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Biden staffer thinks US, not Iran, should change behavior
Senior State Department advisor “explains Iranian thinking,” lobbies for it
Ariane Tabatabai, a Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, is in a position to influence one of the most sensitive issues on US foreign policy: The nuclear deal with Iran. Shortly before President Joe Biden appointed her, Tabatabai published a book to “explain” Iran’s “psyche” and collective thinking.
Tabatabai argued that the policies of Iran’s Islamist regime are not an aberration, but rather a continuation of two centuries of Iranian thinking and policy-making. Therefore, Washington should not try to change Iranian behavior, but should — instead — change US policy on Iran. Tabatabai’s argument is identical to Tehran’s policy and the statements given by officials of the Iran regime.
That President Biden appointed someone whose vision for America’s foreign policy aligns with that of the Iranian regime, should be a cause of alarm for many. Some Americans who have been paying attention to Tabatabai’s arguments dismiss them as naive. But naive can be also dangerous.
While researching for her book, Tabtabai visited Iran and interviewed regime officials. Such trips are another red flag. The Iranian regime does bans entry to Iranian-Americans who oppose the Islamist government, and only grant it to Iranian-Americans with a proven record of amicability toward the mullahs. Tehran understands the value of rewarding loyal Iranian exiles, by allowing them entry and access to top officials, while punishing Iranian-Americans who call for a democratic Iran, mainly by keeping them away, at times harassing them on social media or even trying to assassinate them in European cities.
In her book, Tabatabai argues that what the mindset of the Iranian regime indicates, “is perhaps bad news for many observers, particularly those who hope to see a different Iran, one governed by a more reasonable leadership.” Clearly, Tabatabi does not count herself with those who want to see a more reasonable Iran. She argues that even with regime change and a democratic Iranian government, Tehran’s policies, that “observers (apparently not herself) find so troubling, would not cease.”
Therefore, by taking into account that Iranian policies will never change, Tabatabai wants “scholars and policymakers” to gain “a fuller and richer understanding of Iran today, (which) can help Western governments formulate policies that adequately address the challenges posed by, and seize the opportunities stemming from, one of the most critical players” in the Middle East.
But while Tabatabai writes a book that she thinks is objective, in reality, the book oozes of nationalist Iranian chauvinism and unawareness of the history of the region and the world.
Tabatabai endorses the Iranian narrative, arguing that Tehran’s anxiety and fear of foreign intervention are responsible for the regime’s “seemingly” troublesome behavior. In this narrative, Iran is imagined as a monolithic nation that is 2,500 years old. But Iran weakened, and foreign powers — such as Russia to the North and Britain (later America) — grasped the opportunity to win economic concessions inside Iran, while also dismembering the country and annexing parts of it.
This narrative is nationalist propaganda, not history. Iran is not nearly as old as imagined. True there were Iranian dynasties like the Achaemnids (650-330 BCE), the Arsacids (247BCE to 224 CE) and the Sassanids (224-651 CE), but by the time the Arabs dominated the region, Persian dynasties vanished and only resurfaced a millennium later. Even then, these Persian Sufi orders created states that barely covered the whole territory of modern day Iran. They tried to compete with the neighboring Ottoman Empire, and thus engaged in the global competition over global trade routes, especially the ones that connected Europe to India.
Starting the sixteenth century, England was locked in a competition with Spain and France. The Ottoman Empire, whose territory covered the land bridge that connected part of the bottleneck on the way to India, allied with England against Spain and France, who were the rivals of the Ottomans in the Mediterranean. Other European powers searched for alternative routes to India, and Persia gained prominence as a possible bridge between to India, through Russia, hence why, England and Russia locked horns over controlling Iran, while the successive Iranian dynasties tried to play the world’s powers against one another to gain advantage for Iran. This geopolitical race the Iranian regime, and Tabatabai, call “foreign intervention” in Iranian affairs.
Like the Ottoman Empire, Iran found itself closer to Germany in both WWI and WWII, when London decided to force the abdication of the first Pahlavi king, allowing his son, Mohamed Reza, the last king before the 1979 revolution, to succeed him.
But while Iran played the game of nations, as a weak player — just like the Ottoman Empire aka the Sick Man of Europe — both Turkish and Iranian rules tried to catch up with the West, mainly through modernization, a process that sets traditional circles of power against the rising modernizers. Clashes ensured and Conservatives prevailed, telling from the present time in both Iran and Turkey. Modernizers were ejected in both Muslim nations, and Iran today looks like Medieval nation that refuses to play by the rules of the world order. Only Tabatabai seems unaware of this.
Blaming foreign powers for domestic ills has proven to be a potent tool in deflecting local rage and redirecting it against other countries, and the Islamist Iranian regime has perfected this tactic, often by blaming America, imperialism, colonialism and the White Man, arguing that preserving the old ways — i.e. failing to modernize — is the best way of self reliance and immunity against foreign diktats and intervention.
Imperialism and colonialism did not start with European Enlightenment, but with the dawn of civilization. In fact the Iranian Achaemenids were among the earliest colonials in history. Colonization has been one of the tools of evolution of human civilizations: Better sciences, languages and traditions prevail and replace ineffective ones. The civilization of each race is formed of layers of interaction with others civilizations, whether through war and peace or trade and colonialism.
But Tabatabai borrows the narrative of the Iranian regime, which in turn borrows it from anti-colonial Marxist literature of the last century. While Tehran uses anti-colonialism to blame its own failure on the West, Tabatabai uses it to make America blame itself, rather than Iran, for Iranian failure.
Tabatabai and the rest of the “De-Colonization” crowd better read more and understand that history started way before the White Man, and that while colonialism went awry at times, it is not the source of all ills in today’s global politics, and certainly not responsible for the rogue behavior of the Iranian regime.