The “echo chamber” is back. You know what I’m talking about, right? Ben Rhodes was President Obama’s “deputy national security adviser for strategic communications,” a hifalutin term for the White House’s foreign policy spin-meister. Four springs ago, in The New York Times Magazine, ace journalist David Samuels profiled Mr. Rhodes, marveling at how he “skillfully shapes and ventriloquizes” the voices of “columnists and reporters.”
“We created an echo chamber,” Mr. Rhodes boasted in answer to a question about all those “cheerleading” for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, the deal Mr. Obama cut with Iran’s rulers. Mr. Rhodes proudly noted that his friends in the media “were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”
Despite those efforts, more than 60 percent of Congress did not, in the end, support the JCPOA, while polls showed the public disapproving by a 2-1 margin. Nevertheless, Mr. Obama sealed the deal on his own authority in 2015. That made it relatively easy for his successor, on his own authority, to withdraw in 2018.
The chamber’s echoes never entirely faded away. Diehard deal supporters and defenders of the Tehran regime continued to lament America’s withdrawal from an agreement that enriched Iran’s rulers, funded terrorism abroad and repression at home while, at best, delaying their entry into the nuclear weapons club.
Which brings us to the present: The echo chamber’s new talking point, reverberating like a yodel in the Swiss Alps: The COVID-19 pandemic makes it imperative that the United States lift sanctions and provide billions of dollars to Iran’s theocrats!
“Demonstrating compassion in times of crisis is good foreign policy,” editorialized The New York Times, urging that the International Monetary Fund grant $5 billion in emergency funding to the regime “immediately.”
The Washington Post opined that President Trump and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei should end “their war against each other.” Who knew that for 41 years “Death to America!” has really only meant “Death to Donald!”?
Mehdi Hasan, a columnist for the far-left Intercept, charged: “The U.S. government is run by sociopaths. How else to explain the Trump administration’s callous disregard for the lives of ordinary Iranians in the midst of this global coronavirus crisis?”
An online publication of the Quincy Institute, a project of globalist George Soros and libertarian Charles Koch, asserted that U.S. sanctions are “cruelly and coldly calculated to cause as much human pain for the Iranian people as possible.”
Consider some pertinent facts. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared last month: “The whole world should know that humanitarian assistance to Iran is wide open, it’s not sanctioned.”
He added: “There is no sanction on medicines going to Iran, there is no sanction on humanitarian assistance going into that country. They’ve got a terrible problem there and we want that humanitarian, medical assistance to get to the people of Iran.”
Meanwhile, not only has Mr. Khamenei refused offers of assistance from the United States, he’s joined the propaganda campaign orchestrated by China’s Communist Party to blame America for the virus. “You might send people as doctors and therapists, maybe they would want to come here and see the effect of the poison they have produced in person,” he said in a speech broadcast across Iran.
Iran’s Ministry of Health, which says it has no problem getting medicines, last week revoked the approval previously given to Doctors Without Borders — an independent non-governmental organization — to build an intensive-care field hospital. Iranian officials said they have sufficient capacity. One such official tweeted that Iran does “not need hospitals established by foreigners.”
A serious question for the echo chamber: Why aren’t you telling Iran’s rulers to demonstrate compassion and make concessions?
To start, ask them to open their doors to credible NGOs without further delay or restrictions. Second, they should agree that all assistance will go through NGOs — not to Ayatollah Khamenei who will use it to strengthen state control, fund Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter in Syria and Hezbollah’s death grip on Lebanon, rather than to assist poor and powerless Iranians.
Third, don’t you think Iran’s rulers should release American and other foreign hostages and, while they’re at it, prisoners of conscience and religion?
Fourth, is it too much to expect the regime to halt attacks by its militias against Americans? Killing Americans while Americans are trying to save Iranians — you have no problem with that?
A few other activities from which Iran’s rulers might cease and desist: Sending sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah; inciting genocide against Israelis; further developing nuclear weapons and missiles; and blocking international inspectors — as they have been, despite promises made under the JCPOA.
Finally, Ayatollah Khamenei, 80 years young, is believed to have as much as $300 billion in assets under his control, resources he stole from Iranians insufficiently committed to the Islamic Revolution. If he were to donate $299 billion to fighting COVID-19, wouldn’t he still be able to spend his twilight years in comfort?
It boils down to this: If Iran’s rulers want support from the “international community,” they ought to become members in good standing of that community — or at least stop their most destructive activities.
The echo chamber is demanding instead that we pay the theocrats’ medical bills and provide them economic stimulus so they can fully fund their terrorism and neo-imperialism.
Here’s a more strategic and moral approach: We do whatever we can to help the long-suffering people of Iran. But not a finger do we lift for those who, amidst this crisis, continue to oppress, impoverish and persecute the people of Iran, while aggressing against both their neighbors and us.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.