Trump to Iranian People: Drop Dead

by John Limbert

The shameful episode of Trump’s January 27 executive order and Muslim travel ban has turned on its head decades of American messages about Iran. This step—apparently the brainchild of the “torturer’s apprentice” Steve Bannon—has been a bizarre reversal of America’s policy. We now say nothing about the Islamic Republic’s government but express our public disdain for its people.

For better or worse, until 2009 American official statements about Iran were full of kind words about the Iranian people and their great culture and full of denunciations of the government that (mis)ruled them. The message to Iranians was: “We love you, but we hate your regime.” From some quarters the corollary was, “We love you so much we may have to bomb you. But don’t worry. The bombs will just prove how much we love you.”

As could be expected, such words failed to persuade the Islamic Republic to stop following hostile policies or mistreating its citizens, particularly its women and intellectuals. Nor did this song inspire ordinary Iranians to pour into the streets and overthrow the theocracy. The best that could be said about such a message is that it let American officials indulge in what President Obama aptly called “the satisfying [and futile] purity of indignation.”

Beginning with his Nowruz (Persian New Year’s) greeting of March 2009, President Obama changed the American message into something more productive that also recognized reality. When he said, “I want to speak directly to the people and government of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he was abandoning the old formula and trying something new. He was saying in effect: “We still love you, the Iranian people, and admire your great culture. I will even quote some poetry from your beloved Sa’adi. Whatever we think of your govern­ment, we are not going to delude ourselves that it is going to disap­pear soon or waste any more breath on useless denunciations. Like or dislike each other, we have things to talk about.”

This new approach first caught the Iranians off balance. To American condemnations they knew well how to respond and had been doing so for decades. To this new mes­sage they had no answer. For four years, between 2009 and 2013, the Iranians could not take “yes” for an answer. In meetings had nothing to say and, knowing they had nothing to say, spent their time avoiding talking with their American counterparts.

Donald Trump’s misguided executive order officially applies to citizens of seven countries. Iranians are most affected, however, because of their large population, the size of their community in the United States and because of that community’s frequent international travel. It also sends a message that contradicts what Obama and his predecessors were saying. Now the message is: “We don’t care about your appalling government. Instead we will now punish you for being Iranian.”

In this strange world of alternative facts, keeping out the Iranian scientist, the business­person, the professor, the Oscar-winning film director, the grandparent, and the child now somehow becomes a means to keep Americans safe. Compounding the damage is the obvious hypocrisy of claiming that the order is not a ban on Muslims’ entry. Such statements only insult a world audience by assuming it is so stupid that it would believe such an obvious untruth.

John Limbert served 34 years in the Foreign Service, including 14 months as a hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran and as a senior state department official responsible for Iranian affairs.  He has recently authored Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History for the US Institute of Peace. Photo of DC demonstration against travel ban by Stephen Melkisethian via Flickr.

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  1. Trump’s clumsy, ignorant and seriously stupid attitude toward Iran and its people is fully worthy of condemnation. Bravo.

  2. “such words failed to persuade the Islamic Republic to stop following hostile policies or mistreating its citizens, particularly its women and intellectuals.”

    As always, the USA in its conceit and “exceptionalism” has to interfere with other SOVEREIGN nations while it has the biggest incarcerated population in the world, police powers unworthy of a democracy, constant invasion of other lands by military force, threats and bribes and a government and “legal system” including the SCOTUS, run by corporations and influential rich lobbies.

    Iran has abided by the JCPOA and has been shamefully treated by the USA for decades. Give it a chance, as all the other signatories want and are taking advantage of.

    THINK of that, and Great America, Mr President.

  3. @ “… such words failed to persuade the Islamic Republic to stop following hostile policies or mistreating its citizens, particularly its women and intellectuals.”

    Anytime the U.S. government starts talking about mistreatment of citizens in foreign lands, my B.S. detector sounds off. Surely there is no government on Earth that is more indifferent to the human rights of foreign nationals.

    The reality is that Iranians have never been forgiven by the diplomats at Foggy Bottom for taking back their government in 1979 after the CIA and British SIS overthrew the Iranian government in 1953. The U.S. frowns deeply upon nations that nationalize their oil industries.

    And the U.S. moves strongly to protect its loyal vassals, such as Qatar, which was threatened economically by Iranian plans to construct a pipeline together with Iraq and Syria to transport natural gas from the South Pars / North Dome condensate gas field to European markets. That field straddles Iran and Qatar and Qatar wants a monopoly on the sale of that gas. So the U.S. instigated a salafist mercenary war against Iraq and later in Syria while Israel’s ultra-right wing politicos began peddling the myth of Iranian nuclear weapons in support of their drive for the U.S. to go to war against Iran. “Anyone can go to Baghdad; real men go to Tehran,” said the Bush II neocon policymakers.

    Despite the position of Mossad, the IDF, and the consensus position of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran had neither nuclear weapons nor plans to acquire them, the U.S. pushed the Iranian nukes myth at the U.N., obtaining a Security Council resolution condemning Iran’s development of peaceful nuclear power in line with what is allowed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement (“NNPA”), leading eventually to the JCPOA that makes Iran a special case, no longer permitted to do what other nations are allowed to do under the NNPA.

    Any writer to fails to address such facts and instead gripes about Iran’s “mistreatment” of its citizens is either peddling propaganda or is very poorly informed.

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