Exactly a year ago, the Iranian “Supreme Leader,” Ali Khamenei, chose to let Hassan Rouhani win the country’s presidential election. It was a wise choice, as Rouhani brought all the qualifications a dictator like Khamenei could ask for. A decade ago, Rouhani tricked the European Union; it was now time for him to trick the United States. And what a superb job he has done. Political pressure from the outside? Collapsed. Sanctions regime? Collapsed psychologically. Domestic opposition? Crushed. Negotiations? Continuing until forever. Regime survival? Almost there. Iran’s influence in the Middle East? Extended and expanded. One year into the Rouhani presidency, his record reads like a major success story for the Islamic Republic, secured — as always — at the expense of Iran’s people. In the summer of 2013, their votes may not have been rigged, but their hopes and dreams have been abused yet again.
Iran’s young people may not wake up every morning thinking how to organize a revolution, but they do – every single day — aspire to a good education, followed by a job market worthy of their academic successes, followed by an adult life of personal freedom. They seek happiness in a country where happiness died 35 years ago. The world community has reacted with unbelievable indifference to the abhorrent human-rights abuses going on under Khamenei’s rule. Since Rouhani came into office, a massacre in slow motion is happening inside Iran: The number of executions is the highest since the 1980s.
This vicious dictatorship isn’t organized in a monolithic way, but the Islamic Republic is famous for its task sharing when it comes to deceiving the Western world. The pragmatists are in charge of PowerPoint presentations for talks over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program; the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are in charge of building those weapons and spreading terrorism; and the hardest of the hardliners are responsible for hanging innocent Iranians in broad daylight. So it is not surprising that even Revolutionary Guards commanders support diplomacy. Rassoul Sanayee Raad, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards for political affairs, said recently: “We agree with the principle of negotiations and support it, but we don’t trust the foes.” The IRGC hugely benefitted from the talks: They were allowed to butcher rebels in Syria and keep Assad in power, and new sources of money became available to them. As President Obama is in a rush to leave the Middle East, the IRGC prepares itself to fill the gap — and quickly.
Together, these regime groups are fulfilling the duty of keeping this regime in power — and only that duty. The world community, and above all the Obama administration, knows this perfectly well, but yet has chosen to engage with Rouhani’s Iran — ignoring the fact that Rouhani’s Iran is at the end of the day still Khamenei’s Iran, and that today Iran looks gloomier than ever. Iran’s civil society has a great potential for a perfectly shaped democracy, one with true separation between religion and state, with gender equality, and with respect and dignity for all Iranians no matter what their religious or ethnic background. But this great potential won’t exist forever: If the Islamic Republic continues its rule armed with nuclear weapons, Iran will turn into a second Syria. President Obama’s foreign-policy record is already poor enough; it would greatly damage his legacy if he continues to give Iran’s regime a free pass and ignores the democratic aspirations of Iran’s people. Naïvely optimistic that the nuclear negotiations will finally lead to a deal, the United States is eager to give the regime what it’s asking for.
Here’s the problem with a bad deal with the Islamic Republic: It is as stinky as Limburger. Some may like it, but to eat it you need to hold your nose. It isn’t too late to go back to the right policy: breaking the political and economic neck of Ali Khamenei’s regime.
— Saba Farzan is the director of political studies at the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy. Saeed Ghasseminejad is a Ph.D. candidate in finance at City University of New York.