Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Debunking Iran’s “March of Conquest”

By Daniel Larison

The American Conservative / Vepar5

Paul Pillar puts the Iran hawks’ alarmist claims about an Iranian “march of conquest” in perspective:

The main fact on this subject is that Iran hasn’t been doing anything close to the country-gobbling, capital-controlling, instability-creating stuff in the Middle East that it routinely gets accused of doing. Its regional activity is best characterized as the understandable and unsurprising reactions of a major regional state to an assortment of conflicts in its neighborhood that are not of its own making. As Jon Alterman has put it, “The reality is the Iranians don’t control any Arab capital, and they couldn’t if they tried. Iraqis have a strong sense of nationalism and self-interest, as do Syrians, Lebanese and Yemenis. If you were an Iranian trying to impose your will, you’d be tearing your hair out. There is no Iranian ‘order’ in the region.” Instead, there is a lot of disorder, and amid that disorder the Iranian goal, says Alterman, “is to survive in a hostile world.”

The odd thing about this “march of conquest” argument is that it is fairly easy to disprove. It makes for a good fear-mongering soundbite, but on closer scrutiny the entire argument falls apart. Insofar as Iranian influence has increased with the Syrian and Iraqi governments in the last few years, that is a function of the weakness of these governments, their loss of territory to insurgents, and their need for Iranian aid. Even so, that doesn’t mean that these countries are under Iranian “control.” Iran is helping to prop up and defend faltering governments that face major internal opposition, and it is widely hated and distrusted by Sunni Muslims throughout the region on account of the increasingly sectarian nature of these conflicts.


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