The Democrats chosen to participate in CNN and the Des Moines Register‘s presidential debate on Tuesday wanted to make very clear to the world: They like women.
They also went out of their way to attack President Donald Trump for taking a hardline stance against Iran, one of the world’s most repressive countries for women to live in.
All candidates who mentioned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal, expressed support and promised to return to the negotiating table with Iran. Later in the debate — largely thanks to an increasingly acrimonious feud between Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — all posed as enlightened feminists, ready to put taxpayers’ dollars to work to make American women’s lives better, without acknowledging their vow to almost certainly make Iranian women’s lives worse.
The reality of Iran’s regime is that it brutally subjugates the will of its women, liberally imposing the death penalty on those who defy strict Islamic laws that have little cultural basis in pre-revolutionary Iran. When free-thinking Iranians take to the streets in protest, women are often the first to receive beatings or bullets, bleeding out in their native streets. Watching live sports is haram, a sin, for women unless Iran desperately needs good publicity on any given week.
The Iran nuclear deal financially subsidized Iran’s atrocities against women. It is fundamentally incompatible with feminism.
The Democrats may have likely sensed this, as the issues of containing Iran and empowering women never crossed paths during their discussion. The debate opened with discussion on Iran, leaving the candidates open to condemn Trump for weakening the Islamic revolutionary regime.
“As you know, the nuclear deal with Iran was worked on with a number of our allies. We have got to undo what Trump did, bring that coalition together, and make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon,” Sanders asserted.
“I was part of that deal to get the nuclear agreement with Iran, bringing together the rest of the world, including some of the folks who aren’t friendly to us. And it was working,” former Vice President Joe Biden claimed, falsely. “It was working. It was being held tightly. There was no movement on the part of the Iranian government to get closer to a nuclear weapon.”
Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also lamented the collapse of the nuclear deal, initially refusing to affirm if he would work to ensure that Iran does not procure a nuclear weapon. He then claimed that overturning an agreement Iran was openly violating would bring Iran closer to joining the nuclear club.
“By gutting the Iran nuclear deal — one that, by the way, the Trump administration itself admitted was working, certified that it was preventing progress toward a nuclear Iran — by gutting that, they have made the region more dangerous and set off the chain of events that we are now dealing with as it escalates even closer to the brink of outright war,” Buttigieg stated.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) boasted that she worked on the nuclear deal and similarly applauded it.
“I would start negotiations [with Iran] again,” she promised. “And I won’t take that as a given, given that our European partners are still trying to hold the agreement together. My issue is that, because of the actions of Donald Trump, we are in a situation where they are now starting — Iran is starting to enrich uranium again in violation of the original agreement.”
The nuclear deal handed Iran over $150 billion, which Iran mostly invested in attempting to colonize friendly actors in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq. The money that stayed home, as made clear this week, went largely to suppress protests against the regime heavily attended by women.
Iran is one of the world’s most repressive nations against its women and girls. The Islamic revolution of 1979 undid decades of “progressive” laws and policies towards the nation’s women that allowed them to work outside the home, maintain public personas, and function largely as equals in society, relative to how many other nations at the time treated women. As Haleh Esfandiari wrote for the Atlantic Council, the regime rapidly went about erasing women from society:
Overnight the age of marriage for girls was reduced from eighteen to nine; it took ten years of effort by women activists to raise it again, but only to thirteen. Women lost the right to seek a divorce and the right to child custody. Family protection courts were dissolved, eventually replaced by civil courts, and women no longer could become judges. Polygamy once again was permissible under the law.
The streets became a sea of black, brown, and navy manteaus (ankle-long coats) and head covers; bright colors were banned. Smiling was frowned upon. Only loose women, it was assumed, would smile at strangers or laugh out loud in public.
In 2014, when the United Nations Human Rights Council published its routine report on human rights in the country, it found growing repression of women: proposed laws to ban women from working in public locations like coffee shops and the cancellation of artistic performances after the government became aware women were involved.
“Iranian women face discrimination in many aspects of their lives, ranging from issues related to marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody, to restrictions on dress and even access to sports stadiums as spectators,” Human Rights Watch declared a year later, noting that the violation of women’s rights extended outside the typical venues — family rights, the right to work, medical rights — into realms like the prohibition on women watching sports in public arenas.
Women routinely bear the brunt of Iran’s violent repression of protesters. The face of the 2009 “green revolution,” a pro-democracy movement crushed by then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old woman shot in broad daylight amid the protests. Other protesters recorded the shooting and her expiration, outraging the world.
Over a decade later, Iran’s women are once again taking the streets. During the protests against the regime on Monday, video surfaced of another woman, whose identity remains unknown, bleeding profusely in the streets of Tehran, apparently from a gunshot wound to the leg.
Noting the tide in public sentiment against repression of women, pressuring change even in nations like neighboring Saudi Arabia, the Iranian regime has rolled back only the least important of its abusive policies against women in the hope of receiving international praise. Last year, the regime let some women watch a soccer match at a stadium, then demanded applause.
Similarly, two years ago, it declared that women caught not wearing hijab in public would not go directly to prison, but be matriculated into “Islamic values” classes to be guilted about showing their hair. The policy applied only to first-time offenders, of course; women who repeatedly rejected the Islamic headscarf could face criminal prosecution.
“Based on a society-oriented, educational approach, the police will not arrest those who don’t respect Islamic values,” Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi, proclaimed at the time. “It will instead educate them.”
At least one woman Iran routinely used to boost its public image despite its bloody history against them — its only woman Olympian, Taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh — defected to the Netherlands this week.
“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who have been playing with me for years. They took me wherever they wanted. Whatever they said I wore. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. Whenever they saw fit, they exploited me,” she said in a statement. “They put my medals on the obligatory veil and attributed it to their management and tact. My troubled spirit does not fit into your dirty economic channels and tight political lobbies. I have no other wish except for Taekwondo, security and a happy and healthy life.”
Not one candidate on the debate stage Tuesday mentioned Kimia Alizadeh, or Neda Agha-Soltan, or any of the millions of women Iran has executed, abused, tortured, or exploited. Instead, they focused on supporting the women on stage — some of the wealthiest, most privileged, and most powerful women in the world.
The Democrats’ voter base will likely fail to recognize the dissonance between their candidates’ stances on Iran and their performative support for women. The left rarely condemns repressors if it means acknowledging anything positive about Trump. But no two issues exist in isolation, and Democrats must address the incompatibility of what policies they support with what they state their values are.