Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have suggested that they believe the Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran will use its $100+ billion windfall to the benefit of its citizens. After all, if the United States received a windfall equivalent to one-third of its Gross Domestic Product, Obama and the Congress would be like little kids in a candy store, pumping money into all sorts of pork and projects. Such a belief, however, reflected a combination of ignorance and naïveté about Iran. Between 2000 and 2005, the European Union tried to cultivate and moderate Iran with trade. At the same time, the price of oil skyrocketed. Hassan Rouhani, as chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, helped divert almost 70 percent of the hard currency windfall into Iran’s then-covert nuclear enrichment and ballistic missile programs. In addition, much of Iran’s manufacturing and heavy industry is under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or its proxies. The IRGC cares little for the livelihood of ordinary Iranians; its mission instead is to promote and guard the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary fervor.
Perhaps this debate was academic. Kerry’s staff wanted so hard to believe that they were the vanguard of a new era. They ignored previous efforts at peace, and the lessons learned by failed outreach during the Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush presidencies. Kerry and team were too busy imagining who might play them in the movies to consider that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Rouhani, the regime’s “Mr. Fix-It” might instead be playing them for fools.
There is no longer any doubt. Empowering the Islamic Republic brings not peace and reconciliation, but rather weapons proliferation and regional instability. Less than a month ago, in a single day, the Iranian and Russian press were full of stories about new arms deals and military cooperation. That has become, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception.
The Russian press has now announced almost $21 billion in sales of aircraft and space equipment by Russia to Iran. Iran’s space program has long been cover for ballistic missile development. Even if Tehran’s intentions were pure, such a large purchase, if true, suggests that Iran’s first post-sanctions priority is not bettering the lives of ordinary people.
Then, of course, there has been Khamenei and the Iranian regime leadership’s response to the tragedy in Mecca. Make no mistake, Saudi authorities deserve blame for the stampede that killed more than 700 pilgrims, including more than 100 Iranians. Saudi attempts to blame undisciplined African pilgrims are about comforting as a Saudi pledge never to make the same mistake four times. But rather than mourn the victims and come together at a time of tragedy, Iranian authorities have sought to pour fuel on the fire. Substitute Tehran Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Mohammed Kashani suggested that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation should strip Saudi Arabia of authority to coordinate the Hajj, in effect erasing Saudi sovereignty over Mecca and Medina. Kashani, of course, speaks not as an individual but instead as an appointed representative of Khamenei himself.
So, Iran reportedly purchases billions of dollars in arms and, before the ink is dry on its agreements, declares its intention first to eradicate Israel and then to erase Saudi authority over two of its largest cities. That’s about as much a formula for stability as the 1938 Anchluss — Germany’s annexation of Austria — was.
Regardless, the deal is done. Obama gambled, and lost. It’s time to cease the insistence that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will usher in a new era of peace in the Middle East and recognize that Obama and Kerry have effectively lit the fuse. Alas, political spin and denial simply pours fuel on the fire.