Levine-Drizin: Iran has no reason to trust in the US, we’re not the victim

Gabe Levine-Drizin, Columnist

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Last Friday, The Daily ran two columns about the ramifications of President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or more commonly “the Iran nuclear deal.” On the surface, the two authors seemed to disagree. Gresik, writing in favor of our withdrawal from the accord, miraculously asserted that President Trump’s decision actually helps his negotiations with North Korea and “realigned the United States on a stronger and safer foreign policy path.” Esquenazi, on the other hand, expressed her reservations about the withdrawal as it “will lead to danger” due to Iran’s ability to now pursue developing its nuclear program. However, both writers rely on similar underlying assumptions in their discussions of the Iran deal’s faults that need to be questioned.

Central to both writers’ discussions is a firm belief that the United States and its allies had a need to negotiate with Iran in order to limit their nuclear capabilities in exchange for a lifting of crippling economic sanctions. The fact that there are legally defined nuclear “haves” and “have-nots,” however, often goes unquestioned. But why is it that countries like the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China were allowed to keep their nuclear weapons after the signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968? While these countries indeed had to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, the end result of the treaty was clear: a hierarchical global order of who could and could not develop and store nuclear weapons was to be accepted. Perhaps recognizing this, some UN member states rebelled — of the four that did not sign, three are said to have nuclear weapons: Israel, India and Pakistan. North Korea, another country with which the U.S. is discussing nuclear disarmament, withdrew from the NPT in 2003. Instead of lamenting the failure of the deal, perhaps we should question what the need to pursue it in the first place reveals about our assumptions about the global hierarchy.

While the belief that the U.S. should take the lead in reigning in other countries is both problematic and widely held, it is not my main point of contention with the authors’ pieces. Rather, I take issue with their lack of historical context that leads to the use of harmful tropes — namely Israeli victimhood and Iranian aggression — as well as their selective reading of contemporary Middle Eastern politics. Attempting to paint the Iranian regime as distrustful, Gresik resorts to a decontextualized denunciation of Iranian anti-Americanism and a vague Heritage Foundation quote about a history of Iranian “cheating” to support his argument. In denouncing Iranian chants of “Death to America” and the burning of the American flag, however, he conveniently ignores decades of anti-Iranian American activity. The CIA backing the overthrow of democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, U.S. aid in Saddam Hussein’s chemical gassing of Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war, the death of 290 civilians on Iran Air Flight 655 at the hands of a U.S. missile, George Bush’s denunciation of Iran as part of the “Axis of Evil” months after the Iranian government had agreed to aid in our invasion of Afghanistan, and even Iran’s inclusion on President Trump’s Muslim Ban, to name just a few examples, may all help explain Iranian distrust of America. It is therefore reductive to resort to a mischaracterization of Iranian history that revolves around “cheating” and “flag-burning.”

Similarly devoid of context is the claim that Iran is acting aggressively toward Israel, concerns both authors share but fail to explain why it should have anything to do with U.S. politics in the first place. In claiming that Iran “continues to aggressively pursue the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel,” Gresik cleverly presents the state as Jewish in order to shield its conduct from reproach. He also presents the hatred between Iran and Israel as one-sided. In this fanciful vision, it is as if Hassan Rouhani — who requested the removal of the phrase “Death to Israel” from Iranian missiles — has been the one threatening the State of Israel’s existence, while Benjamin Netanyahu, who has spent his years as Israel’s Prime Minister actively threatening unilateral attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, has been nothing but a friend to Iran.

While I take much less issue with Esquenazi’s characterization of the conflict, she too mentions that the end of the nuclear deal is dangerous in that Iran can continue to fund “terrorist groups that threaten nations, such as Israel.” By hyping up the threat of the complete erasure of one of the world’s strongest military powers replete with its own nuclear arsenal, both authors perpetuate a harmful narrative of Israeli victimhood that has stifled valid criticisms of the Israeli regime, everywhere from U.S. universities to the Gaza border.

The acceptance of the idea that it was valid to withdraw from the accord due to Iranian “state-sponsored terrorism” — argued most vehemently by Gresik but touched upon by both authors — is similarly hypocritical and lacking in context. In railing against Iranian links to the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon through the lens of “state-sponsored terrorism,” it is easy to both negate the levels of autonomy that these organizations have and conflate them with groups like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, organizations that our ally Saudi Arabia has been accused of funding. It would be fundamentally untrue, however, to act as if the Houthis or Hezbollah are anywhere near the same type of threat to U.S. security as the latter two, a distinction that lazy “terrorist” terminology obscures.

A more honest discussion about the history of U.S. malfeasance in the Middle East is needed if we are to speculate on the meaning of the failure of the Iran nuclear accord. Sadly, in the authors’ ahistorical discussions of the accord’s fallout, both fail to distance themselves from harmful tropes and simplistic mischaracterizations. These errors, which continue to actively be made at the diplomatic level, will damn us to repeat the same mistakes moving forward.

Gabe Levine-Drizin is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at gabriellevinedrizin2018@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.