Iran: A Legacy of Failure

“We focused especially on Iran, the worst offender. The downsides of an attack on Iran, to… everyone’s regret, outweighed how much Iran deserved punishment. We pointed out that failure to… hit Iran would ensure that Iranian-sponsored terrorism would continue and even grow…”

The above is a quote from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, describing the deliberations that were conducted between the CIA and Department of Defense regarding the growing threat of Iranian aggression and the proven, acknowledged culpability of the Islamic Republic for a series of terrorist acts against the West in general and the United States in particular. He proceeds thereafter to detail the general reluctance of the CIA to recommend any course of action which might entail direct military conflict with Iran, for fear of escalation and the collateral damage suffered by Iranian civilians. However, aware of the need to show decisiveness toward the threat of militant Islam, the CIA recommended an alternate approach: choose another target, similarly deserving but less risky, to serve as a straw man by which America might show its commitment to deterring state-sponsored terrorism. After careful consideration, it was decided that Libya served as a perfect fit for the model American policymakers had in mind. He writes, “[B]ecause it was in the poorest position to sustain itself against U.S. actions— military or economic— it became the target for U.S. retaliation against all state-sponsored terrorism.” The year was 1986. Gates was serving in the CIA and it was President Reagan who had commissioned the study on what courses of action were open to America in response to the growing and still-undeciphered threat of anti-Western militancy in the Middle East.

The history of American foreign policy toward Iran since 1979 has been a tragic spectacle of denial, evasion, inversion, and moral default. On a November morning of that year, when fifty-two US citizens were taken captive at the embassy in Tehran, America froze in the face of its own moral uncertainty. It had been since World War II that our military was used as a means of securing our own self-interest and the protection of our citizens. Since that time, the nature of American foreign policy had become an ever-more unprincipled global dance between America and the major communist powers of Soviet Russia and China. The taking of hostages in Tehran constituted the first initiation of force against the United States since Pearl Harbor. Given a chance to redeem our military policy after two decades of misuse, America hesitated. That hesitation cost the abductees 444 days of captivity and brutality. It cost the United States the humiliation of witnessing, concretized before it, the self-effacing nature of the foreign policy which it had come to embrace. Rejecting the inaction of Carter’s administration and enthused at the prospect of putting Ronald Reagan’s principled condemnation of totalitarianism into action, America sought a change in leadership. As the beginning passage demonstrated, however, even in the face of the 1983 assault on the Marine barracks in Beirut, carried out with Iranian-supplied explosives, producing the “largest non-nuclear explosion that had ever been detonated on the face of the Earth,” and killing 241 soldiers in an instant, satisfaction would not come. Six presidential administrations, countless deaths, and over thirty years later, justice has not come.

Over the last ten years, under the leadership of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran has played an incalculable role in the United States’ wars in the Middle East. It has initiated a proxy war by acting as arms supplier, financier, and safe house for every militant faction which has fought the U.S. military and its allies. Through its relations with Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and various Kurdish and Shiite groups within Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has fuelled the beginning of a new era of Islamic fundamentalism in the very countries which the US has so ineffectively sought to reform. Where once those groups were unofficial and shrouded, having to cloak their relations to their state sponsors, they now stand in the open as legitimately recognized political parties, beholden to the never-distant hand of Tehran. Iran has been the leading voice of hatred and condemnation of Israel and the West and has, in recent years, blatantly and with only token excuses, pursued the enrichment of materials for the creation of nuclear weapons— adding teeth to its infamous threats against Israel and “the Great Satan”, the United States. Any one of these acts should, by the rational standards of a free and self-interested— as the United States used to be and ought to be— nation, constitute grounds for war. Viewed in the context of over three decades of continual assault against our military, journalists, and general civilian population, it grows more difficult by the year to explain not openly and actively pursuing the dismantling of the Iranian regime. Fortunately, while there are those leaders who will, whether by evasion or default, fail to assert the nature of the conflict and the remedies it requires, there are just as surely those who, though slow to accept evident truths, will, in a time of crisis, rise to the occasion. Such has been the case in the IAEA.

This past week, in response to a report elucidating and confirming attempts to cultivate nuclear weapons, the IAEA censured Iran with the overwhelming support of 32 of its 35 member nations, with Cuba and Ecuador opposing and Indonesia abstaining. Shameful though it is that such vehement condemnation of dictatorships is rare in the UN, one cannot help, at such a moment, but feel proud of that body. The UN, however, has always been limited by the divisiveness of its constituent members, an unceasing will to appease, the lack of an objective and rational morality, and a crippling pacifism at its root that forbids the effective and timely use of its peacekeeping forces. Despite sometimes coming through with a vocal condemnation, censure, and sanctions, it has ultimately come to look to the United States to act as its strong arm in any military action against violent dictatorships. If current signals prove true, that may be a forlorn hope in the escalating situation with a potentially nuclear Iran.

The prospect of legitimate military conflict is, no doubt, a daunting one for any leader— all the more so for one whose election to office was founded largely upon an indiscriminate repudiation of American military action in the Middle East. By the time President Obama entered office, he had vowed removal of U.S. forces from the region without stipulation or conditional goals and proposed the initiation of diplomatic talks with Iranian leadership without preconditions, a striking approach to a nation that to this day maintains memorials to the suicide bombers who murdered American soldiers and citizens. Since that time, faced with the unbending facts of reality, the president has been made to alter his expressed policies time and again. The anti-war candidate has become the president whose standards for military involvement have been entirely devoid of rationality or American self-interest. The US exit from Afghanistan and Iraq has been paired with an active engagement in Libya, where we have assisted in the replacement of a— no doubt evil— dictator who was funneling to the US classified information on other Islamic totalitarian states and inexplicable adventures into central Africa to train militias and shape the politics of a region whose fate could not possibly hold the sort of bearing on American safety as does the Middle East. Principles, lost or never had, have been replaced entirely by the short-range political convenience of treating NATO and the American military as altruistic, armed welfare initiatives.

