The Appalling Mr. Zarif

Column: Iran’s revolting foreign minister speaks at New York University

Javad Zarif
Javad Zarif / Patricia De Melo Moreira / Getty Images
May 1, 2015

Not since Baryshnikov has a foreigner so captivated a New York audience.  "A Conversation with H.E. DR. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran" played the other day at NYU. The show ran for just 90 minutes, but reviews were spectacular. Give this man a Tony: Zarif slayed ’em.

"Demonstrating suave fluency in English and a familiarity with American history and law," wrote the New York Times, "Iran’s foreign minister said Wednesday that the United States would risk global ostracism if it were to scrap a signed international pact that resolves the Iranian nuclear dispute." Zarif, the Times went on, "was easygoing and smiling, living up to his image as a diplomatic charmer to an audience that was polite and respectful." Not to mention sycophantic.

Zarif, adds Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker, "comes off as practically American." Why? Well, "He went to college in the United States, at San Francisco State University, and to graduate school at the University of Denver. As Ambassador to the United Nations, he lived in New York for five years. His English is perfect."

Perfect English? Is that all it takes to have reporters and diplomats praise your suavity and charisma, chuckle at your jokes, cavil to your every demand? Bibi Netanyahu’s English is perfect too—but Hell will freeze before he sees Zarif’s press.

I don’t find the Iranian foreign minister a "diplomatic charmer" at all. His demeanor at NYU was arrogant, insulting, bullying, unrepentant. David Ignatius of the Washington Post sat there like a semi-conscious mummy as Zarif ordered Congress around, declared that all sanctions will be lifted immediately upon the conclusion of any deal, warned that "people" should be "worrying about the U.S. violating its obligations and us snapping back," refused to accept culpability for spreading disorder in the Middle East, wouldn’t say if U.N. inspectors will have access to Iranian military sites, said Iran has no intention of speaking to the Jewish State, accused the Washington Post (Ignatius’ paper) of running a "publicity campaign" on behalf of one of its reporters held prisoner in Iran, and took every opportunity to fling sarcasm and insult and enmity toward Netanyahu, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and America in general. No wonder John Kerry’s a fan.

What made Zarif’s appearance all the more nauseating was his pretense of moral standing. He has none. His lecture to the United States took place as his regime held a container ship it had seized in international waters, and as evidence emerged of Iranian violations of U.N. sanctions. It is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthis and other Shiite militias that are fomenting and exploiting sectarian conflict in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Iran’s human rights record is abysmal. Since Zarif returned to government in the administration of Hassan Rouhani, there has been a "surge" in executions in Iran. "The authorities restricted freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, arresting, detaining, and prosecuting in unfair trials minority and women’s rights activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and others who voiced dissent" say the right-wing extremists at Amnesty International, whose most recent report catalogues the torture and cruel and unusual punishments of the Iranian regime.

In addition to David Ignatius’ colleague Jason Rezaian, the Iranian authorities hold captive American citizens Saeed Abedini, a pastor, and Amir Hekmati, a Marine. General David Petraeus says Iranian-backed militias are "the foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability." Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska explains how Iran supplies Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs) to these militias, which have mutilated and killed U.S. soldiers. Last year Zarif’s true boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, posted on Twitter his 9-point plan to eliminate Israel.

Khamenei and Zarif are diplomatic trolls, online troublemakers using social media to antagonize their enemies. The ayatollah has been tweeting so often about race relations in the United States, about Ferguson and Staten Island and Baltimore, that it’s become hard to distinguish his feed from Salon’s. Within hours of the State Department releasing a fact sheet on the preliminary nuclear agreement reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, last month, Zarif tweeted that it was a bunch of lies. When Cotton challenged Zarif to debate the nuclear deal, Zarif replied with congratulations on the birth this week of Cotton’s son—Zarif no doubt aware that when the spokesman for a rogue regime and sponsor of terror mentions your first born, it’s not a salutation but a threat.

At NYU Zarif said America will have to lift sanctions on Iran "whether Senator Cotton likes it or not." The "polite" and "respectful" audience broke into laughter—at Cotton. "I couldn’t resist," Zarif said. No troll could.

"I am tempted to say you will pay for that," Ignatius said. "But you already know that." Actually, Zarif doesn’t know that he will "pay for that" because he and his Islamic fundamentalist superiors haven’t paid for a goddam thing for years. On the contrary: We’re paying them. They crushed a student movement and nothing happened. They’ve killed our soldiers and assisted in crimes against humanity in Syria and no one’s lifted a finger. They lie about their nuclear program and President Obama doesn’t retaliate. They scream at Kerry and he takes it. They say lift the sanctions and we say sure. We might even give them a signing bonus.

No reason to expect Zarif or his government to change their behavior when it’s been such a success.  You can’t really blame the Iranians—they have goals such as nuclear power and weapons, economic relief, greater influence, perpetuation of the regime—and conceding nothing while demanding everything is helping them achieve those goals. What bothers me is the wooly-headedness of liberals in government and the media who, in their search for peace and harmony, ignore or repress the knowledge of Iranian malfeasance and ill will. Zarif’s remarks on implementation of and compliance with the nuclear deal are almost exactly the opposite of what President Obama has been telling Congress and the American people, yet this contradiction won’t slow the president’s quest for détente with Iran one bit.

I wonder what it is about liberals, why it is they’re so willing to filter out evidence of bad intentions and awful behavior. Maybe a sense of historical guilt, a condescending assumption that the victims of past wrongs can’t be expected to live up to present standards; maybe a deeply held belief in the universal humanity and goodness of man, that badness is a function of environment so if you want to change a person change his surroundings; maybe pacifism; maybe gullibility; maybe on some level they agree with the criticisms America’s adversaries level against us, feel that America’s standing has been severely compromised, ask why we lecture others when we’re not so good ourselves.

Apparatchiks like Zarif exploit such ideas and sentiments in pursuit of a more dangerous and less liberal world. Our ability to make moral distinctions, to identify friend and foe, has become so attenuated that not only do liberals fail to recognize Zarif for what he is—a theocratic tool—they laugh at his jokes, identify with him, want to be his friend, applaud him. Like spectators on Broadway, they’ve willfully fallen for a con; an act; a put-up job. Difference is, the cast of An American In Paris doesn’t want to nuke Tel Aviv. The world won’t be safe until the tomatoes and catcalls fly—until Javad Zarif is afraid to take the stage.

Published under: Iran