What unites the pro-Iran lobby with the anti-Ukraine voices? - analysis

Ukraine and Israel are both seen as examples of pro-American and pro-western states that are somehow geographically “out of place.”

 The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER)
The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER)

After Russia invaded Ukraine and began widespread bombing of cities, there was a growing consensus in the West that Moscow had to be confronted and the visit this week by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Kyiv demonstrates US commitment to Ukraine.

But not everyone is on board with the US support or the West’s support, in general. Some of these voices are united by a historic criticism of the US role in the world. Among these voices are those that often tend to side with US adversaries and authoritarian regimes, such as Iran. They also have a dislike for Israel and the “Israel lobby.”

One would think that when it comes to Ukraine, there would be widespread consensus that it is in the right, and Russia is in the wrong. However, as with Israel, the critics of Ukraine tend to see a small democracy abroad and they tend to look at the wider region and then find sympathy for the authoritarian anti-American power, rather than the country that wants to be a US ally.  

This analysis is not naming names to distract from the overall issue but here is a summation of how these voices present themselves. One of the commentators presents the US support for Ukraine as a proxy war against Russia, in which Ukrainian lives are being used by the US. In this line of reasoning, the US is actually “blocking paths to de-escalation.”

You’d think that since it was Russia that invaded Ukraine, killed thousands in bombing and drove millions from cities, that it was Russia that has escalated. But no, according to this logic, it is America’s fault.  

A view shows a residential building destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 14, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/PAVEL KLIMOV/FILE PHOTO)A view shows a residential building destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 14, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/PAVEL KLIMOV/FILE PHOTO)

Today, it is excusing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and making it seem like the US is the problem. Yesterday, it was excusing Iran’s regime and blaming the US for instability in the Middle East. The Iran regime has some kind of spell that it casts over a small minority of foreign policy analysts in the US. Not long ago, some of these voices believed a nuclear-armed Iran would bring “stability” to the Middle East. And, like clockwork, some of the same voices blame the US for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Of interest here is that this narrative trajectory from seeing Iran as a source of potential stability, to excusing Russia’s invasion, has a line that also runs through Israel; because some of these voices and their fellow travelers are also critics of the “Israel lobby.”

On the one hand, it is predictable that since the Cold War, the far-left that has always backed Russia, would continue to do so.

The pro-Iran lobby and its networks in the US, including some commentators at think tanks, will always have the same talking points on this issue. The US is to blame. Authoritarian regimes are generally good as long as they oppose the US. Iran is a source of stability. Ukraine and Israel are problem states, and the Israel lobby is responsible for bad things.  

The linkage between the pro-Iran voices, the critics of US policy in Ukraine; and the excuse factory for Russia’s actions that seem to imply the US is always “escalating” by simply helping Ukraine not be destroyed, is a linkage that is rooted in disliking Israel as well as Ukraine.

What might explain this?

Ukraine and Israel are both seen as examples of pro-American and pro-western states that are somehow geographically “out of place.” What that means is that we are told by these voices that Russia has legitimate concerns about Ukraine, that it sees Ukraine as a bulwark of the West and that it has a right to its “near abroad” and has a right to a “neutral” Ukraine.

In short, Ukraine has no right to decide its future; only “great powers” and “regional powers” get to decide. This argument asserts that Ukraine must be made neutral or should be carved up to please Russia. If the US backs Ukraine then it escalates and “provokes.”

Similarly, when Israel was created, there were arguments among “realists” and “pragmatic” voices in the US and the West that asserted that it was better to work with authoritarian Arab nationalist regimes and not sacrifice influence for Israel.

These regimes had legitimate concerns that Israel might “destabilize” the region, or that its democracy might somehow “threaten” the authoritarians. At the root of this critique is the idea that the areas around Ukraine “belong” to Russia, and the areas around Israel “belong” to countries like Iran, or in the old days too, the Arab League.

Ukraine and Israel upset the “order” of these regions and “managed” them. If it weren’t for Ukraine and Israel being “in the way,” then the logic says that the US could get along with Russia and Iran. The “world order” could work because Iran could have the Middle East, Russia could have parts of eastern Europe and all would be well. This is the reason why Kurdish rights were pushed aside, Armenians sacrificed and other minority groups and fledgling democracies crushed; they were “in the way.”  

The realists and fellow travelers tend to believe in a fictional world order of interests and great powers where all these countries can pragmatically get along, but that in order to get along, most of the world has to be sacrificed to authoritarian prisons, most independent states and minorities pushed aside, because backing those groups is “emotional” and pragmatic people in diplomacy are willing to sacrifice a few million people here and there to get to “peace.”

So Iran has legitimate claims to Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Those countries have to be given to Iran so everyone can get along. Ten, twenty, thirty million people can be kept in abject poverty and their lives ruined and militias running checkpoints, so that “realism” can prevail. Only “emotional” people say that perhaps the Kurds of Iraq deserve rights. Realists think Saddam Hussein had a point. Putin has a point. The Ayatollahs have “interests.” Once their interests are appeased, then there will be stability.

This is the logic that underpins the complaints about the US “escalating” in Ukraine, the US backing Israel against Iran’s actions, and the complaints that the “Israel lobby” undermines US political goals; and that the US has “angered” China, Russia, Iran and Turkey by not giving every authoritarian regional power whatever it wants.