Commentary Magazine


The Iran Election Optimists

Give Secretary of State John Kerry some credit. His blind faith in the magic of his diplomatic prowess has led him to embark on a futile effort to revive the Middle East peace process and to an equally foolish attempt to get Russia’s Putin regime to play ball with the United States on Syria. Such endeavors are more or less the moral equivalent of belief in the Tooth Fairy, but at least Kerry doesn’t think the Iranian presidential election going on today will have any impact on his equally fruitless efforts to craft a diplomatic solution to the standoff on Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. Last month Kerry rightly dismissed the notion that a new president chosen by the sham vote would have the slightest effect on the nuclear question since all power there rests in the hands of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But for those determined to ignore the truth about Iran’s intransigence as well as its phony election, that sort of a position is much too sensible. Hence the New York Times editorial today that said, “the election is important because it gives Iran and the United States a fresh diplomatic opportunity to avoid a dangerous confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program.”

It takes a special kind of tunnel vision to imagine that an election in which no one who opposes the policies of the Islamist regime is allowed to run and in which the candidates are competing for an office that does not have the power to change Iran’s foreign or nuclear policy is any kind of opportunity for the United States. But the willingness of the Times to hang its editorial hat on the election is instructive. The rationale for their argument is not so much a belief that Hassan Rowhani, the so-called “moderate” in the Iranian race, will really be able to influence Khamenei’s decisions as it is to nudge President Obama to offer Tehran more concessions in order to make the entire subject go away. The word “containment” does not appear in the editorial nor is it a policy that the administration says it is considering. But far from actually offering an option for the United States to “diplomatically rein in an Iranian nuclear program that could quickly produce a weapon,” a post-election initiative to make nice with the ayatollahs seems to aim at just such an accommodation. What the Times really seems to be doing is to try and smooth the way for an American decision to live with a nuclear Iran.

The point here is not so much an argument about the Iranian electoral system. Even the Times concedes the voting doesn’t mean the Iranian people have any kind of a voice in their government. Nor is there any reason to think the election of the “moderate” will influence the country’s nuclear decision making. Anyone who has followed the country’s politics since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 knows that such moderates only put a slightly more presentable face on a totalitarian regime that is inveterately hostile to the West and has genocidal impulses toward Israel.

The only possible way the election can be construed as an “opportunity” is not in terms of actually persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Rather, it seems to be a chance for the president to do what the Times editorial board has often hinted is its real goal in the Iranian tangle: getting the president to begin walking back five years of promises never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

After more than a decade of Western diplomacy aimed at bribing or cajoling the Iranians to halt their nuclear program, there is no reason to believe further efforts—even those involving major concessions by the West—will succeed. Khamenei believes Obama is bluffing and, as with critics of his phony election, the supreme leader thinks he has the ability to tell everyone to go “to hell,” including Obama and Kerry.

President Obama knows, just like his cheerleaders at the Grey Lady, that time is running out to stop Iran, as the newspaper’s editorial language about nukes being “quickly produced” indicated. But the president’s faith in diplomacy has reinforced the Iranian belief that they have nothing to worry about from the West. More diplomacy of the kind the Times recommends is exactly what Khamenei and whichever of his stooges is elected president wants. Rather than using the election as a springboard for more doomed attempts at outreach to Tehran, President Obama should respond to the new president with the sort of credible warning about the consequences of further prevarication on Iran’s part that no one in the regime has ever really heard.

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