Why are there so many Western intellectuals who refuse to see Iran for what it truly is? This has been peculiar for quite some time — from Lenin, to Castro in 1959, to Khomeini in 1979 — where a despotic figure poses as a revolutionary “man of the people,” out to end oppression, and bring freedom to his homeland. Once in power, the despot suppresses opposition, destroys civic society, ends free elections, bans free press, and establishes an authoritarian police state that enforces “virtue” and seeks to control the population’s personal lives. Some in the West ate this up in the past; they still eat it up today — particularly with myths regarding Iran.
Myth #1: The United States should change its policy of not engaging Iran diplomatically.
Fact: This is the biggest myth of all. As Michael Ledeen reminds us time and again, “Every administration since Ayatollah Khomeini’s seizure of power in 1979 has negotiated with the Iranians. Nothing positive has ever come of it.”
We have offered “rapprochement,” “grand bargains,” and “full normalization” — we even sold them weapons. In response, the mullahs blew up our embassies, destroyed our barracks, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered our citizens, soldiers, and diplomats, and sponsored multiple proxy wars against our countrymen and allies. All of this continues to this day.
President Clinton sent former Spanish leader Felipe Gonzales to Iran as a special envoy, offering peace and brotherhood. Gonzales was told to get lost. President Bush did the same thing in 2006; again, Gonzales was told to go home. Whenever there is mini-cooperation between the U.S. and Iran — planning postwar Afghanistan in 2001-02, for instance — it is nullified by equally empirical evidence that the regime is sponsoring death-squads and assassination teams against U.S. forces in the region.
Just ask former State Department official Nicholas Burns, who — according to his own testimony in the BBC’s “Nuclear Confrontation” documentary — waited in a Manhattan hotel room for days, thinking Iranian officials would show for the promised handshake and photo-ops, cementing full normalization between Washington and Tehran. The Iranian diplomats never came, but Ahmadinejad did — to the U.N. General Assembly, calling for a “world without America” and the return of the Hidden Imam.
Myth #2: The Islamic Republic of Iran is the most democratic country the Middle East.
Fact: Theocracy is never democratic. Iran has a political process that is micromanaged by unelected clerical bodies, primarily the Orwellian-sounding “Assembly of Experts” and the “Council of Guardians” — namely, men who pre-approve political candidates, restrict the freedom and liberty of women, and publicly hang children for “sins” like homosexuality (amongst other things). This is all supervised and approved by the “Supreme Leader,” the honorable Ayatollah Khamenei.
Myth #3: Iran needs a reformer.
Fact: Unfortunately, there is no such thing. President Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Khatami, was billed as the “Gorbachev of Iran,” and yet he ended up throwing more dissidents in jail than any Iranian president, past or present. Even Ahmadinejad’s possible successor, the “reformist” Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has long been a part of the regime’s torture-apparatus. The “moderate” Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and perhaps future Supreme Leader, is currently wanted in Argentina for knocking down a large office building.
Looking for reformers and moderates within the existing regime is like deciphering between Khrushchev and Brezhnev, or Himmler and Eichmann: there might be some minor tactical changes to the method of oppression, but the framework of dictatorship remains.
Myth #4: Iran has a rich Persian history, and therefore deserves a place among the family of nations.
Fact: Yes, Iran has a rich history. But the mullahs themselves disdain Iran’s pre-Islamic Persian history. President Obama’s “Happy New Year” olive branch message to the regime last month failed for this very reason: the “ancient ritual” Obama commended (Nowrooz) is a Zoroastrian custom, one brutally repressed by the regime (which the mullahs scornfully reminded him the very next day).
While nobody should deny Iran its rightful place on the world stage, we should deny this regime any iota of international legitimacy. To associate the regime with its citizens is an insult to millions of dissident Iranians. According to the Iranian government’s own opinion polls, most Iranian people oppose the regime and view the clerics as ideological hijackers of their proud history — an interim hiccup of their national trajectory, in other words.
They have good cause for this belief: upon assuming power in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini said, “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism let this land [Iran] burn let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” Iranians reject such theological extremism and national fatalism, and do not consider it patriotic.
Historically, the United States is at its best when we are supporting democrats and encouraging the downfall of despots. President Obama has precious little time to get this right.