Does Goodwill Beget Goodwill?

Professor of Economics
Does Goodwill  Beget Goodwill?
Does Goodwill  Beget Goodwill?

Writing about visa restrictions is never an easy task for any Iranian who have lived and worked in other countries. Among these groups Iranian Americans and Iranians living in the United States have always felt they are subjected to undue discrimination based on the actions of other nationalities and policies of governments other than the one in Tehran.

Among the latest injustices one can name HR 158. The bill does little to prevent any future terrorist attacks while hurting the flourishing hopes of Iran rejoining the international business community. One wonders based on what logic such legislation was pushed trough.

Officially known as “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015” HR 158 seemingly tries to close a loophole. It denies automatic waiver to those citizens of 38 countries included in this program who have visited terrorist sponsor countries. However it does not take into account who actually these terrorists were and where they came from.     

While no Iranian national has ever participated in a terrorist attack in Europe or North America in decades, it targets Iranians based on the US State Department classification of “Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism,” a classification Tehran vehemently opposed and condemned.

Surprisingly all the governments whose citizens regularly commit acts of terror are close US friends and allies. Ignoring this fact has discredited such legislation and those passing them. May be it is true that targeting Iranian Americans has no political cost for any American politician. However it is also true that targeting the Iranian-American community with its many contributions to the US economy further harms whatever is left of the US government’s prestige in Tehran. Many ask how can a rational government afford to punish a community that has been punching more than its weight in academic research, business development and entrepreneurship.

It is not surprising to see the existing contrast between Iran experts and politicians. While all politicians and members of the House rushed to put their name to this bill, all experts condemned the endorsement of HR 158. They have no doubt that it will not help increase the security of the American people. Instead it gives them the illusion that their lawmakers have done “something.” 

Truth be said, a small group of legislators used (abused) the opportunity offered them by attacks in Paris and San Bernadino to sabotage the historic Iran nuclear deal.  They have not improved the security of the nation nor have they prevented further terrorist attacks. Instead they have implicitly maintained the grey area within which US partners in the war-ravaged Middle East ignore terror and terrorist ideologies.

The worst outcome of HR 158 is its message to the people of Iran. Despite decades of political tensions, Iranians remained steadfast in believing that Americans are a kindhearted nation. Now Iranians and Iranian-Americans are waking up to the realities of being second class citizens for no reason other than political convenience of Washingtonian lawmakers trying to flee the realities of the Middle East in the 21st century.

The history of the relations between the US and Iran is layered with mistrust and hostility, making it an example of situations where goodwill does not generate goodwill. Following the nuclear deal many entertained hopes that a new era had begun. This was not necessarily an era of friendship and alliance between two countries, but one to build confidence and address past injuries. HR 158 is a yet another bitter reminder that there are politicians in Washington determined not to lose any opportunity to add to those injuries.

Economically it is not difficult to see that HR 158 would negatively impact Iran’s tourism industry, hurt Iran’s opportunities for international economic collaboration and attracting foreign investments. It is also a reaffirmation that despite Iran’s contribution to the fight against the so-called Islamic State and its good will in addressing international concerns over its nuclear program, many still love to call Iran a ‘pariah state’. Although Secretary Kerry has promised that HR 158 does not hurt Iran’s “legitimate business interests” many remain skeptical about what the US considers legitimate? They remember the sanctions and how Iran could not even import medical supplies, something warranted even during wartime.

 It is a sad day for those who advocate the cause of peace to see warmongers use the blood of innocents to hurt another innocent community. The saddest part is that for all the damages HR 158 does to American image in Iran and to the Iranian-American community, it does not make Americans safer. The next citizen of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan set to commit a horrendous act of terrorism can still benefit from generous visa programs the US government has in place for its allies. And that is a paradox Iranians and Iranian-Americans simply cannot comprehend.