It is thus unsurprising to witness the hesitation that such a leader shows when faced with the prospect of a genuine struggle for American principles. One could not ask to witness a greater reluctance to make a stand, nor a more thorough denial of evident truths than has been shown in his response to the growing crisis. It has become clearer that, were it not for the mounting pressures affected by the popular and international recognition of the increased threat of Iranian aggression, our president would be contented to abide the problem until such time as its immediacy made avoidance more politically inconvenient than assertion and decisiveness. As a result of the political confliction of this administration, despite the decades-long trail of evidence provided by our own intelligence services, President Obama (ever the internationalist) has relucted to act until pursuance by the UN made evasion an untenable course of action. Viewed in the context of Iran’s proven history of aggression, the fact that we are only now enacting sanctions against it is a shameful mark against this country’s integrity and will for self-preservation. The fact that, once initiated, our actions have been so visibly uncertain and politically-driven, with Al-Jazeera reporting that “the Obama administration is looking for ways to narrowly target any sanctions that may touch on the Iranian central bank partly to forestall what are seen as much more far-reaching proposals in Congress,” says that no action yet taken by this administration has been founded on a rational evaluation of the crisis’ gravity and time schedule. Of what value and what measure of conviction are arbitrary and indirect pronouncements by the Pentagon of our inventory and sales of bunker-buster bombs when, in the past few months, Iran has attempted the bombing of a Saudi diplomat on American soil and announced its intention to send warships toward America’s eastern coastline and to circle the Gulf of Mexico? Granted, the prospect of such a venture would be disastrous for the crew of a few Iranian destroyers, unaided and thousands of miles from home, but it is precisely that unfathomable mismatch of America’s military power and that of our enemy that makes our continual noncommittal all the more offensive to observe.

In the face of such unreason, it must be said that this week has witnessed the emergence of a moral crime at work as heinous as any before it. Ever more conscious of the impending threat of Iran’s nuclear advancements, Israel has reportedly begun arming and preparing itself for a coming conflict. Leaked reports suggest that Britain has its own plans for bombing Iran should a conflict commence. And yet, the long-hailed enemy of tyrants, the United States, has not only been reluctant to advance any such efforts of its own, it has actively striven to deter Israel from an act of self-defense on the grounds that the ensuing war would be detrimental to the world economy. Disregarding for now the ways that such a belief would contradict the president’s Keynesian economic foundations and that theory’s historic predilections for war as an economic panacea, the fact that the United States would tell its only ally in that region of the world, surrounded and threatened by some of the world’s most savage and barbaric oppressors, to forego its own defense for the good of the world economy and— perhaps worse— saddle it with future criticism and blame for the symptoms of a crisis formed and exacerbated by the immoral philosophy of statists in this country and around the world is an act which places President Obama and his administration beyond redemption. There may be no moral crime more grievous than self-immolation save, in the wake of that injustice, using the remnants of one’s flagging strength to pressure another to follow in that example.

If America is to long endure as a haven of individual rights, there is no task more primary to that course than to uphold and embrace a foreign policy that defends its citizens from the threat of foreign aggressors. Iran has embraced its role as just such an aggressor for thirty-two years this month. Beyond a reasonable doubt, it has posited itself as an enemy of America in the most fundamental of senses— decrying those life-embracing values that are the cause of America’s successes and denying them to its own citizens, who are driven to escape or made to live in a state of perpetual fear from the brutal irrationality of their leaders. It has chosen force over mind, dogma over reason, oppression over freedom, and perpetual war over the prospect of peace. It has accepted every act of appeasement and yielded nothing in kind. As the spearhead of Islamic totalitarianism, it has set itself to the task of a systematic assault on Western civilization. The tragedy is that it is winning. The point of hope is that, in light of the astounding mismatch of its strength and abilities to our own, America need only return to those principles which she was devised to protect to find the strength and direction to oppose those who seek to undo her. In the words of John Galt,

“I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed     for evil to win—and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to     withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word     in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was ‘No.’”

As addendum, I have listed a small sampling of the attacks against civilians and soldiers perpetrated by the government of Iran. It is tragically incomplete, as any such list must be, but let there be added to it, in spirit, the names of those— American, Iranian, or otherwise— whose deaths, by the subversion and cowardice of that enemy, will never be claimed.*

– 63 victims of the American embassy bombing (April 18,1983)
– 241 U.S. Marines, 56 French soldiers in the bombing of the U.S. Marines HQ  (October 23, 1983)
– Malcolm Kerr, president of the American University in Beirut (drive-by shooting, 1984)
– William Buckley, CIA station chief (abducted and killed, 1984)
– Abdol Rahman Qassemlo, Gen. Sec., Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (July 13, 1989)
– Kazen Rahavi (Switzerland, April 24, 1990)
– Hitushi Igarashi, scholar, translator of Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” (July 11, 1993)
– Muhammad Hussein Naghdi, representative of the National Opposition Council in Italy (the     umbrella organization of the Iranian regime’s Opposition) (March 16, 1993)
– William Nygaard, Norwegian publisher of “The Satanic Verses” (survived assassination attempt,     October 11, 1993)
– 19 American victims of the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran (June 25, 1996)
– The unnamed student protestors who lost their lives in the 2009-2010 demonstrations

Total: 329

*If you are aware of others who should be added to this list, please include them in the comments to this article and I will adjust this count as I am able to confirm them.


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