A major focus of my 2014 study on the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes was that, contrary to the assumptions and attitudes of many diplomats and politicians, talking with enemies is not without cost. If done careless or naively, the associated costs can be quite high.
Alas, Iran continues to be a case in point. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and their teams pursued rapprochement with Iran with laser focus. Both sought an Iran deal to cement their vision of the world, and neither was willing to consider facts or behavior that would get in the way. Iran cheated on the margins of its commitments? Never mind: The prerogative of reaching a commitment trumped the letter of the law. And Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promised unwavering hostility to the United States? No matter, he was a politician pandering to his base, never mind that the same deal advocates swore up and down the Iranian people were overwhelmingly moderate. Logical consistency was not a strong point for many supporters of the Iran deal in the run up to its conclusion.
The costs of the deal are now apparent. While both the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) continue to reject inspections of military sites, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has increased. While the IRGC receives tens of billions of hard currency from unfrozen assets and new investment, Iranian authorities seize new hostages and treat others with disdain. While the Iranian economy continues to flounder, the Iranian government has gone on multi-billion dollar spending spree in Russia and China, and bolstered client groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in Iraq.
When it comes to rogue regimes, religious freedom is often the canary in the coal mine. Iran’s targeting of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American and a Christian pastor, should have been a warning sign. Obama and Kerry’s willingness to ignore American hostages in pursuit of broader aims has convinced Iranian authorities that it can be open season on minority faiths without fear of diplomatic consequence.
In recent days, Iranian authorities have especially gone after the Baha’i community. According to the Iran Wire:
On the morning of Sunday, November 15, Iranian Intelligence Ministry agents arrested 20 Bahais in Tehran, Isfahan and Mashhad. They also closed down Bahai-run businesses in the Province of Mazandaran… So far, no information has been made available about the charges against the Baha’is. Their families have not been informed of their whereabouts. According to reports, it is likely that the prisoners have been taken to detention centers run by the Intelligence Ministry in their respective cities. On the same day of the arrests took place, the Bureau of Public Places in the province of Mazandaran sealed and shut down 23 businesses belonging to Baha’is, including in the cities of Sari, Ghaem Shahr, Tonekabon, and Babolsar. This followed the businesses being closed on Saturday, November 14, a religious holiday for Baha’is. Authorities have in the past objected to Baha’i businesses observing holidays, threatening them with closure if they failed to keep the same business hours as non-Baha’i shops and services. Two days prior to the closure of Baha’i businesses in Mazandaran, authorities also closed all Baha’i businesses in the city of Rafsanjani in the southeastern province of Kerman. Among the businesses closed were shops selling cosmetics, health products, musical instruments, eyeglasses, clothes, tires and toys, and businesses offering refrigerator maintenance, photography and photocopier services.
The notion that such actions occur against the will or despite the knowledge of President Hassan Rouhani defies belief. Rouhani has not only always been a staunch regime ideologue — his campaign commercials bragged about how he first bestowed messianic titles upon Ayatollah Khomeini — but he also appointed more intelligence ministry veterans to his cabinet than any other leader in the history of the Islamic Republic. Rather than provide over a reformist cabinet, he presides over the Iranian equivalent of a KGB one.
In Iran, civil society activists recognize that the extremism motivating the Islamic Republic’s targeting of minorities and the Islamic State’s terror is Paris differs in flavor but not in substance. Imprisoned Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi released through intermediaries a statement and recording implicitly condemning the Islamic Republic’s ongoing crackdown on religious freedom and stressing the solidarity that should be incumbent among all monotheists, regardless of their choice of practice.
Unfortunately, such statements are cause for prison in Iran and, while the United States once stood for religious freedom, over the last eight years, the Oval Office has become synonymous with indifference. What does this mean for Iran and Iranians? Until the international community stands up with credibility in support of religious freedom, the situation for Iran’s evangelical Christian, Baha’i and dwindling Jewish communities will get much, much worse.