Extreme Academic Voices Oppose Trump’s Iran Policy, and More
President Donald Trump is a “fascist who … might even lead us into a new war” with Iran, raged University of California-Riverside professor Reza Aslan in February 2017. Aslan’s hyperbole illustrates the Middle East studies establishment’s rejection of the Trump administration’s policy changes to American involvement in the Middle East — especially its stance toward the Obama administration’s Iran deal and its new National Security Strategy (NSS).
Trump’s threats to negate Obama’s policies of appeasement towards Iran has irritated intellectuals enamored with the unpopular 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement. Aslan, for instance, has promoted Obama’s fantasy of “moderates” in the Islamic Republic’s theocratic leadership. Aslan claimed that “hardline conservatives in Iran are celebrating and I, therefore, expect a campaign in which a hard nationalism will prevail.”
This past January, Pennsylvania State University senior lecturer Jennifer Loewenstein went so far as to disregard proof that Iran violated the nuclear agreement: “There is no evidence whatsoever by any organization — international, UN, all of these non-Iranian, non-partisan groups that go in. They go in, and every single time they go in, they come out and say, ‘Iran is complying 100 percent.’”
University of Minnesota anthropology professor William Beeman shares Maloney’s confidence in the Iran deal. “There’s no question that Iran has complied fully with” the JCPOA, he declared in October 2017, while warning that American withdrawal from the JCPOA would render the US an “absolutely unreliable partner in international agreements.” Putting commerce above nonproliferation, he said “business with Iran is extremely lucrative,” and this is “something that the US should probably think seriously about, because Iran has a booming economy.”
Worse, Beeman asserted previously that “according to experts, Iran never had, nor has today, a nuclear weapons program,” yet “hatred of Iran in US government circles is so ubiquitous, rationality seems never to prevail.” Thus, the “Trump administration continues the tradition of the hawks in Congress to do anything and everything to antagonize Iran.”
While “Iran’s leaders have been remarkably calm,” he alleged, the “Trump administration appears to be renewing the possibility of violent confrontation with Iran using a questionable pretext — Iran’s testing of conventional missiles.” It’s little wonder that Beeman once advocated that in American negotiations with the Iranian regime, our “language must be unfailingly polite and humble.”
University of Michigan professor Juan Cole also expressed an abiding faith in the JCPOA, claiming in December 2017 that the deal “closed off all four major plausible paths to a nuclear weapon.” Cole’s clairvoyance revealed that the “Iran nuclear deal is one of the more successful such negotiations in modern history, and a model for how the UN Security Council could curb nuclear proliferation.” Moreover, it “has deeply disadvantaged Iran and has not affected the US at all,” he maintained, ignoring enormous sanctions relief for Iran, and the country’s subsequently empowered threats to American interests.
Looking beyond Iran to the NSS, Cole asserted in December 2017 that “Trump’s National Security Strategy document is about as confused and wrongheaded a piece of writing you’d ever want to see.” He criticized the NSS’ assessment of “Jihadist terrorist organizations” as the “most dangerous terrorist threat to the Nation,” because — for Cole — the “most dangerous threats to the United States are other states, especially the well-armed ones.” Somehow, he omitted Iran from the latter category, and ignored that America’s violent conflicts today are mostly with jihadists, not states like Russia.
Additionally, Cole peddled the discredited fiction that America’s “main terrorist threat is from white Americans” who are “white supremacists and Neo-Nazis.” In contrast, he declared that “occasional terrorism” only “surfaces in the Muslim world,” where the concept of jihad entails not holy war, but a “virtuous struggle and a struggle for virtue.” His prejudiced analysis ignores documentation that the overwhelming majority of terrorism worldwide comes from Sunni jihadists.
These examples illustrate a reactionary impulse common among professors of Middle East studies. In place of innovative problem-solving based on an informed imagination, they offer cliché-ridden defenses of a stale status quo. Their Manichean worldview, which perceives only good versus evil in the international arena, reduces complex issues to simple morality plays. The West, Israel and the Trump administration are often conniving and evil, while their opponents are necessarily trustworthy and wholesome.
In this professorial paradise, adherence to accepted beliefs is rewarded with university sinecures, conference appearances, travel money and access to prestigious publications. Heterodoxy, on the other hand, is intolerable and will be punished by ridicule, lower ranked jobs or professional ostracism. Little wonder, then, that established academics line up to condemn intellectual diversity. Given the enforced homogeneity of contemporary Middle East studies, their fear of rigorous competition is well-founded.
Andrew E. Harrod is a Campus Watch fellow, freelance researcher, and writer who holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at @AEHarrod.