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.