Iran continues to behave badly, putting its people last amid coronavirus crisis

Steven Bucci

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The government of Iran is in a pickle. They are over stretched with nefarious activities around the Middle East and at the same time, America’s strong sanctions, designed to change their behavior, has really put a crunch on their economy. The third leg of this stool of trouble is the COVID-19 pandemic that is hammering at the societal underpinnings and regime credibility.

A responsible government would have reached out for help and reordered priorities from expansionist adventures to domestic concerns, but instead the mullahs have chosen to double down on their bravado and hostility. Arrogance has a price.

There has been a back and forth between the US administration and the Iranian regime in the last week, with US President Donald Trump warning Iran against attacking US troops or assets in Iraq, and accusing Iran of plotting a sneak attack.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif responded: "Iran starts no war, but teaches lessons to those who do,” while Esmail Ghaani, head of Iran’s Revoutionary Guard Corps elite Quds Force, arrived in Baghdad last Monday.

The mullahs and their bellicose military leaders are truly delusional. The last time they really pushed the US in this way, they lost their most senior military official, Qassem Soleimani, who happened to be one of the most horrific terrorists in the world, as well as the leader of one of their terrorist militia proxies in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes. The deaths of both men were significant losses for Tehran.

If Iran and its proxies attack US forces again, we can expect more stern and effective countermeasures from Washington.

What Iran needs to do is pull back its very expensive web of proxies across the region (in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Gaza just to name a few), give up on forming the so-called Shia Crescent, and apply all the funds and leadership being squandered in pipe dreams abroad to their suffering citizens at home. This would be a huge positive step that would help in the short term and drive future improvements.

By doing the above, and also dropping their drive for nuclear weapons, the Iranian regime could also achieve the long-sought goal of the removal of the punishing American sanctions.

The hubris of allowing your own citizens to suffer deprivation solely for the “pride” of having nuclear warheads with which you can threaten your neighbors is baffling to reasonable people. The leaders in Tehran remain stuck on this point. They seem to feel they have a God-given right to be able to bully everyone around them. One assumes this is an artifact of their interpretation of history that centers on the premise that “Persia should be running the world.” Give up the fantasy Tehran, care for your people.

All of this is hugely exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Iran is suffering terribly under the COVID-19 onslaught. The incredibly inept response is saddening. Iran has a fairly sophisticated medical capability. However, between the misguided public instructions of some of their clerics, and the lying about the extent of the outbreak (with nearly two dozen senior government officials dead), Iran is in big trouble.

Iran quickly latched onto the bogus Chinese propaganda that the virus started through carriers who were American soldiers, quickly pushing that this is all America’s fault. The boldness of this lie is staggering, but unsurprisingly, Iran has rebroadcast it for their own purposes. In reality, as it did in the tragic earthquake a few years ago, America has offered Iran humanitarian assistance. What America should not do is remove the sanctions because of the pandemic.

Several American leaders, notably Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and Democratic congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar have called for the lifting of the sanctions on the grounds that they are blocking medical aid. This is nonsense. The sanctions were specifically crafted to exempt humanitarian aid, and they in no way interfere with the flow of this sort of assistance. The only roadblock to more coronavirus-specific help is the refusal of Iran to talk to responsible leaders without trying to gain some negotiating “victory.”

The bottom line is simple. The mullahs in Tehran have been and continue to fail their people. Their refusal to give up their path of hostility and destruction, regardless of the cost; thinking they only need to blame others to get away with it, is costing the people of Iran dearly. One can only pray that they develop a heart for their people that overtakes the blind appetite for power that now consumes them.


Steven P. Bucci, who served America for three decades as an Army Special Forces officer and top Pentagon official, is a visiting research fellow at The Heritage Foundation. He tweets @SBucci.

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