Jeff Merkley Has Advocated Soft Line on Iran Since 1979

College thesis reveals belief that America’s global power, influence are waning

Jeff Merkley
Jeff Merkley / AP
• April 1, 2014 5:00 am


The senator who fronted a campaign against new sanctions on Iran earlier this year has since 1979 been advocating that the United States take a soft line on Iran due to his belief that America’s global power and influence are waning, according to a copy of the lawmaker’s 235-page college thesis obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) emerged in January as one of the leading Senate Democrats who massaged the press on behalf of the Obama administration and pressured his colleagues to kill new Iran sanctions that were supported by a bipartisan majority of lawmakers.

Merkley’s public campaign helped stall the new sanctions measure, indefinitely delaying congressional efforts to exert greater economic pressure on Tehran.

As a Stanford University student during the Carter era, Merkley embraced the inevitability of American decline and declared that the United States must coddle Iranians because of it.

Foreign policy experts consulted by the Free Beacon said that the 1979 thesis opens what they described as a troubling window into the senator’s current thinking on the Iranian crises.

"Merkley shows his knee-jerk reaction is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. "Unfortunately, it seems, Merkley as senator remains wedded to Carterism, even as he should realize its cost, and its alternative."

Michael Ledeen, a freedom scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), said Merkley focuses on "American decline and American wickedness."

Merkley begins his thesis by declaring that the United States has abandoned its core values in pursuit of its national interests—and that Americans are in denial about this.

"Many who believed that America would be the force for freedom that it claims to be, have been bitterly disillusioned," he writes. "Despite comments and criticisms from many parts of the world, Americans have been slow to recognize the possibility of a fundamental contradiction between American traditional political values and the support of tyrannical governments."

Merkley denies that America has been a force for freedom and good in the world.

"American citizens wonder how criticisms of American policies can be taken seriously when the United States has brought many improvements to numerous countries, including countries where civil liberties are suppressed," he writes.

While "these arguments … can be convincing as generalities," "in detailed analysis, however, they are less persuasive," he writes.

America’s predicament, according to Merkley, is that it is submerged in an economic tailspin.

"As the American public and government observe a relative American power decline caused by the success of the European Economic Community and OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries], by slower economic growth, and by the declining political value of military force … the American government may endeavor to sustain American economic and political power by increased use of political and economic leverage in developing countries," Merkley writes.

America’s immoral foreign policy and declining power fostered policies that are "neither ethically nor pragmatically supportable," according to Merkley.

One such problematic policy cited by Merkley is the introduction of Western values that were "very different from Iranian customs and that at times contradicted Islamic teachings."

"A fair number of Iranian officers and advanced technical personnel received training in the United States," Merkley writes. "Although the cultural impact of this training upon the participants cannot be precisely determined, at a minimum, the experience probably increased their understanding of and ability to identify with Western culture, and in so doing, may have altered the participants attitude toward aspects of Iranian culture or Islamic values."

"These military related personnel, as well as other Americans on business or pleasure ventures, took to Iran tastes and habits that were very different from Iranian customs and that at times contradicted Islamic teachings," he writes.

Merkley goes on to argue that U.S. involvement in Iran directly fostered the country’s anti-American policies, as well as the shah’s brutal crackdown.

"The United States was directly responsible for the shah’s return to power, and the shah’s policies diverged from the objectives of other groups that sought to influence Iran’s policies in the post-World War II period," Merkley writes.

"Various groups sought political pluralism, national control of Iranian resources, a reduction of Western presence in Iran, and an emphasis upon Islamic values," he states. "By placing the shah, who did not share those goals, back in power, the United States increased the probability that the Iranian government would sponsor a set of policies that would include opposition to Communist influence, the suppression of political forums, high military expenditures, and a capital intensive, technologically sophisticated, development program."

FDD’s Ledeen said that Merkley wrongly "buys into the big myth" that U.S. intelligence agencies fostered political turmoil in Iran.

While Merkley repeatedly admits that he cannot prove America is responsible, he still insists that American intelligence agencies fostered unrest.

"Although strict recounting of available evidence does not demonstrate that CIA activities in Iran significantly strengthened the shah’s government, logical hypotheses (which, although based on available evidence, cannot be proven), suggest that the CIA probably did significantly augment the capability of SAVAK [Iranian secret police] and its predecessor," he writes.

Former Pentagon official Rubin said that Merkley’s writing shows that he is a "hypocrite" who is out to shield "the enemies of pluralism."

"The shah was a flawed leader but, while bashing American policy and downplaying the Soviet's Cold War ambitions, Merkley makes a larger error: Those rising up to lead the Islamic Revolution were actually America's co-conspirators," Rubin said.

"It was, as the shah put it, the red against the black; the communists against the conservatives and clergy," Rubin explained "And while the Shah cracked down, in hindsight we see that he did so to protect the chance for a pluralism. That Merkley now shields the enemies of pluralism and popular desire shows not only that he was a mediocre academic, but that he's a bit of a hypocrite as well."

Merkley’s argument reveals his core beliefs about America being a force for bad in the world, Rubin said.

"Hindsight is 20/20 but shows that the Shah's regime, while flawed, was far more progressive than what came next," Rubin said. "Ironically, Iranians find the benefits of America more persuasive than the junior senator from Oregon."

A spokesperson for the Merkley campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the thesis. Merkley’s congressional office also did not respond to a request for comment.

Published under: Iran, Nuclear Weapons, Sanctions