(June 30, 2021 / JNS) Every American government since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has tried to find a way to house and work with the Islamic Republic of Iran. More specifically, they have tried to find a working arrangement with the Supreme Leader, the supreme authority and the last word of the regime.
Carrots in the form of economic incentives and whips in the form of sanction relief have not fundamentally moved the needle in dealing with Iran. Only the perceived threat of an American invasion of Iran following the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s forced the Iranians to slow down some of their malicious and nuclear activities.
What is lacking in the thinking and strategy of the current government, however, is the willingness to see with new eyes why 40 years of efforts have completely failed. These failures had real consequences in the deaths of more than 600 American soldiers killed in Iraq by Iran-supplied improvised explosive devices, the hundreds of Americans killed by Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, and the kidnapping of Americans who never return the light of day. Not to mention the tens of millions of Iranians forced to live under a brutal regime that tortures, imprisons and kills its citizens for the crimes of homosexuality.
The answer is right in front of the eyes of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Robert Menendez, and President Joe Biden. The Iranian regime is a fundamentalist Twelve Shiite revolutionary movement of true believers whose mission is to spread their repressive understanding of Islam throughout the world, including among their Sunni brethren. They are as doctrinal in their beliefs as ISIS, except that the Iranians will soon have the ability to possess nuclear weapons. Since 1979, many Republicans and most Democrats have been unable to cope with this complex reality.
The Achilles’ heel of American foreign policy is the false belief that all nations, including those who are appallingly repressive and support terrorists, can be made to take a more forgiving and less confrontational stance towards the US and its allies for western and economic reasons. It does so despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that our reach has been interpreted as weakness.
The governments of both parties have chosen to ignore the obvious because we have western ideas that if we just bow down enough, give enough money and show respect, we know how to manipulate this regime. The masters of manipulation are the Iranians. Religiously sanctioned pretense, also known as taqiyya, allows one to deceive one’s enemy. The Iranian patsies are their naive Western opponents in nuclear negotiations.
None of this is new. In 2006, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute wrote: “It is dangerous to assume that both Washington and Tehran operate by the same principles. [Former Supreme Leader Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini] spoke about the Shiite concept of Taqiyah … the need to engage in such religiously sanctioned lying … When the Islamic Republic sees itself as threatened, its leaders may not only feel compelled to lie, but also feel entitled to lie. From a religious and political point of view, the end justifies the means. “
Under this regime, Iran is incapable of any fundamental reform in the western sense. The sooner we understand this, the more realistic our foreign policy becomes. For President Biden and previous governments of both parties, ignoring it is a recipe for national security nightmares.
As Bret Stephens, writing in The New York Times, said: “If Iran’s ambitions are fundamentally ideological – to spread the cause of its Islamic Revolution in all parts of the Middle East and beyond – then negotiations are largely pointless. Iran will seek dominance and subversion, not stability. Anyone who thought that Iranian politics would ultimately move in a more moderate direction was wrong. The regime doubles on religion, repression and revolution. “
Let’s be clear: that doesn’t mean America should put boots on the ground to overthrow the Iranian Republic. This is the false accusation of the apologists and isolationists of the Iranian regime in our government, from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) To Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
It means that we are violating the Iranian people’s chance to throw off their yoke of repression if we appease Iran with economic relief, this time by going back to a bad nuclear deal that economically strengthens an economy on a rope.
American values and security interests demand that we do not economically strengthen Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his corps of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. They have proven repeatedly that they cannot be trusted, especially in exchange for a nuclear deal that doesn’t allow real inspections or end their nuclear program. We’re giving them exactly what they want – delaying the arming of an atomic bomb for a few years in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in economic aid to stop Hezbollah, Hamas, South American tyrants, Iraqi and Syrian militias and the terrorism Houthis. Not to mention, they’re handing a lifeline to their hateful government while it builds missiles that can hit the U.S. Even if Iran decides not to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, its neighbors know that it can turn on the nuclear weapon spigot at any time of its choice.
It only takes an open mind to understand that projecting a Western perspective onto a revolutionary Islamic regime is not only misguided but also dangerous. This regime cannot abandon its extremist agenda without collapsing. There is no way that will happen if the revolutionary regime’s raison d’etre is a religiously motivated movement that cannot give up its most ardent beliefs.
The shortsightedness of the Biden government and other powers also extends to the projection of Western time frames onto a Persian Islamist power. For example, the American maximum pressure campaign, which brought the Iranian regime to the edge of the economic cliff, has been described as a failure by supporters of the Iranian nuclear deal because Iran has pushed ahead with its nuclear enrichment efforts since Trump left the deal.
However, the time frame of revolutionaries in Iran is measured in decades and centuries, ready to await an impatient America. A nuclear deal at this point guarantees Iran weapons capabilities in less than a decade. Hence, a continued and heightened campaign of maximum economic pressure could be the only thing that could change the inevitability of a nuclear Iran. But that takes more patience than American democracy, which changes its executive every four or eight years.
A nuclear Iran can be inevitable. So what is better for American interests: to strengthen the revolutionary regime with economic aid or to keep the Iranian government under maximum pressure to support financially, sanctions until Iran in one way or another stops, one of the worst actors on the planet To be a world stage?
Totalitarian regimes like the former Soviet Union must collapse under the weight of their failed economies, be they communists or Islamist revolutionaries. Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who is likely to be the next Supreme Leader, is another true believer with a long history as the heartless butcher of those who stand in the way of the “revolution”. The only way to find common ground with this fundamentalist revolutionary regime is to let them have their own way. If we rejoin a nuclear deal that is not really longer or stronger, this government will not have learned the lessons of why we never found common ground with Iran.
Dr. Mandel is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network).