In the end, it matters little what the government, people, or even the theocratic institutions think is in Iran's best long-term interests.
Unfortunately, for those U.S. career diplomats, hopeful politicians, and international businessmen, normative incentives, such as money, sanctions relief, and better foreign relations take a back seat in a regime such as the Islamic Republic. It is a regime where one man, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, supported by a clique of militants, makes all the critical decisions.
Whenever it seems that the revolution is about to evolve into a kinder and gentler order, the gear is thrown into a rapid reverse. This was so when most CIA and British intelligence analysts, after being at first surprised by Mohammad Khatami's presidential "election" in 1997, insisted that evolutionary change was inevitable (except for a couple of Defense Intelligence Agency holdouts). Though the "reformist" regime had arrested more than a dozen Jews after falsely accusing them of treason, killed several intellectuals and suppressed the massive student demonstrations of July 1999, a mere nine months later the Clinton Administration decided to let Iran sell us rugs and pistachio nuts.
More recently, there was the "Green Movement" which shook the foundations of the regime after the allegedly fraudulent 2009 re-election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Yet again, the reactionary junta of mullahs and Revolutionary Guards operatives, who control all the levers of power as well as most of the economy, managed to survive and later thrive. Again, this fascistic-theocratic alliance was most skillful in later arresting and executing the liberal ringleaders of the rebellion while simultaneously isolating the regime's more moderate politicians, such as Karrubi and Mousavi, from their supporters.
Finally, there is the most recent Rouhani-Zarif mirage that the regime displayed to the West. The two men's façade of civility was enough to persuade the vain, delusional and acquisitive in Western leadership circles that change had finally come again to Iran. However, no amount of Persian tea or Iranian rosewater-drenched ice cream shared between John Kerry and Javad Zarif can drown out the deceptive hoax of the JCPOA. Before the ink was dry, Ayatollah Khamenei and the security services announced that the agreement has no standing in Iran.
Just this week, it was announced that Iran's so-called "resistance economy" will not permit any U.S. consumer goods to be imported into Iran -- and just to punctuate the point, Tehran arrested a prominent Iranian-American businessman, Siamak Namazi, and a Lebanese-American, Nazar Zaka, to add to its collection of fraudulently charged hostages: Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian; former marine Amir Hekmati; Pastor Saeed Abedini, and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson.
Just in case the United States needed one more symbolic kick, the regime closed down the first KFC fast food restaurant in Tehran on Monday, just one day after it opened.
For the Obama Administration, there will be more humiliation to follow. This President has been poorly served by his Iran "experts" and untutored diplomats.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.