February 20, 2018

Appeasing the Ayatollahs and the Perils of Ignoring History

Dr. Majid Sadeghpour

It was June 8, 2000; the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) was the venue. “Iran is still the most egregious state-sponsor of terrorism, despite the election of a reformist president. Elements of the Iranian Government use terrorism as a policy tool, assassinating Iranian dissidents at home and abroad and giving money, weapons and training to terrorists fighting against peace in the Middle East.”, said Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, III Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism.

Analogous to its more infamous distant cousin (the Iraq Study Group, ISG), the commission’s findings highlight both the facts and fallacies of our understanding and thus our Iran policy.
Thankfully, both commissions appropriately identify the threat. It is widely accepted that the findings provide a realistic assessment of Iran’s pivotal role, and hence it’s devastating deeds both then and now. Iran’s direct responsibility in harboring and supporting international terrorism is no longer seriously disputed. It’s predatory and destructive role in Iraq has also been well established and confirmed by the Department of Defense, Multi-national Forces in Iraq, and via reliable intelligence from the main Iranian dissident organization (Reuters, March 20, 2007).

Ambassador Bremer’s testimony and paradoxically, the U.S. policy towards Iran highlight, at the very least, a deep-seated error involving the Iranian regime’s matrix, its intentions and long-term goals. His reference to “elements of the Iranian Government” demonstrates that despite a multi-decade history of Iranian deception, destruction, and oppression, some in our government still believe Iranian regime truly possesses a metamorphic potential. This fundamental flaw is regrettably the framework within which the policies of engagement have long taken root. Perhaps the following sobering foreword to the regime’s constitution would provide some insight as to the extent of our naivety. It reads: “Given the context of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, which was a movement for the victory of all the oppressed over the oppressors, it provides the ground for continuation of the revolution inside and outside the country, specifically in spreading international links to other Islamic and people’s movements, tries to pave the way for the creation of unique global ummah so the continuation of the struggle for the salvation of deprived and suffering nations can be settled.”

With this mandate, the March 23, 2006 kidnapping of British sailors by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s interference in Iraq, its funding and support for Hezbollah and its drive towards nuclear weapons seems rather logical.

The misplaced hopes can arguably be responsible for ISG’s recommendation as well. Although it recognized the weak potential of success, the ISG, never the less recommended a strategy of engagement with the brutal dictators in Iran.

The connectivity of the historical events and the logic behind them is rather startling. In the mid 1980’s and while the Iran-Contra operation was unfolding, then National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane lamented the failure of the American delegation’s May 25, 1986 trip to Tehran. The trip, as well as the arms it helped deliver, was intended to secure the release of American Hostages in Lebanon (who were kidnapped with Tehran’s implicit backing). The next day he noted: ”The incompetence of the Iranian government to do business requires a rethinking on our part of why there have been so many frustrating failures to deliver on their part.” (Tower Commission Report, 1987) Given the present realities, one is left to wonder if the Iranian government’s “failure” to “do business” at the time was due to its “incompetence”, or part of a deliberate and calculated strategy to extract more from those who chose to appease them.

As the Tower Commission findings confirm, the trading of arms to Iran as a requirement for the release of U.S. Hostages was “directly at odds with important and well-publicized policies of the Executive Branch.” The report itself concludes that “release of the hostages would require exerting influence with Hezbollah, which could involve the most radical elements of the Iranian regime. The kind of strategic opening sought by the United States, however, involved what were regarded as more moderate elements” (Tower Commission Report, 1987). Here, the underpinning false assumptions remain the same. First, that the regime actually has many authoritative “elements” capable and willing to make “strategic” turnabouts in belief, deliberation, and action. Second that it is a representative government of the people and can accordingly be dealt with.

Twenty one years later, the policy makers are beginning to be awakened to the true makeup of the regime. The “strategic opening” sought by the U.S. in the 80’s, by the Europeans in the late 90’s (which continues to this day), and the persistent hopes of moderation have led to one distinct and palpable reality: a more emboldened extremist government in Iran.

In 1997, the U.S. administration sought to reinvigorate its diplomatic courtship of the unelected few ruling Iran. The terms of the bargain were again set forth by the mullahs. Among other concessions, the U.S. eased trade sanctions against Iran, and on behest of the Iranian regime, placed mullah’s principle Iranian enemy, the Mojahedeen Khalgh Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), on the list of Terrorist Organizations (Los Angels Times, October 1997).

As early as year 2000, the congressionally mandated commission chaired by Mr. Bremer had warned that it is “concerned that recent American gestures toward Iran could be misinterpreted as a weakening of our resolve to counter Iranian terrorism.” The warning was followed by a simple and sensible proposal. “We recommend that the U.S. make no further concessions to Iran until it ceases its support for terrorism”, the report suggested. This suggestion was never fully implemented as policy.

Similarly, the European nations sought to establish ties with and consequently helped grant legitimacy to the mullah’s rouge behavior. In doing so, Europe’s economic ties and its dependence on Iran grow substantially since late 1990’s. Iran clerical rulers easily found the upper hand in the economic frenzy that followed. In the post 9/11 arena, both the initial complacency towards the threat of Islamic extremism and Europe’s preoccupation with economic interests served to align them with the mullahs. In this paradigm, Iran was able to win multiple concessions. Notable among them was to convince EU to substantially limit the activities of the main Iranian opposition group (Sunday Telegraph, 3/18/2007). Europe thus chose to naively sacrifice long-term security for the sake of short-term economic gains. Today, Europe has largely acknowledged the failure of the engagement and dialogue with Iran yet still clings to hopes of a sudden turnabout (The Council of the European Union; Statement, Berlin, January 12, 2006).

“First, we must do a better job of figuring out who the terrorists are and what they are planning”, said Mr. Bremer in 2000. This was true then and is exactly what is called for today. As one U.S. JAG member with first hand knowledge of Iraq and Iran put it; “we are missing significant opportunities now in the war on terror and no amount of goodwill can undo the damage caused when you ignore one of the principles of human intelligence” (Capt V. Gembara, Global Politician, April 11, 2005).

With keen observation, history rarely misleads. Indeed, policies aimed at appeasing the true terrorists in Iran while undermining the Iranian people’s quest for democracy and freedom is inconsistent with our national interests, and stated foreign policy objectives. We must proactively seek to pave the way for the people of Iran, empowering them to remove the illegitimate unelected officials in their government.

Doing so is necessity to avoid an inevitable war, and requires recognition of the Iranian people’s voice, their organized opposition, and abandonment of our ill advised diplomatic/economic dance with the mullahs.

Dr. Majid Sadeghpouri is a human rights activist. He works with the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates (www.ncpdaus.org).