign powers. Hardliners like to point out that they and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the nation against trusting America and its partners, but that moderates and reformists nonetheless chose to negotiate away the country’s technological jewels.

Similarly, hardliners draw on their country’s recent anti-ISIS campaigns to push for a stronger stance against foreign powers, arguing that it is Iran’s military might, not its willingness to sit at the negotiating table, that has earned it the influence it enjoys throughout the region today. The social media accounts also tell Iranians that if their country had not sent troops to Syria and Iraq, Iran would have succumbed to ISIS just as their neighbors have. They justify Iranian support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria by tying their presence in those countries to national security, and noting that foreign powers whose territories are far from the Middle East are also involved there. The Instagram post below points out that there are Australian troops serving in Iraq even though the distance between the two nations is significant and events in Iraq don’t directly affect Australia’s security. The meme aims to legitimize Iran’s presence in Yemen, noting that those arguing that Yemen—unlike Syria—isn’t home to any holy sites for Shias, must understand that their country’s involvement in that theater is about national security.

The hardliners also argue that Iran must deter foreign powers and non-state actors using military might, rather than by making more concessions. The accounts often draw on lessons from the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), using that experience to argue that Iran can only rely on itself. In the next post, which is making the rounds on Instagram, the poster echoes Khamenei’s claim that Iran must fight adversaries outside its borders or see its own streets turn into battlefields. The meme aims to justify the regime’s controversial support for various terrorist and insurgent groups throughout the region, including Lebanese Hezbollah, the Shia militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. In response to critics who note that supporting these groups costs Iran dearly, the post says that contrary to popular belief, Iran’s non-state allies don’t just benefit from the country’s support, financing, and supply of weapons. These groups also serve as the nation’s “shield,” which allows it to defend itself outside its own territory, according to the post. . . .

Sixth, hardliners criticize Rouhani for claiming that the nuclear agreement would dissuade the United States and Israel from targeting Iran. They believe that only military might—not negotiations —can deter such threats, as the post below suggests. The poster argues that “Iran will be attacked soon” and points to the recent appointment of John Bolton, the mega-hawk and avid advocate for regime change in Iran, as US National Security Advisor. . . .

In fact, a frequent message on hardline social media is that the nuclear deal, far from ending the sanctions regime, actually led to more sanctions against Iran. As they explain it, the Europeans are now imposing new sanctions against Tehran in order to appease Trump and push him to preserve the JCPOA. This, the hardliners argue, demonstrates the futility of the agreement and the incoherence of Rouhani’s foreign and security policy. Ultimately, Iran loses out and, as the post below says, “the fruits of the JCPOA are collected not by Iran… but by America.”

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