Republicans and Iranians Have More in Common Than You Think


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March 13, 2015 16:07 EDT

The GOP and Iranian hard-liners have a great deal in common, as Juan Cole explains.

On March 9, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Iran, warning that any agreement only signed by US President Barack Obama might not last any longer than his last day in office.

This intervention of the Senate in a foreign policy matter is not, as some observers are saying, “unprecedented.” Congress refused to ratify the treaty presented to it by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, which involved joining the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations). In the late 19th century, as Arthur Schleslinger Jr. pointed out in a Foreign Affairs article in 1972, the Senate for 20 years declined to ratify any treaty at all, and contemporary observers became convinced that it would never do so again.

Of course, there is a difference between refusing to sign off on a president’s treaty and inserting the legislature into the negotiation directly, while it is going on.

President Obama objected, saying: “I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition.”

And, of course, Obama is correct that the right-wing of the Republican Party has things in common with hard-liners in Iran.

1) Many Republicans in Congress oppose abortion even in case of rape or incest. As I observed in a classic  Salon article years ago, that puts the GOP right (exemplified by Sarah Palin) in the company of the clerical Guardianship Council in Iran:

“Palin’s stance is even stricter than that of the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2005, the legislature in Tehran attempted to amend the country’s antiabortion statute to permit an abortion up to four months in case of a birth defect. The conservative clerical Guardianship Council, which functions as a sort of theocratic senate, however, rejected the change. Iran’s law on abortion is therefore virtually identical to the one that Palin would like to see imposed on American women, and the rationale in both cases is the same, a literalist religious impulse that resists any compromise with the realities of biology and of women’s lives.”

2) Many Republicans in Congress say they do not believe in evolution. Actually in this regard they are closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran. Evolutionary theory is taught in Iranian school textbooks. But the textbooks carefully avoid discussing human evolution — very likely out of fear that it would prompt a backlash from Shiite fundamentalists. Ironically, the same compromise is made in Israeli schooling, for fear of the orthodox.

3) Both the GOP and Iranian hard-liners have a fascination with foreign military entanglements. Republicans in Congress mostly say that President Obama is at fault for withdrawing US troops from Iraq in December 2011, and that he should have kept a division in that country. (They ignore that the Iraqi parliament refused to allow the troops to remain, and that George W. Bush had failed to gain such an agreement.)

Iranian hard-liners also see a national interest in having troops in Iraq, and special operations forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been detailed to stiffen the resolve of the Iraqi army and to coordinate with Shiite militias. Ironically, since President Obama sent 3,000 US troops back into Iraq as advisers and established a command, both the Republicans and the Iranian hard-liners have gotten their wish of forces stationed in Iraq. And ironically, the two are de facto allies in the current struggle against the Islamic State, though neither side would admit it.

4) Many congressional Republicans are strong partisans of nuclear energy and dismiss environmental concerns about nuclear waste. The hard-liners in Iran have insisted on expanding Iran’s system of civilian nuclear reactors and enriching fuel for them in-country. Some ten reactors are now planned.

5) Both the US GOP and the Iranian hard-liners are opposed to the P5+1 (permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) negotiations over Iran’s enrichment program. The Republicans want the unrealistic goal of no enrichment by Iran. The Iran hard-liners want enrichment without international restraints, though they say they do not want a nuclear weapon. Rather, they are functioning as nationalists, insisting that Iran is an independent country and has every right to do what South Korea and Japan do every day.

Like the GOP hard-liners, the Iran hard-liners have tried on several occasions to derail the negotiations. Last fall, they accused President Hassan Rouhani of being too accommodating of the “American wolf,” saying he needed to speak to Washington “from a position of strength.” Friday prayer leaders slammed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for taking a walk in Vienna with US Secretary of State John Kerry, saying he was way too friendly with an official of a country that backed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in his eight-year aggressive war on Iran in the 1980s.

So, President Obama is perfectly right: The GOP and Iranian hard-liners have a great deal in common. Only, the Iran hard-liners don’t deny global warming.

*[This article was originally published on Juan Cole’s blog, Informed Comment.]

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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