OpinionIsrael at War

Why many progressives support Iran

In the end, it’s a legacy of the New Left’s deranged mythology of the Cold War.

Leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 10, 2010. Credit: 4.murat/Shutterstock.
Leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 10, 2010. Credit: 4.murat/Shutterstock.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

Israel’s extraordinary deflection of Iran’s massive drone and missile assault on Saturday was a glorious moment for the Jewish state. However, to paraphrase a line from Winston Churchill, wars are not won by interceptions. Clearly, Israel ought to retaliate in some form. The Biden administration, however, appears determined to prevent this even though the total failure of Iran’s assault has revealed the blustering Islamic Republic to be a paper tiger at most.

This seems odd at first glance, but the administration apparently feels the need to defer to a progressive establishment that wants to give Iran more or less anything it wants. What Iran wants right now, of course, is to be saved from massive Israeli retaliation. The administration appears determined to oblige.

The progressive establishment’s obsession with appeasing Iran was exemplified by President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal and the resulting massive payoff for the mullahs. But the mentality that created it goes back much further. To a remarkable extent, it is the product of a political mythology forged out of progressivism’s unhappy experience of the Cold War.

For the duration of the Cold War, progressives were in the wilderness. They did not advocate outright surrender to communism, but many of them tended to regard active resistance to it as distasteful at best. This put them well outside the American mainstream, to which they reacted by compounding their radicalization. Over time, progressives came to populate the peace, anti-nuclear and other movements that directly attacked the Cold War consensus in favor of a largely pacifistic approach.

At the same time, progressivism was profoundly influenced by the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s. Progressives were not as radical as the New Left but they accepted and internalized much of its criticism of American society. The most strident of these criticisms—perhaps most prominently advocated by genocide-denier and revered leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky—was that American Cold War policy was a form of racist imperialism if not outright Nazism masquerading as a crusade for democracy.

This conviction became, for both the New Left and for many progressives, a kind of mythology. The myth went something like this: The United States used the outcome of World War II to establish itself as a global empire dedicated to imposing capitalist exploitation on the entire world. It did so by forming alliances with Nazis like Hitler’s former Eastern Front intelligence chief Reinhard Gehlen. With the help of Gehlen and other Nazis, the U.S. then constructed a worldwide “U.S.-Nazi alliance” that overthrew governments, supported Nazi rulers and committed genocide at every opportunity throughout the Cold War and beyond.

This dark tale ends, however, with a redemptive promise: The moral atrocity that is America can be cured by sympathy and solidarity with America’s victims and, as Chomsky recommended, the “denazification” of the United States.

This mythology is, of course, self-evidently insane. Nonetheless, the New Left swallowed it whole and, while they did not entirely accept it, many progressives considered it largely true and acted accordingly.

Quite a few of today’s progressives have yet to have their bout with sanity. They may or may not believe that the U.S. is Nazi Germany but they certainly do believe it is guilty of unspeakable crimes. They are convinced that the U.S. must redeem itself by bending the knee to the nations it has wronged and embracing them in solidarity.

Among these “wronged nations” is Iran. Due to U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup d’état that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, progressives believe Iran is owed and the U.S. has no moral right to oppose it. Obama himself said this explicitly when the Iranian people rose in mass protest against the theocratic regime in 2009: “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.”

Indeed, for progressives who have accepted the “U.S.-Nazi alliance” mythology, Iran is simply resisting the American imperialism that has wounded it so badly in the past. If this means that the U.S. must let a genocidal terrorist regime do more or less whatever it wants—including killing millions of people in a nuclear war—then so be it. The chickens, as leftists are so fond of saying, always come home to roost.

This poultry-ism is only exacerbated by the fact that Iran’s main target at the moment is Israel. Since Israel is a longtime ally of the U.S., many progressives see the Jewish state as an essential part of the “U.S.-Nazi alliance.” As such, Iran’s “resistance” to Israel is perfectly defensible.

The claim that Israel is a Nazi or Nazi-allied state is a monstrous blood libel, of course, and anyone who knows anything of Nazism knows that, whatever else it may be, the U.S. government is not a Nazi regime.

But in many ways, this is beside the point. Even if we were to accept the “U.S.-Nazi alliance” mythology for the sake of argument, it would make no difference whatsoever. Terrorism, racism, antisemitism, genocide, misogyny and theocracy are still evil. The Iranian regime does not just practice these evils, it personifies and institutionalizes them. Allowing such a regime nuclear weapons, moreover, will result in what Churchill called “a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” The U.S. could be everything the mythology says it is (and it most certainly is not) and such an outcome would still be, to say the least, undesirable.

The question, in other words, is not whether the U.S. has wronged Iran in the past. It is whether Iran is wronging people now and will continue to do so if it is not resisted. If further proof were required, Saturday night’s assault on the Jewish state settled the issue once and for all.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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