Just how bad is Iran’s international image right now?

If you’re a developing country that reflexively opposes the United States, you have to work exceptionally hard — I’m talking years of effort here — to do anything that provokes the ire of Noam Chomsky. I mean, this is a guy who had few qualms about the Cambodian genocide because the Khmer Rouge was anti-American. ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

If you're a developing country that reflexively opposes the United States, you have to work exceptionally hard -- I'm talking years of effort here -- to do anything that provokes the ire of Noam Chomsky. I mean, this is a guy who had few qualms about the Cambodian genocide because the Khmer Rouge was anti-American. Clearly, the bar of awfulness is pretty high to get ol' Noam's attention. Amazingly, Mahmoud Ahmdainejad's Iran has pulled this off. Robin Wright explains in the Washington Post: Momentum is building behind an academic boycott of Iran to pressure the government to release imprisoned American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was jailed in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison May 8 after more than four months under house arrest.... MIT professor Noam Chomsky also issued a statement today calling Esfandiari's detention "deplorable" and warning that the action by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security was "a gift" to American policymakers trying to organize support for military action against Iran. "Now is a time for diplomacy, negotiations and relaxation of tensions, in accordance with the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans and Iranians, as recent polls reveal," he said. "The intolerable treatment of this highly respected scholar and human rights activist severely undermines the efforts of those who are seeking peace, justice and freedom in the region and the world." In his popular blog, University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole announced today that he has canceled plans to attend a conference this summer in Iran because of Tehran's imprisonment of Esfandiari. "Everyone should be outraged about this story," he said. "Her arrest should be an issue for everyone who believes in human rights, in academic freedom, and in women's rights." Cole added, "I don't see how normal intellectual life can go on when a scholar at the Wilson Center can't safely visit Iran." He also suggested that academics and others mobilize to protest in front of Iranian diplomatic missions around the world.If you're interested in registering your own protest about this action to the Iranian government, Amnesty International has conveniently set up a website to send letters to Ahmdainejad and other Iranian leaders. UPDATE: Wright's follow-up report is not good: American scholar Haleh Esfandiari has been charged with trying to topple the Iranian regime, Iran's state-controlled television reported today. Iran's Intelligence Ministry accused Esfandiari, director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, of trying to foment a soft revolution by setting up a network "against the sovereignty" of Iran. Esfandiari was imprisoned May 8 after more than four months under virtual house arrest. "This is an American-designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country," state TV reported, according to the Associated Press.... In a statement published by Iran's ISNA news agency, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security charged that Esfandiari had received money from George Soros's Open Society Institute. "The long-term and final goal of such centers is to try to enable this network . . . to confront the ruling powers. This model designed by the Americans . . . is following the 'soft revolution' in the country," the statement said.... Esfandiari, a 67-year-old grandmother who is a dual U.S. and Iranian national, was originally in Iran to take care of her 93-year-old mother when her passport was taken in a robbery as she was en route to the airport Dec. 30. When she went in to get a replacement, she was put under interrogation for six weeks.I suspect that Iran's war against American "soft power" is going to have a lot of collateral damage.

If you’re a developing country that reflexively opposes the United States, you have to work exceptionally hard — I’m talking years of effort here — to do anything that provokes the ire of Noam Chomsky. I mean, this is a guy who had few qualms about the Cambodian genocide because the Khmer Rouge was anti-American. Clearly, the bar of awfulness is pretty high to get ol’ Noam’s attention. Amazingly, Mahmoud Ahmdainejad’s Iran has pulled this off. Robin Wright explains in the Washington Post:

Momentum is building behind an academic boycott of Iran to pressure the government to release imprisoned American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was jailed in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison May 8 after more than four months under house arrest…. MIT professor Noam Chomsky also issued a statement today calling Esfandiari’s detention “deplorable” and warning that the action by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was “a gift” to American policymakers trying to organize support for military action against Iran. “Now is a time for diplomacy, negotiations and relaxation of tensions, in accordance with the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans and Iranians, as recent polls reveal,” he said. “The intolerable treatment of this highly respected scholar and human rights activist severely undermines the efforts of those who are seeking peace, justice and freedom in the region and the world.” In his popular blog, University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole announced today that he has canceled plans to attend a conference this summer in Iran because of Tehran’s imprisonment of Esfandiari. “Everyone should be outraged about this story,” he said. “Her arrest should be an issue for everyone who believes in human rights, in academic freedom, and in women’s rights.” Cole added, “I don’t see how normal intellectual life can go on when a scholar at the Wilson Center can’t safely visit Iran.” He also suggested that academics and others mobilize to protest in front of Iranian diplomatic missions around the world.

If you’re interested in registering your own protest about this action to the Iranian government, Amnesty International has conveniently set up a website to send letters to Ahmdainejad and other Iranian leaders. UPDATE: Wright’s follow-up report is not good:

American scholar Haleh Esfandiari has been charged with trying to topple the Iranian regime, Iran’s state-controlled television reported today. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry accused Esfandiari, director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, of trying to foment a soft revolution by setting up a network “against the sovereignty” of Iran. Esfandiari was imprisoned May 8 after more than four months under virtual house arrest. “This is an American-designed model with an attractive appearance that seeks the soft-toppling of the country,” state TV reported, according to the Associated Press…. In a statement published by Iran’s ISNA news agency, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security charged that Esfandiari had received money from George Soros’s Open Society Institute. “The long-term and final goal of such centers is to try to enable this network . . . to confront the ruling powers. This model designed by the Americans . . . is following the ‘soft revolution’ in the country,” the statement said…. Esfandiari, a 67-year-old grandmother who is a dual U.S. and Iranian national, was originally in Iran to take care of her 93-year-old mother when her passport was taken in a robbery as she was en route to the airport Dec. 30. When she went in to get a replacement, she was put under interrogation for six weeks.

I suspect that Iran’s war against American “soft power” is going to have a lot of collateral damage.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

Tag: Theory

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.