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Donald Trump’s hostility to Iran is irrational and extremely dangerous

As someone with experience of writing about Russian affairs I have long since come to realise that there is little about the pathological hostility to Russia of so many elite people in the West is grounded in reality.

Like many people who think like me, I have sometimes wondered whether some of the highly intelligent and well informed people who profess this hostility actually believe all the terrible things they say about Russia.  I have gradually come round to the view that in many cases they don’t, since believing many of things they profess to believe about Russia in the face of so many publicly available facts that tell the contrary is simply impossible.  That means that in the West hostility to Russia is leavened by a great deal of cynicism.

I have come to exactly the same view about Western and specifically US hostility to Iran.  So much easily refutable nonsense is written about Iran that it beggars belief that all the people who say such terrible things about the country can truly believe all the terrible things they say.

It is therefore with dismay that I note that whilst President Trump seems refreshingly free of the hostility to Russia of so many elite people in the West, he seems to have bought into the hostility to Iran wholesale, and takes it even further than most.  I say this in light of these comments in his speech in Saudi Arabia yesterday

But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran.

From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.

It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.

Among Iran’s most tragic and destabilizing interventions have been in Syria. Bolstered by Iran, Assad has committed unspeakable crimes, and the United States has taken firm action in response to the use of banned chemical weapons by the Assad Regime – launching 59 tomahawk missiles at the Syrian air base from where that murderous attack originated.

Responsible nations must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, eradicate ISIS, and restore stability to the region.

The Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims are its own people. Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leaders’ reckless pursuit of conflict and terror.

Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.

These comments spoken in Riyadh invert reality.

Iran does give support to Hezbollah and has done so in the past to Hamas.  These are two organisations Trump identified in his speech – wrongly in my opinion – as terrorist organisations.

However the major terrorist organisations in the Middle East and elsewhere are not Hezbollah and Hamas, neither of which – whatever one’s views about them – engage in international terrorism or target Western citizens.  They are Al-Qaeda and ISIS, the two terrorist organisations Trump in his speech mostly talked about.

Iran does not support Al-Qaeda or ISIS, and it certainly doesn’t give “safe harbour, financial backing and social standing” to them.  On the contrary it is their unrelenting enemy, waging implacable war against them in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

What makes these comments even more outlandish is that in Iraq the US military is waging war on ISIS in de facto alliance with Iran, which supports the same Iraqi government the US is also supporting, whilst in Syria Hamas, identified by Trump together with Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation once also backed by Iran, now supports the armed opposition to President Assad, and opposes Iran.

By contrast Donald Trump’s Saudi hosts have not only supported and bankrolled Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the past, but as is well known to a great extent continue to do so still.  Back in August 2013 the then head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, openly bragged about the fact in a conversation with Russian President Putin.

As for Iran being “responsible for so much instability in the region”, it is the Saudis who along with Qatar have caused instability throughout the region by sponsoring the insurrectionary and terrorist movements which overthrew the government of Libya, and which are trying to overthrow the government of Syria.

In other words it is the Saudis not the Iranians who “fund, arm, and train terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region”.

In addition it bears repeating that though Iran has not invaded a single country throughout the post war history of the Middle East, it is Donald Trump’s Saudi friends who are currently invading and waging war on Yemen.

However possibly the single most grotesque comment of all in Trump’s speech was the one where he accused Iran of sectarianism.

Iran’s Islamic Republic openly defines itself as a Twelver Shi’a state.  However it recognises and regulates the practice of other faiths, including the practice of other interpretations of Islam, which it recognises as Muslim and which in Iran are given the protection of the law.  Here are the relevant provisions in Iran’s constitution

Article 11: According to the Qur’an: “Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood. And I am your Lord and cherisher: therefore serve me” (21: 92), all Muslims form a single nation and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is required to base its overall politics on the merging and unity of the Muslim nations. It must continuously strive to achieve the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Muslim world.

Article 12: The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja‘fari school of [shi‘ī] religion. This principle shall remain eternally unchangeable. Other Islamic schools of thought, such as the Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Maliki, Hanbali, and Zaydi, are deserving of total respect and their followers are free to perform their own religious practices, religious education, and personal matters. They may practice their religious education, personal status, (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and bequest), in accordance with their own jurisprudence. The dispute over these matters is recognized in the courts. In any area where followers of these schools of thought are in the majority, local regulations, within the domain of the council’s jurisdictions, are set according to that school of thought so long as the rights of the followers of other schools of religion are maintained.

By contrast Saudi Arabia is a Salafi Sunni theocratic monarchy which enforces the literalist interpretations of Islam associated with the eighteenth century Sunni Muslim scholar Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, and where the practice by religious minorities of alternative religions apart from Islam is prohibited and where the practice of Shi’a Islam is severely restricted.

To accuse Iran of religious sectarianism from Riyadh, the capital of the most sectarian of all Muslim states, in light of these facts is completely surreal.

It would be easy to say that Donald Trump does not really believe any of this, and that he is making these anti-Iranian comments out of cynical motives, in order to win over the Saudis to secure from them the massive military and economic deals he signed during his visit.

Unfortunately in Donald Trump’s case that is almost certainly wrong.  In interview after interview and in statement after statement, ever since he became President, Trump has made clear his hostility to Iran.  In his case there is no doubt he sincerely believes what he says, factually wrong and even absurd though it all is.

What makes all this even more dangerous is that on this issue unfortunately no one in his administration seems willing to stand up to Trump as his hostility to Iran appears to be well-nigh universally shared by the rest of the US elite.

In summary, it seems we have a President who compensates for his lack of hostility towards Russia by having an even more pronounced hostility towards Iran than is the American norm.

Not only is that alarming in itself, but it is impossible to see how that is going to secure the victory in the Middle East against Jihadi terrorism that he seeks.  Certainly it cannot make the Middle East a safer or more peaceful place.

What do you think?

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