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When It Comes to Iran, Say “No” to Appeasement

(Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“Without an enemy to demonize, the Islamic Republic would have to answer for its many and grave failures.”

Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran elevated a tyrant over its people, its leadership has turned to blackmail and violence to project power. This has often taken the form of hostage diplomacy. Readers will recall how Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolutionaries besieged the United States embassy in Tehran in 1979, holding American civil servants and diplomats at gunpoint so that the budding Islamic Republic could assert dominance over a global superpower. Little has changed today, and the West’s inability to address Iran’s villainous tendencies has allowed for its ideologues to stand strong in the belief that our respect for the rule of law (and desire to operate within its scope) is a weakness to be exploited.

A promoter of terror and fomenter of chaos, Iran has towered as a grand executioner. Real pushback has been limited, and the West has largely failed to curb the regime’s hegemonic ambitions. Driven by an unquenchable thirst for conquest, the Islamic Republic is not a regime we can appease. Our gravest mistake, or rather that of our diplomatic representatives, has been to imagine that terror can be tamed and authoritarianism democratized.

Iran today, just as it did in decades past, stands for institutionalized theofascism. No treaty or accord will dampen Iran’s ideological determination. And why would it when criminality has served its interests far better than normalization with Western capitals? Many will argue, of course, that Iran’s pitiful economic health stands testimony to the fact that sanctions have been effective, that pushing Tehran to the very fringe of the international community has suffocated its regime. I beg to differ.

It is the Iranian people who have suffered most from the sanctions. They have watched their economy contract and their purchasing power be eroded–so much so that millions have been pushed into poverty. Trapped within the borders of a country whose government aims to subjugate them, Iranians have paid the price for its leadership’s political folly and chronic mismanagement. All the while, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s men have exploited “isolation” to legitimize their anti-Western narrative, forever rationalizing their belligerence by framing their politics within a story of resistance.

Iran’s regime cannot claim holiness without pinning its faults onto its enemies. When all can be blamed on the Great Satan and his acolyte (the United States of America and Israel, respectively), there is no responsibility to be had and no obligation to be met. Poverty, pollution, drought, electricity cuts, medicine shortages, rampant inflation, high unemployment, poor public services have all been blamed on Western heresy. Our capitals have given Tehran the gift of martyrdom. And what a pulpit that is to stand upon when the very essence of one’s ideology is that of resistance against the oppressor. Without an enemy to demonize, the Islamic Republic would have to answer for its many and grave failures.

Our most significant failure is conceptual. We have missed the proverbial elephant in the room by misunderstanding what motivates the regime. To be clear, it desires to rule with self-righteous despotism first over the Islamic world and, secondly, over all that light touches. Iran does not care about foreign validation or acceptance into the “global community.” In fact, its pursuit of global dominance forbids it. Still, for decades we have been nursed ourselves to sleep with the belief that our calls for peace would one day herald an era of integration and realignment. We convinced ourselves that through a policy of both containment and appeasement, democracy would rise victorious. It will not because it cannot.

Iran’s very trajectory tells us without any ambiguity that a confrontation is inevitable–at least if we care to stand on the principles which animate and sustain our democracies. Our very survival demands that we meet the mortal danger that is Iran’s revolutionary project with clarity and determination—the same clarity that allowed men like former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and former American President Franklin Roosevelt to oppose Nazi Germany. How many more red lines will we allow Iran to trample over before we realize that the Rubicon has not only been crossed but absolutely drained? How many more hostages will we tolerate Iran imprisoning before we recall our diplomats and admit that war has long ago been declared against our sovereign rights?

A report by Bloomberg earlier this month put it plainly: “Just last month, Tehran threatened to hang a Swedish-Iranian and arrested a Swedish tourist as a Stockholm district court deliberated in a case implicating a high-ranking member of the Iranian regime in war crimes. That same week, Iran arrested a French couple ahead of a European Union envoy’s visit to Tehran pressing the regime on nuclear negotiations. Sweden and France have warned their citizens against traveling to Iran.” The Islamic Republic of Iran is a foe, not a potential partner one must court, or a nation to assuage.

Catherine Perez-Shakdam is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a journalist who has extensively covered Iran.

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