On Nov. 4 in Tehran, several thousand demonstrators converged on the site of the long-abandoned U.S. Embassy and, repeating an annual ritual, chanted "Death to America!" One of their leaders, Saeed Jalili, who earlier this year ran unsuccessfully for president, told the crowd that "fighting the global arrogance and hostile policies of America is a symbol of our national solidarity."
Nine days later in Washington, members of the U.S. Congress took part in an eerily similar ritual. None used the phrase "Death to Iran," but at a hearing staged by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, they competed with one another at denouncing Iran with ever more colorful fervor. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., called for "even stricter sanctions"; Ted Poe, R-Texas, called the recently inaugurated president of Iran "a slick snake-oil salesman"; and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., lamented that Americans were "making a fool out of ourselves" by negotiating with Iran.
These two collections of shortsighted extremists are mirror images of each other. Deeply invested in the norm of U.S.-Iran hostility and unable or unwilling to see the strategic interests their countries share, they are working frantically to upset diplomatic progress toward reconciliation. If they succeed, both countries will suffer.
In Iran the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps has emerged as a key force opposed to reconciliation. It has good reason. American hostility has made this organization, which has been an instrument of brutal repression, very wealthy. The corps runs the lucrative sanction-busting business, taking speedboats full of forbidden goods across the Persian Gulf. The regime of comprehensive sanctions the United States has imposed on Iran makes this business possible. If ties between Washington and Tehran are normalized, sanctions will be eased or lifted, and there will be no more need for sanction busters.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is emerging as a U.S. version of Iran's rejectionist Revolutionary Guard Corps. Its Nov. 13 hearing was another reflection of its determination to keep Iran and the United States locked in eternal hostility.
"I'm so upset over the fact that this administration thinks that if they put their arms around these terrorists, we're going to sing 'Kumbaya' and everything's going to be fine," said Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa.
These two mirror organizations, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, form a bizarre partnership aimed at assuring that diplomacy between Washington and Tehran fails. The emotion that undergirds their mutual hostility is deeply dangerous to both Iran and the United States. Emotion is always the enemy of wise statesmanship. As farseeing leaders in Washington and Tehran seek to lead their countries out of a bitter 34-year confrontation, emotion leads radicals to self-defeating extremes.