By John L. Chapman

A way forward for Iran 

September 15, 2019 - 18:17

 In a recent series of interviews from Tehran that included a detailed conversation with Iran’s world-beating Foreign Minister and JCPOA architect Javad Zarif, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt had his most telling moment with Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, the Rouhani government’s 37-year old Minister of Information and Communications Technology (Minister Jahromi is the first Iranian government executive born after the 1979 Revolution). While discussing his belief in the power of social media and his own prolific use of Twitter, the millennial Mr. Jahromi admitted to Holt that the Tehran government was not as effective with modern communications or messaging as it needed to be in the interconnected 24/7 world, due to needless restrictions on the new-era social apps. 

For example, in 2017-18 Tehran’s judiciary banned the popular Telegram messaging service [at one time perhaps 60% of the entire population of Iran were using the Telegram app], something President Rouhani himself labeled as "the direct opposite of democracy." Mr. Jahromi concurs with this, asserting that such restrictions are counterproductive, and undermine Iran's political and economic interests.    

"We have to admit the fact that we have weakness in this field," Jahromi said. And then, when asked by Holt if Iran was losing the "propaganda war," the young communications czar said: "Yes, we have lost it."

In other words, while the United States and Israeli governments are relentlessly blasting Iran via vacuous and deeply mendacious throw-away lines such as “Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,” Iran, says the astute Mr. Jahromi, has not effectively countered this false thesis with an effective rebuttal campaign that could indeed be propelled by social media.

The good news for Iran is, in spite of whatever shortcomings in Tehran’s messaging, the American people are broadly opposed to any conflict with Iran and do not support any Trump-led efforts toward war. According to a recent Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey, 57 percent of voters opposed “military confrontation with Iran” unless Iran first attacked the United States. Only five percent of respondents wanted the United States to “declare war on Iran,” and indeed, 78 percent of voters approved of Trump’s decision to call off any retaliatory strike after Iran downed an unmanned U.S. Air Force RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone earlier this summer.

The bad news for Iran is, the American people seem not to understand the effect or rationale for sanctions on Tehran, and certainly not even 2 Americans in every 100 know much of anything about the history of American meddling there, let alone that it dates at least to 1953.  Most Americans are utterly oblivious of any part, let alone the entirety, of a long record of cruel American actions against Iranian citizens across time. But this record is long and despicable, alas, and includes, among other things, support of a repressive regime; an asset freeze and economic blockade; aid for an unprovoked Iraqi invasion against Iran in a horrific war that included Saddam Hussein’s deployment of American-supplied chemical weapons against Iranian troops and civilians; the shoot-down of Iran Air Flight #655; and ultimately, more sanctions, cyber-warfare attacks such as the Stuxnet virus, and assistance with Israeli moves against Iran that have included assassinations of innocent scientists.

This 7-decade history of U.S. meddling preceded Mr. Trump’s unprecedented and completely unwarranted abrogation of the Iran Nuclear Deal, or JCPOA, which featured the most comprehensive and intrusive inspections regime in the history of arms control, and was enshrined, as a matter of international law, in U.N. Security Council Resolution #2231. All the details of this, and the illegal American breach of #2231, would be new news to the vast majority of the American people, a fact which alone confirms that Iran has lost the “public relations war” vis-à-vis the false propaganda promulgated by the American and Israeli governments and biased media organs.  

  How Iran can turn the tide of American public opinion 

Righteous morality and truth are on the side of the Iranians vis-à-vis the American and Israeli position here, but time may not be: coming out of recession in 2015 as the Nuclear Deal was signed, the Iranian economy exploded with 13.4% real GDP growth in 2016, according to the World Bank, followed by nearly 4% growth in 2017, as nervousness over what President Trump might do began to crimp inbound foreign investment and trade. And indeed, economic contraction has returned to Iran in 2018-19 as the deal collapsed and the Americans effectively quarantined the Iranian economy.

It is therefore a propitious moment to recapture the high ground in the campaign to change American opinion about Iran, utilizing the very best weapons possible in such an effort: the truth, and the moral superiority of Iran’s position.  Changing public opinion in America will all by itself end the insanity of the Trump Administration’s morally obtuse policy set on Iran, and begin the path toward normalized relations.  Here’s how this can happen, perhaps more quickly than many would believe:

