Obama’s Weak Rationale for the Iran Deal

Apart from being shocking, the Iran deal is baffling. Why would a U.S. president enter into an agreement that so empowers a nation that behaves so badly?

Iran’s leaders – including its supreme leader – routinely call for the annihilation of Israel. It’s designated by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism. It sends money, weapons and military experts to forces hostile to the U.S. and Israel. Its proxies killed more than a thousand U.S. troops in Iraq. It aids the Taliban. It’s holding U.S. citizens hostage. And most alarming, it’s bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, likely with the intention of making good on its pledge to erase Israel from the map.

Within Iran, political prisoners are common, with reports of torture, rape, and killings of them. It lacks freedom of speech, the press, and religion. It practices Sharia law. Democracy and the rule of law are absent, with most power in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Council of Guardians determines who can run for office, and holds veto power over the parliament.

Responsible countries typically penalize such regimes through military containment, economic sanctions, and diplomatic isolation. Engaging with them amounts to rewarding bad behavior; top U.S. officials meeting with their leaders – such as what Secretary of State John Kerry has been doing – boosts them politically in the eyes of their citizenry and of other world leaders.

Why would President Obama not only engage in diplomacy with this rogue nation, but also lift economic sanctions and thereby enable increased funding of its terrorist activities abroad? Why would Obama give Iran express permission to build nuclear weapons starting in a decade, and leave open avenues for the country to cheat on the agreement before then?

His explanation is that he hopes the deal will prompt Iran to be “less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative,” and boost reformers within the country’s political system.

Yet he or his administration don’t explain how such goals will come about. They’re extremely unlikely.

Most of those who comprise Iran’s powerful, entrenched institutions shun any kind of political and economic reform. There’s nothing to indicate reformers will get the upper hand within Iran, with or without the agreement.

Those currently in place will use revenues gained from the lifting of sanctions to further entrench themselves. For example the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or goon squad as The Economist calls them, are set to profit handsomely from the lifting of sanctions; they control an array of businesses that span industries including construction, oil, automobiles, and telecommunications.

While the current president, Hassan Rouhani, seems open to economic reform, he’s no political reformer – and his powers pale in comparison to the ultra-hardline Ayatollah Khamenei. Reformists only make up less than a quarter of Iran’s parliament, and none are very well known, according to Arron Reza Merat, writing in The National Interest.

The next parliamentary elections are to be held this February, but all candidates have to be approved by the reactionary Guardian Council. Anyone who backed the 2009 protests against the presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are expected to be disqualified.

Even if Iran were ever to get a reformist president and parliament again, as it did during the late 1990s and early 2000s when Mohammad Khatami was president, not much would change. The Guardian Council routinely vetoed reform-minded legislation during his tenure.

There’s no use in holding out hope for an “Arab spring”-style regime overthrow in Iran; even if it were to happen, we all have seen the dark winters that typically follow such events in Middle Eastern countries. And Iran’s reactionary institutions make it highly unlikely that a reformist would ever replace the 76-year-old Khamenei after he dies.

Defenders of the Iran deal point to Nixon’s outreach to China in 1972, when the U.S. made significant concessions to China such as plans to shutter the U.S. embassy in Taiwan. China thereafter scaled down its anti-American rhetoric, but the deal did nothing to quell that country’s totalitarianism or development of nukes. (And unlike Obama, Nixon gained the release American political prisoners.) As Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, authors of Mao: The Unknown Story point out, “The increased Western presence did not have any appreciable impact on Chinese society while Mao was alive….The only people who benefitted at all from the rapprochement were a small elite.”

While China opened up economically and moved from totalitarianism to authoritarianism under Deng Xiaoping, its lack of democracy and ever-increasing saber-rattling are a serious cause for concern more than four decades after Nixon went to China.

President Obama’s “encouraging reformers” argument for inking the Iran deal is incredibly weak. Don’t expect Iran to become a responsible player in the community of nations anytime soon. Expect it to keep causing trouble. When it gets nukes, expect the worst.

 

(Originally published in Newsmax.com)

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