Foreign Policy 101: There are no 'moderate' Iranian leaders

From The Wall Street Journal:

Moderates, Reformists Win Key Iran Election Races

Results indicate repudiation to hard-line opponents of landmark nuclear deal

By Aresu Eqbali and Asa Fitch | Updated Feb. 29, 2016 9:32 a.m. ET

TEHRAN—Moderates and reformists close to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have won key seats in Iran’s parliament and Assembly of Experts, dealing a setback to hard-liners opposed Iranian leader’s policy of more openness to the West.

In the first parliamentary election since Mr. Rouhani’s government reached a nuclear deal in July with the U.S. and other world powers, moderates and reformists took all 30 of Tehran’s seats in the 290-seat parliament, or Majlis, state television reported Monday.

In contests for the powerful Assembly of Experts, which will pick a successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the same moderate-reformist bloc also won all but one of the capital’s 16 seats to the 88-member body.

The outcome from races outside Tehran and other Iranian cities was still being assessed, but there were preliminary indications that the bloc performed well there, too. If so, the Mr. Rouhani would have a parliamentary majority—a huge blow to opponents of the nuclear accord.

There’s a little more at the link. But, once again, the media simply refer to “moderates and reformists” in Iran, as though such people actually exist. When it comes to the nuclear accord, there are two types of Iranian leaders:

  1. The type who so thoroughly hate the United States and Israel that they want absolutely nothing to do with them, and would never sign any deal, on anything, with the US; and
  2. The type who hate the United States and Israel, but are willing to sign an agreement that gives them an advantage even if kept, but who have no intention of keeping their word.

Charles Krauthammer described the Iranian “moderates” a year and a half ago:

The search, now 30 years old, for Iranian “moderates” goes on. Amid the enthusiasm of the latest sighting, it’s worth remembering that the highlight of the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages debacle was the secret trip to Tehran taken by Robert McFarlane, President Reagan’s former national security adviser. He brought a key-shaped cake symbolizing the new relations he was opening with the “moderates.”

We know how that ended.

Three decades later, the mirage reappears in the form of Hassan Rouhani. Strange résumé for a moderate: 35 years of unswervingly loyal service to the Islamic Republic as a close aide to Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei. Moreover, Rouhani was one of only six presidential candidates, another 678 having been disqualified by the regime as ideologically unsound. That puts him in the 99th centile for fealty.

Rouhani is Khamenei’s agent but, with a smile and style, he’s now hailed as the face of Iranian moderation. Why? Because Rouhani wants better relations with the West.

Well, what leader would not want relief from Western sanctions that have sunk Iran’s economy, devalued its currency and caused widespread hardship? The test of moderation is not what you want but what you’re willing to give. After all, sanctions were not slapped on Iran for amusement. It was to enforce multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding a halt to uranium enrichment.

Yet in his lovey-dovey Post op-ed, his U.N. speech and various interviews, Rouhani gives not an inch on uranium enrichment. Indeed, he has repeatedly denied that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons at all. Or ever has. Such a transparent falsehood — what country swimming in oil would sacrifice its economy just to produce nuclear electricity that advanced countries such as Germany are already abandoning? — is hardly the basis for a successful negotiation.

At some point, we have to realize that the difference between a ‘moderate’ and a ‘hard-liner’ in Iran is simply over how best to kill Westerners in general, and Americans and Israelis in particular. It has been under the ‘moderate’ President Rouhani that Americans have been seized and imprisoned and used as bargaining chips; it has been under the ‘moderate’ President Rouhani that Christians have been sentenced to death for apostasy and homosexuals hanged from construction cranes. Executions in Iran increased 40% under Mr Rouhani.

President Reagan deceived himself with the Iran-Contra policy, thinking that he could somehow find some reasonable Iranian leaders; what he found were Iranian leaders who were willing to lie to achieve their own goals. And in the thirty years since then, we keep looking, keeping hoping against hope, that we’re going to find some Iranian leaders who are reasonable in the way that Westerners define reasonable; what we get are Iranian leaders who tell us what we want to hear, but keep on doing what Iranian leaders have been doing ever since the overthrow of the Shah.

At some point, we ought to be able to learn from experience. I guess we haven’t gotten to that point yet.