  •     Invite a comprehensive list of American policymakers and opinion influencers to Iran for a 7 to 10 day visit, to detail before them a retrospective history of U.S./Iran relations and in particular, the recent years of economic deprivation and the harm they have caused to Iranian living standards, as well as meet with Iranian government officials and business leaders, up to and including President Rouhani himself.
  •   The list of attendees could include the following, or people like them: 
  •    Politicians: Senator Rand Paul and his father, former Congressman Ron Paul; U.S. Army Major Tulsi Gabbard and U.S. Navy Admiral Joe Sestak, sitting and former U.S. Congressmen, respectively, and both current Democratic presidential candidates; former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; former President of the United States Barack Obama [Obama’s stature may require he come to Iran separately, but there is high likelihood he would accept an invitation to go to Tehran, especially if meeting the Supreme Leader and/or President];
  •    Armed Forces Veterans: U.S. Army 4-star General Barry McCaffrey [now an NBC News analyst]; U.S. Army Colonels Andrew Bacevich [Quincy Institute], Douglas Macgregor [Fox News], and Lawrence Wilkerson [William and Mary, MSNBC]; 
  •    Major Media: Tucker Carlson [Fox News]; Anderson Cooper [CNN]; Rachel Maddow [MSNBC], and others; 
  •   Commentators: Philip Giraldi [ex-CIA, Council for the National Interest], Daniel Larison [The American Conservative]; Gideon Levy [Haaretz]; Elijah Magnier [Al Rai Media Group]; John Pilger/Gareth Porter, well-known independent journalists; Trita Parsi [Quincy Institute];
  •  Business community: Former Chairman of Exxon Mobil and former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

This list is hardly exhaustive, and could include dozens more names of influential media commentators, economists, and American business professionals especially; certainly, all major worldwide media outlets’ general news reporting functions, similar to Lester Holt’s capacity [and as opposed to media opinion/commentary people, per above] would be invited and likely cover the event.       

  •    The goal of such a conference in Tehran would be simple: tell Iran’s “side of the story” in excruciating detail to a wide expanse of American public opinion-makers, who will in turn return to the United States and relay Iran’s history, perspective, and the facts which are uniformly favorable to Tehran.  Further, the very convening of such a meeting with high-profile American attendees would draw major media coverage on a global basis. 

Iran’s message to the Americans, conveyed in person by Foreign Minister Zarif and others including, say, the gifted English-speaking analyst at the University of Tehran, Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi, is a simple one:

  •   Here’s the history of Iran’s foreign policy, that includes no invasion of foreign soil since the Persian leader Nader Shah attacked India’s Mughal  Empire in 1738; 
  •    Actual history of U.S./Iran relations, dating to 1953;
  •    Record of American cruelties, in detail;
  •    List of instances where Iran has helped, or tried to help, the Americans [e.g., after 9/11, cooperation vis-à-vis the Taliban, or al Qaeda];
  •   Recitation of Iran’s national defense strategy, the security challenges facing Iran, and Iran’s legitimate right of self-defense [also detail how American arms exports into the region and the American presence have destabilized the region]. 
  •    Snapshot of the Islamic Republic of Iran today [e.g., democratic system of governance; role and opportunities for women in society, from business ownership to automobile driving to academic pursuit to political process participation; respect for minority religions including Christianity and Judaism which is highly unique in the Muslim world; and, entrepreneurial-driven market economy and institutions of banking/finance/insurance and private property ownership], and why and how Iran is different from so many of its neighbors.   

The U.S. government well might, once word spread of such a convened meeting in Tehran, seek to stop it. But the high profile of invitees would prevent this, and the very momentum this alone would give the meeting would only further ensure intense global media coverage.  Iran’s demand is a simple one:  the threat of an insane war in the region is very real, beyond insane and needless, but very easy to prevent. For this to happen, the Islamic Republic deserves the respect and morally proper treatment accorded all legitimate governments of the world, especially one as democratic as is the regime in Tehran, and this should entail immediate cessation of all economic sanctions and a return to normalization and full trade and diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. A regional multi-lateral dialogue of the kind currently being pursued by Foreign Minister Zarif could then ensue, with the region’s inhabitants deciding how to solve regional challenges.

Where there are American allegations of human rights abuses, government corruption, or malfeasance within the Iranian government or economy, these should be addressed head-on, rather than avoided; this would only earn the admiration of the audience. 

Such a conference [as well as, perhaps, a few ancillary smaller meetings such as one especially for President Obama], held in Iran, with many high profile participants and thus covered widely by global media outlets, would be, as Americans say, a “home run” for Iran.

Coupled with a newly-sustained effort at global media outreach by Tehran, it would lead to a viral spreading of the truth and about American policies toward Iran which have been nothing short of a disgrace over time. It would be a dagger in the plans of any kinetic conflict currently housed in the fevered brains of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his friends, and would be an accelerant to an end to the American-led economic blockade of Iran, something history will, in the fullness of time, rightly regard as a corrupt outrage.

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