April 7, 2024 | New York Post

Biden’s tone-deaf Iran policy ignores what the Iranian people want: freedom, not terrorism

April 7, 2024 | New York Post

Biden’s tone-deaf Iran policy ignores what the Iranian people want: freedom, not terrorism

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Iranian New Year is over, but the Biden administration’s missteps continue. These own goals perfectly characterize Washington’s policy toward Tehran: inattentive and tone-deaf.

Sending Iranians felicitations for their new year — Nowruz in Persian, which means “New Day” — President Biden oddly pivoted from Iranian protesters’ plight to the situation in the Gaza Strip.

Here’s the twist: Gazans, and more broadly Palestinians and Arabs, do not celebrate this pre-Islamic Iranian holiday heralding spring’s arrival. And Iranian protesters have been chastising their government for prioritizing Islamism over nationalism and spending the country’s wealth on the regime’s terror proxies like Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip.

Since at least 2009, Iranian protesters have famously chanted, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I give my life for Iran!” As the gap between the state and street widened, Iranians increasingly zeroed in on the clerical regime’s obsession with destroying Israel by sharply turning against the Palestinian cause in their slogans.

“Let go of Palestine. Do something for us,” and “The oil money has been lost — it was spent in Palestine” are just some examples. On occasion, these chants have escalated in intensity.

Not even a week after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, Iranians protested the presence of the Palestinian flag — now nearly omnipresent in public spaces in the Arab world and Muslim-majority countries — at a soccer stadium by chanting, “Shove the Palestinian flag up your ass.” They’ve also taken to shouting down government-sponsored demonstrations, countering “Death to Israel” chants with “Death to Palestine.”

Even a cursory understanding of the differences between Arabs and Iranians, let alone a surface-level understanding of Iranian protesters’ demands, could have prevented this gaffe.

For an administration that claims to stand with the Iranian people and whose State Department had recently been improving its messaging, the unforced error was a step backwards — especially as Iranians have been intent on drawing a stark contrast between themselves and their clerical overlords.

The divergence between the Arab street and the Iranian street on the Palestinian issue is underscored by the fact that since Oct. 7, Iran’s only major pro-Palestinian protests have been government-backed.

The Iranian diaspora has visibly supported Israel, both on social media and in public demonstrations across America, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Australia. Often, protesters brandish their pre-revolutionary lion-and-sun flag in one hand and the Star-of-David flag in the other.

Days later, one misstep begot another. The administration’s official USAbehFarsi Instagram page showcased a picture of Faezeh Rafsanjani, daughter of former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, with the caption “Faezeh, defender of women all over Iran.”

While Rafsanjani, a former parliamentarian, is in jail for criticizing the regime, her commitment to “reform,” opposition to revolution and support for her father — who was charged by an Argentine court for his involvement in 1994’s AMIA bombing of a Jewish community center — stand in stark contrast to her countrymen’s desires.

 For more than half a decade, Iranians have been chanting, “Reformists, principlists, the game is over.” It’s a comprehensive rejection of the regime and the possibility of reform. This was also evident in last month’s widespread election boycotts.

As expected, this US government portrayal sparked significant criticism. Numerous Iranians, including 85 Iranian Americans who voiced their concerns through a letter to the State Department, highlighted Team Biden’s apparent attempt to promote Rafsanjani as a figurehead for Iranian women.

The Biden administration’s Iran missteps reflect a misguided approach, prioritizing appeasement over genuine support for the Iranian populace’s aspirations. Three years into his term, President Biden is unlikely to undertake a major policy shift.

Despite Iran’s continued uranium enrichment and support for attacks on international shipping, Israel and US forces in the region via its constellation of terror-proxies, the Biden administration reportedly held recent secret talks with Iranian officials. The administration also continues to waive select energy sanctions on Tehran.

These shortcomings should serve as a cautionary tale and create the necessary space for a more effective US policy, both in word and in deed: maximum pressure on the regime coupled with maximum support for the Iranian people.

Saeed Ghasseminejad is a senior advisor on Iran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow.


Iran Iran Human Rights Iran Politics and Economy Palestinian Politics