Donald Trump has been praised by a host of authoritarian figures, from Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin to the Chinese state press. Such tacit endorsements have hardly come as a surprise given Trump’s own disregard for trifles like freedom of the press and the right to protest, and indeed the love between Donald and the world’s despots is often mutual. Yesterday, however, Trump picked up a surprising new endorsement from Hossein Shariatmadari, a prominent Iranian hard-liner and editor of Kayhan, Iran’s preeminent conservative newspaper.
Shariatmadari’s support for Trump comes from his concurrence with Trump’s demagogic opposition to the recent Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iranian Nuclear Deal, signed by President Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani last year. In an interview with the semi-official FARS news agency in which he endorsed Trump, Shariatmadari said that Trump’s “wisest plan is tearing up the JCPOA.”
Given that all of the Republican presidential candidates have been spewing such vitriolic Islamophobic bile and virtually climbing on top of each other in a competition to spout the most hyperbolic fear-mongering diatribes about Islam and Iran, Shariatmadari’s support may come as somewhat of a surprise. And, to be fair, Iranian hard-liners are typically engaged in a similar contest to see who can denounce the United States most viciously. On the issue of the JCPOA, however, the interests of the two mortally opposed factions have converged.
Indeed the rhetoric from the two sides has been shockingly similar. While Trump has said that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” Shariatmadari editorialized, “We know the JCPOA is disastrous and we should reject it.” And, in a remarkable representation of how politicized hatred blinds its adherents to reality, both Iranian and American Hardliners, otherwise known as Republicans, see the deal as disastrous for their precious nation and a handout to the enemy.
Shariatmadari has said that “The JCPOA is a golden document for the United States but is nothing except a humiliation and a loss for Iran.” Swap the countries and this quote could easily be from Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, who has said that “we give them $150 billion and we get nothing,” and that the deal makes America look “so weak it’s disgraceful.”
Similarly, the beating of the war drums has reached a fear-tinged crescendo in both countries. Thus while Trump and Cruz have been warning that the JCPOA will lead to Iran attacking Israel and America, hard-line Iranian parliamentarian Hamid Rasaee has said that “if the JCPOA is approved, the US will definitely invade Iran.”
This convergence of hard-line opinion on opposite sides of the manufactured ‘conflict,’ which at first seems so strange, is actually quite reasonable when one understands the way in which conservatives the world over derive their legitimacy from fear. The American and Iranian hard-liners have a complementary relationship in which the violent rhetoric of the one justifies the ideologies and beliefs of the other. Thus the divisive rhetoric that flows from politicians in both Tehran and Washington feeds a cycle of reciprocal and escalating hatred that justifies animosity and potential war between countries whose citizens have no real qualms with each other.
When every bigoted rhetorical tirade from the other side further justifies your own medieval ideology, the last thing either group of hard-liners want is rapprochement, conversation, and – god forbid – peace. Both Trump and Shariatmadari recognize that the JCPOA, which represents a step in that direction, is harmful to their brand of hatred, and oppose it from opposite sides of the political trenches for that very reason.
Such an interdependence of hatred between the Republicans and the Iranian conservatives is nothing new. For example, when George W. Bush snubbed reformist Iranian president Mohammad Khatami’s offers of cooperation following 9/11 and instead decided to include Iran as part of his notorious and arbitrary “axis of evil,” he fed into the narrative of the hardliners and laid the groundwork for the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who succeeded Khatami. The mutually antagonistic Bush and Ahmadinejad administrations continued with little attempt at re-establishing relations until both governments turned over to relative liberals in Obama and Rouhani. These two men, while mutually suspicious, are pragmatists and see the undeniable political, economic, and moral benefits of re-establishing relations.
It is in the interest of both Republicans and Iranian hardliners to keep their respective populations living in xenophobic fear rather than realizing that the mutual hatred between our nations is completely irrational and driven by nothing more than exploitative nationalist politicians looking for votes. Trump is no better than his Iranian counterparts in this way, and, apparently, they’ve come to realize it.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.