Moral equivalence is alive and well at Politico. Author and former New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer, who has gone off the conspiratorial deep-end before on U.S.-Iran relations, has a major piece at Politico entitled, “Is Iran Really so Evil?” Kinzer argues (not without reason) that the U.S. policy and opinion makers have never really gotten over the trauma of the 1979-1981 hostage crisis. To suggest, however, that the United States engages in “knee-jerk demonizing of Tehran” is unfair and inaccurate. Rather, it seems that Kinzer and, by extension, the editors at Politico engage in knee-jerk apologia for Iran.
Take, for example, his statement that: “Iran is the only country in the Middle East that is totally opposed to the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other terror gangs.” Let’s parse that for a moment.
Iran is the chief backer of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Before the United States began air strikes over Syria in 2014, the only air force conducting operations in Syria was Syria’s. Perhaps Kinzer could explain why the Iranian-backed regime did not bomb the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) capital at Raqqa?
He also might ask why the 9/11 Commission report found ample evidence of Iranian complicity with facilitating the travel of several of the hijackers to and from their al-Qaeda training camps. Nor did that relationship end in 2001. In subsequent years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the same group that stands to benefit disproportionately from the unfreezing of Iranian assets, has actively sheltered and protected senior al-Qaeda leaders and operatives.
What about other terror gangs? Perhaps Kinzer (and Politico) are trying a sleight-of-hand by playing with the definition of terrorism to exclude Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and any numbers of other groups that live off of Iranian largesse. They might, however, wish to consult the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism.
Simply put, there is no knee-jerk demonizing of Iran. Rather, there is a desire on the part of the broad swath of the American people to hold Iran to account for its actions, its terrorism, and its culpability in the deaths of hundreds of Americans over the past three and a half decades.
The most bizarre element of Kinzer’s essay is perhaps the final part:
My suitcase looks like most others, so like many experienced travelers, I have a way to recognize it on the baggage carousel. It has a large, colorful sticker with the legend, “Hotel Azadi, Tehran, Iran.” When I arrived, I had trouble finding my suitcase on the carousel. The sticker had been torn off, leaving just a sliver. Inside the suitcase was a card saying it had been inspected by the Transportation Security Administration. The inspector not only tore off my sticker but removed my alarm clock. I have no way of knowing whether this was just pilferage, or if that clock now being inspected for evidence that it is part of an Iran-related plot. What is clear, however, is that even a lowly TSA inspector feels called upon to rip anything with the word “Iran” off a suitcase. Events of the past week may slowly begin to erode the impulse that leads Americans to believe patriotism requires us to hate Iran.
If that’s the evidence that the United States and its various government agencies are irrational when it comes to Iran, then by the same standard we’re probably also irrational about Barbados, Italy, and New Zealand. After all, those stickers get torn off all the time. I’ve had my luggage inspected coming back from Germany, but I’m not sure that’s evidence that we have never let World War II go. And as for the alarm clock — as someone who has had stuff gone missing from my luggage before — here’s my advice to Kinzer and Politico from another experienced traveler: it’s just easier to use an iPhone or Blackberry as an alarm clock. But, if you unload the conspiracies, you might find your load even lighter.