According to reports, White House officials are optimistic about talks with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani. But setting aside that Rouhani is not a “moderate,” recent events in Egypt have destroyed any hope for negotiations. Iran’s leaders do not trust the U.S., which means that any negotiations will be a delaying tactic for Tehran and a fool’s errand for the United States.
Since 1979, the U.S. has made no secret of its antipathy for the Khomeini and Khamenei regimes. This antipathy is fully justified, but it has had a serious impact on the mindset inside Tehran.
Iran’s leaders have a deep-seated belief that the U.S. is interested in meddling in its affairs and unseating their regime. We’ve given them plenty of reasons for this – from our support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, to our (much too muted) support for the Green Revolution in 2009. And if there was any trust remaining between the U.S. and Iran, it was surely washed away with the ouster of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt.
It’s important to note that diplomacy was never likely to be successful. Iran’s leaders are developing a nuclear weapons program because they feel it’s the best way to preserve their grip on power. (The U.S. and Israel will be less likely to act against the regime if it possesses nuclear weapons – and may even need to support the regime in a period of instability, lest the weapons fall into the wrong hands during a power vacuum).
Thus, the Obama Administration tried to use sanctions to generate enough economic instability to convince Khamenei that seeking a nuclear weapon would weaken his grip on power. But given that Tehran has used violence to suppress its people, and that despotic regimes often let their people starve in order to pursue powerful weapons, Tehran was unlikely to yield to this strategy.
Over the past few years, Obama’s strategy has failed miserably. While sanctions did have some impact, the regime found numerous ways to circumvent them. Iran has also continued exporting terrorism across the world and supporting mass murder in Syria. And even as sanctions have increased, the IAEA reports that Iran is racing towards a nuclear weapon at record speed.
Nevertheless, the Obama Administration is intent on pursuing diplomacy. And after the election of Rouhani, the White House claimed that he was a moderate and would be open to stopping the nuclear program (even though Rouhani has no official say in the matter, and previously articulated a strategy whereby Iran would lie about stopping the program, but continue to develop it covertly).
Putting Rouhani aside, Obama’s hope for negotiations is based on the premise that Iran trusts America. Obama has told Tehran that he only wants to stop the nuclear program, and does not want to overthrow the Khamenei regime. Obama has also said that if Iran halts its nuclear program, it will be embraced by the U.S. and the international community. But after recent events in Egypt, Tehran knows that will never happen.
Mohammed Morsi’s Egypt was far from free, but compared to Iran, it was a panacea of democracy. Of course, the Egyptian people soon made it clear that they refused to be oppressed – even if their oppressor masked his despotic actions in the guise of Islam.
Iran is a totalitarian state, which operates under the guise of an Islamist republic. Unlike Morsi, however, the mullahs have used violence to force their will on an unwilling public.
The United States’ rejection of Morsi showed Tehran that America will never support totalitarian Islamist regimes. And by refusing to condemn the Morsi coup, the U.S. further confirmed Tehran’s suspicions that the U.S. will always oppose the Khamenei regime, regardless of its nuclear policy. This is likely to entrench the mullahs’ view that the only way to preserve their grip on power is to obtain a nuclear weapon. Any possibility of a genuine negotiation between the U.S. and Iran was destroyed when the U.S. assented to Morsi’s removal.
At this point, the only way Tehran will stop developing a nuclear weapon is if the regime is overthrown or if the U.S. or Israel take military action. But outside of empty rhetoric, Obama hasn’t given Tehran any reason to believe that he’s willing to use force.
If Obama would rather tolerate a nuclear Iran than support a military strike, he should say so. His current strategy seems to be to delay a decision until Tehran develops a bomb – at which point it will be too late to attack. This is bad policy. And it is unacceptable leadership.