Let’s start this way: How many Americans even realize that there are only three countries in the world with which their country has no ongoing diplomatic relations at all? Actually, the number was four until the Obama administration began slowly normalizing bilateral ties with one longtime member of the naughty list: Cuba. How many could name the three remaining states on that roll of shame? The first and easiest to guess is surely North Korea; the most obscure is Bhutan (the “Switzerland of the Himalayas”). And, yes, of course, last but by no means least is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Think of all the scoundrels not on that list: Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe; our Pakistani “frenemy”; Vladimir Putin’s Russia; Equatorial Guinea with its craven, 40-year dictator, accused of cannibalism; and, until 2012, Bashar al-Assad’s grim Syrian regime. Throughout the Cold War, the US kept an embassy in the Soviet Union and it similarly maintained formal relations with apartheid South Africa. As of 2014, the State Department officially dealt with nine-tenths of the globe’s most abusive regimes, according to the Human Rights Risk Atlas.
So, is the secretary of defense correct? Is Iran really behind all regional trouble in the Greater Middle East?
Hardly. In fact, such an assertion — and the language of absolutes that goes with it — is by definition problematic. In a Washington filled with Iranophobes, the demonization of that country is already a commonplace of everyday political chatter and it almost invariably rests on three inflated assumptions about Iran’s…