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Iran's 'Death to America' Ayatollahs in an Epidemic Bind

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

In a Feb. 28 press statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a remarkable offer.

America "stands with the people of Iran during the public health crisis caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)," the statement said. The U.S. government "is prepared to assist the Iranian people in their response efforts."


The ayatollah regime quickly rejected the offer, calling it "a political-psychological game."

Pompeo's offer certainly had a public relations facet. It all but said for the dictatorship to step aside and let those who can do.

But to cynically dismiss the offer as mere public relations and psychological manipulation is a destructive act. The World Health Organization calls the novel coronavirus a global health threat that requires global cooperation to combat.

The organization wants to contain the disease where possible and slow its spread so health systems can prepare and not be overwhelmed if it appears. That means national leaders must be honest and open with information. Chinese leaders were dishonest in the epidemic's early stages, denying its existence even as the disease infected the city of Wuhan.

To slow the rate of transmission, local care facilities must respond immediately, before 10 cases become 100. The World Health Organization is particularly concerned about nations with mediocre (or worse) health systems. They need to stock masks, gloves, medicine and antiseptics now. The World Health Organization estimates slowing the spread will require 89 million medical masks a month. The Trump administration's COVID-19 funding request includes aid packages to vulnerable countries lacking resources.

On March 3, the World Health Organization warned that protective equipment shortages endanger "health workers worldwide." It has "shipped half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 47 countries," but that is a stopgap.


In the context of proliferating contagion and human suffering, the U.S. offer to Iran of aid and selective sanctions relief was an act of real generosity, despite the nations' political antagonism.

"Slow war" better describes U.S.-Iran relations. Two months ago, the U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani, a professional terrorist and the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. As chief architect of Iran's worldwide proxy terror organizations, Soleimani was another type of global health threat.

Iran retaliated by striking U.S. facilities in Iraq with ballistic missiles. After the barrage, Iranian surface to air missiles under Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps command downed Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. The civilian aircraft had just taken off from Tehran's main airport. However, incompetent Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers decided the plane was a U.S. bomber. So, they fired and killed 176 innocent people.

For days, the government lied and denied its forces destroyed the plane until overwhelming evidence forced a confession.

When COVID-19 struck Iran, the ayatollahs followed the same script. They lied and denied, and the contagion began to kill.

Pompeo's insinuation that the regime harmed its own people had a factual basis. The day before he offered help, evidence emerged that Iran was a COVID-19 hotspot. Moreover, infected Iranians had spread the pathogen to several other countries.

Pompeo challenged the dictatorship to act responsibly and let competent international actors provide direct aid. Dictatorships like Iran's use aid as a political tool. They deny aid to dissidents. Iranian political authorities, from low to high, also have a notorious reputation for stealing food and medical aid to either sell on the black market or use themselves. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is reportedly hoarding masks.


No one knows how many Iranians have contracted the virus, though that applies to 50 other nations as well. But Iran has a lot. Estimates range from 2,400 to 10,000. Senior leaders themselves may be responsible for spreading the disease. Iran's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi and vice president for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar have COVID-19. An Iranian website reported Ebtekar met with President Hassan Rouhani and other ministers shortly before testing positive. One report says 23 members of parliament have the virus.

The Chinese Communist dictatorship's lack of transparency delayed China's response to the epidemic. Iran's ayatollah despots repeated that mistake. America offers lifesaving aid. That puts the "death to America" ayatollahs in a bind.

Austin Bay's latest book, "Cocktails from Hell: Five Wars Shaping the 21st Century" (Bombardier Books), is available now.

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