Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

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Advice to Michele Bachmann

by Ed Husain
December 21, 2011

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann speaks during the Republican debate in Sioux City, Iowa on December 15, 2011 (Eric Gay/Courtesy Reuters).

I am not a Republican—much less a Bachmann enthusiast. Still, I happen to share Bachmann’s concerns about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. For arguing against the whims of the clerics, I am banned from entering Iran. They monitor criticism of their regime. They build a case against their critics.

Just as Iranians know their enemies, as it were, it’s doubly important for us in the West to know Iran. It is us, not them, who seek to prevent conflict and make claims to seeking objective truth. When a U.S. presidential candidate speaks about Iran, it is reported in their domestic press and the political class, clerics, and bazaar merchants analyze and comment. More importantly, the standing of the United States in Iran is in the balance—despite Iran’s public pronouncements of anti-Americanism, the United States will be judged by the quality of its insights about Iranian society and politics in U.S. public discourse. As such, Michele Bachmann’s repeated attacks on Iran must not only have veracity, but objectivity.

She can make a perfectly legitimate and plausible case for containing or eliminating (for now, at least) Iran’s nuclear plants. But she has damaged this important pursuit through unsubstantiated and, frankly, preposterous claims within the month of December alone.

First, Bachmann promised to close down the U.S. embassy in Tehran on December 2, only to be told that there has been no embassy in Iran for more than thirty years.

Second, at the Sioux City, Iowa debate on December 15, she claimed that Iran sought a global caliphate:

Iran will take a nuclear weapon…and they’ve stated that they will use it against the United States of America. Look no further than the Iranian constitution, which states unequivocally that their mission is to extend jihad across the world and eventually to set up a worldwide caliphate.

Actually, it’s al-Qaeda and Hizb ut-Tahrir, Sunni Islamist extremists, who promote this goal. Iran’s government happens to be an aberration even within Shia Islam and believes in wilayat al-faqih—Shias broke away from Sunni Islam precisely because they do not recognize the institution of the caliphate. Such statements make her a subject of mockery in Iran.

Third, on NBC’s Meet the Press on December 18 she topped her own record by suggesting that Iran had vowed to “wipe the USA off the map.” It has not. President Ahmadinejad’s spasmodic comment was about Israel, not the United States.

Bachmann should stop such fictitious pronouncements and cease doing further damage to the reputation of the United States and American political leaders. Bachmann’s voice is not as peripheral as some wish to believe. In the world of Middle East politics, her quotes will be cited as examples of how leading Americans have no or little understanding of Iran.


  • Posted by RA Grout

    Dear Ed,
    You are wrong. We have several times received photo-reports of the Iranian leader(s) calling for the destruction of the United States. Iran declared war on the U.S. in 1979 and has repeatedly vowed to wipe the U.S. off the map.
    Bachmann may be wrong on the details, but the big picture is clear: the leadership of Iran considers the U.S. to be their principal adversary and the destruction of Israel is only the first stage of their war against America.

  • Posted by Ed Guider

    Excellent. This is the kind of reasoned, thoughtful illumination that is so needed in America’s public discourse. I frankly believe that the US and Iranian people’s will become close partners once again in the not to distant future.

  • Posted by ThinkUSANow

    Iran declared war on the U.S. in 1979? Maybe you should have prefaced that comment with the fact that the U.S. overthrew a secular, democratically elected leader in the 50s and installed the Sha of Iran. Typical NEO-CONS have no idea what they are talking about.

  • Posted by Ed

    Good article. The last thing we need is a christian extremist with a loose trigger.

  • Posted by Derek Wain

    Advice to Hussein: Patriotic Americans are not going to take advice from anyone called Hussein.

  • Posted by Ed Husain

    Derek Wain — no, they only voted for Barack **Hussein** Obama. You’re left with denying that they’re patriots. Hideous position. Checkmate.

  • Posted by Paul Salahuddin Armstrong

    Bachmann promised to close the U.S. embassy in Tehran?! I must have missed this… However, I’ve long been aware that there wasn’t a U.S. embassy in Tehran, ages before I got into what I do now! If only these Tea Partiers kept their comments to the comedy circuit… What’s worrying is that they actually take their crazy ideas seriously and run with them for public office!