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The Myth of the Moderate Mullahs

The West’s capacity for self-delusion when it comes to Iran never ceases to amaze me. Witness the ecstatic reaction to supposed centrist Hassan Rohani’s election in a rigged election. According to The Wall Street Journal: “The Obama administration and its European allies—surprised and encouraged by Hassan Rohani’s election as Iran’s next president—intend to aggressively push to resume negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program by August to test his new government’s positions.”

Really? Seriously? Is this on the level? Do leaders in Washington and other Western capitals still believe in the myth of “moderate mullahs” who will make a deal on Iran’s nuclear program if only we reach out to them? This flies in the face of decades of evidence that the Iranians have no intention of giving up their cherished nuclear ambitions whose realization they see (perhaps rightly, if the example of North Korea is anything to go by) as the ultimate guarantor of their revolution.

It also flies in the face of all the evidence that the real decision-maker in Iran is not the figurehead president but the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has held power since 1989. That is a long enough period that he should have dispelled any naive hopes that he is a closet reformer who has any ambition other than maintaining repression at home and expanding Iranian influence abroad at the expense of the U.S. and our moderate allies in the region.

For that matter, even if Rohani had any real power there is scant reason to think he would reach any deal with the West unless it allows Iran a tactical advantage. As Sohrab Ahmari reminds us in the Wall Street Journal: “For 16 years starting in 1989, Mr. Rohani served as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure on the council, Mr. Rohani led the crackdown on a 1999 student uprising and helped the regime evade Western scrutiny of its nuclear-weapons program.”

Numerous other accounts note that when Rohani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, he oversaw a temporary pause in enrichment activities–but he later bragged that this had relieved pressure on Iran and allowed it to make critical advances in its nuclear program.

There is scant cause to think that Rohani’s election now will change Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons–except to make it easier by dragging the West into further fruitless negotiations that will buy time for the mullahs to produce an atomic bomb.


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