Iran has experienced months of protest, eliciting a range of emotions amongst Iranians both inside and outside the country, including grief, happiness, solidarity, and in many cases, rage. Although the ruling theocracy is the primary target of the anger and outrage, many have also directed their emotions towards the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), also known as the “Iran Lobby.”
When discussing the so-called “Iran Lobby,” it is important to first define the term. It should not be considered an official lobby or arm of the Islamic Republic, but rather refers to those who promote policies that normalize, defend, or support the Islamic Republic. Such support can be direct, or indirect, often with a significant economic component. The term does not necessarily imply that the person is directly working on behalf of the regime in Tehran but refers to someone who may have a direct or indirect interest in upholding the current government.
However, it's important to note that there is no consensus on the exact meaning of the term, and there is ongoing debate and disagreement about who qualifies as part of the “Iran Lobby.” Some critics argue that the term has been used unfairly, and that it can be used to stifle legitimate political debate and dissent. Nonetheless, the provided definition is a commonly used characterization of the “Iran Lobby.”
Sanctions or negotiations with Iran
Within this context, the debate on Iran policy has largely been between those who believe that the correct policy by the international community towards the Islamic Republic should involve sanctions and isolation vs. those who believe that negotiations and agreements with the regime would lead towards reforms and democratization. These positions have broadly aligned with the divide between Iranians inside who believe that the Islamic Republic is reformable and those who argue that a revolution or regime change is the only viable path towards democratization.
A key battleground in this debate has been the West’s treatment of Iran, both in the context of the nuclear negotiations and general diplomacy, trade, and investment relationships in the country.
Today, as Iran continues to arrest and execute protestors inside the country, many now call for a diplomatic boycott of the regime, the designation of the revolutionary guard as a terrorist entity, and a rejection of the nuclear deal or any form of economic relief for the regime. This position has garnered significant support from many Iranians who, in the face of ongoing repression, no longer believe that the regime is reformable. The death and violence caused by the regime, along with everything else, has fueled the rage against those who have long pushed the belief that reform was possible and that the Iranian regime was “not as bad” as it appears.
Debunking misconceptions about the Iran Lobby
This line of argument has had and continues to have many proponents, the majority of whom provide an analysis that blames what is taking place in Iran on the West. Their favorite arguments include claiming that Iran is not as bad as Saudi Arabia, that Western sanctions are to blame for people’s misery, and that Iran is a misunderstood actor ready to make peace if the Trumps of the world did not exist.
Some of these arguments in particular have aged terribly since the protest movement started in late 2022. They are quite comical to read in retrospect, and many of their authors are now caught in the predicament of disowning the last decade of their work, and running to catch up to the revolutionary masses.
These arguments fail to recognize some basic facts about Iran. The country is a theocratic autocracy ruled by a ruthless elite that maintains an iron grip on power and force. The regime is desperate for sanctions relief and financial stability in the face of international isolation, as it requires these to survive. One of the Iran Lobby’s consistent claims is that sanctions and isolation somehow enrich the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), or benefit Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, but this argument would be laughable if it were not drenched in blood and greed.
Any economic concessions made to Iran will benefit the regime first and foremost, allowing it to continue to operate its oppressive machinery. Khamanei’s 95 billion USD business empire stands to gain tremendously from sanctions relief. The IRGC is not only a military force used to suppress protests and spread terror; it also controls more than half of Iran’s economy, according to some estimates.
The Iran Lobby has come under fire for promoting an agenda that seeks to maintain economic relations with Iran while also extending the life of the Islamic Republic. Examining the publications and actions of individuals associated with the Iran Lobby reveals that their efforts are centered on achieving these goals at any cost. As tensions between the US and Iran persist, the debate over the role of the Iran Lobby is likely to continue.