Friday, March 07, 2014

Obama’s Misconceptions on Iran

Hassan-Rouhani1This week, I was invited to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, and when listening to Secretary of State John Kerry’s and Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches and their major points about the Islamic Republic of Iran, several underlying issues appeared to highlight the Obama administration’s misconceptions and its uninformed foreign policy towards the Mullahs.

One of the crucial misunderstandings and misconceptions of the Obama administration is that it views the current status of American-Iranian rapprochement as similar to the American-Chinese rapprochement in the early 1970s with President Nixon’s trip to Beijing. 

One the fundamental flaws in such an analogy is misunderstanding the character of the policies and political moves of the Iranian leadership. It is crucial to point out that the shift in policy made by Mao Zedong was a strategic one, while the current policies carried out by the Rouhani government and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Al Khamenei are tactical. 

In one of his speeches, Khamenei gave an example of such tactical moves in recent nuclear talks by referring to wrestling (a popular sport in Iran), where sometimes, when the wrestler faces a strong rival, he must show some “heroic flexibility” in order to win the match or survive. Rouhani clearly wrote in his memoir that the negotiations he led 10 years ago during the Khatami era, and the agreement to suspend Iran’s nuclear enrichment for two years, not only did not halt the advancement of the nuclear program, but actually moved the program forward, expanding the centrifuges and nuclear infrastructure in those years. He added that through his policies he was capable of buying time and progressing the nuclear program to 20 percent enriched uranium with thousands of centrifuges.
By tactical shift, I mean that Iran is not looking for any kind of actual policy change or a new era of relations with the United States, Israel, or the West. The Islamic Republic is not attempting to make a fundamental strategic shift to create new ties with the US and Israel, and it is not attempting to shift its animosity. The goal of the Islamic Republic is to make some tactical changes to recover its economy, regain power, buy time and advance its nuclear program.
When these objectives are achieved, all the agreements on the nuclear issues can be reversed, as Iranian authorities have repeatedly said.
First of all, the Obama administration is very determined to focus on diplomatic avenues and push the interim nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic into a permanent nuclear deal.  While there is not an inherent problem in resolving Iran’s nuclear dilemma through diplomatic headways, the risk becomes much higher when the diplomatic avenues and negotiations are carried out in a flimsy, uncalculated, and marginal matter.  
The shortcoming with the current diplomatic negotiations between the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, France, China, Britain and Germany) and Iran, and the flaw with the Obama administration’s foreign policies regarding the ruling clerics in Iran, is that the final and comprehensive nuclear deal will leave Iran with some paths to becoming a nuclear power and obtaining nuclear weapons.
As a result, the danger of reaching a final deal that gives the Mullahs and Ayatollahs the tools and infrastructure to develop nuclear weapons is much more dangerous than the current situation for several reasons.
Here are some of the consequences of reaching a flimsy permanent nuclear deal:  First of all, an insubstantial permanent nuclear deal will force the international community to lift all the economic and political sanctions that have accumulated as a result of decades of international consensus, sanctions, and Iran’s violations of nuclear enrichment and international standards. Secondly, as the sanctions are lifted, the Islamic Republic is significantly empowered in the regional and global arena economically, politically, and ideologically.

Third, it would be much more difficult to bring the Ayatollahs to the negotiation table once they have recovered their economy, currency value, and political status. The Mullahs will also use the loopholes in the final nuclear deal, as well as their clandestine nuclear sites, to develop nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders and the Supreme Leader have repeatedly pointed out that all these agreements are reversible at anytime.
The Mullahs and Ayatollahs faced tremendous difficulty holding on to power when international sanctions in fact began working. Many years of efforts and sanctions finally brought them to the negotiating table to make tactical shifts and regain their economy, power, and maintain the advancement of their nuclear program. However, as the Islamic Republic was economically and politically desperate, and as decades of sanctions finally yielded results, the Obama administration did not carry out an informed policy plan to seize the opportunity.
In such conditions, where the Mullahs find no other way outside of coming to the negotiating table to retain their power, the Obama administration pushed for a deal that was mainly on the terms set by the Iranian leaders, instead of putting the nuclear terms based on the American and the international community’s terms. And, this continues to be the case for the final nuclear deal as well.

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