In recent months, the Obama administration has been trying to pay as little attention to what is going on in Iran as it can. The reason is that, while it was trying to sell the country on the Iran nuclear deal, the foundation of many of their arguments was that the agreement was part of a process that, as President Obama put it, to help Iran “get right with the world.” The decision to enter into secret negotiations with the Islamist government were depicted as a reaction to the election of a supposed moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as president of that country and therefore a response to a shift toward a more liberal attitude from Tehran at home and abroad that needed to be encouraged. This was recently exposed as a fraud when Obama advisor Ben Rhodes boasted of the White House’s ability to spin a credulous press in a New York Times profile. But with every passing month since the deal began to be implemented, it has become crystal clear that the only thing that is changing about Iran is that the regime is getting richer.
The latest evidence that the radical Islamists are still very much in charge in Tehran comes with the election of Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the body that is tasked with electing and removing the country’s Supreme Leader as well as supervising his activities. In other words, Jannati will be in charge of replacing the current Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That’s a critical position since the person in that post and not President Rouhani that truly runs the country. If Jannati and his cronies are in charge of a succession for Khamenei, then there is no doubt that his successor will be just as, if not even more of an opponent of rapprochement with the West and a supporter of Iran’s current policy that aid terrorists and seeks regional hegemony.
Moreover, Jannati is among the most hard-line radicals in a ruling elite full of hard-line radicals. He not only hates Israel and advocates the maintenance of the theocratic government’s suppression of rights, especially for women, he’s also an exponent of the most virulent hate against the United States and the West. Coupled with the election of a new speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, who is also seen as an opponent of the not-terribly-moderate Iranian moderates, it appears that the Tehran government remains completely in the grip of the radicals.
That may be a bad thing but what has it to do with the nuclear deal? The administration argues that despite the evidence of Iran’s misbehavior in recent months, including its illegal missile tests and aggressive funding of terror groups, it is abiding by the terms of the nuclear agreement. That may or may not be strictly true since the monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program isn’t nearly as intrusive as we were promised. But even if Iran isn’t cheating, the direction of the regime matters greatly.
That’s because in a decade the Iran deal will expire. At that point, the only thing stopping the highly advanced nuclear program that Iran was allowed to keep in the agreement from developing a nuclear weapon is a sea change in Tehran. If Khamenei’s successor and the rest of the clerics running things there are as filled with “Death to America” fervor as Jannati, then you can bet that it will mean more than just a government where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has the freedom to do as it likes. It will ensure an Islamist regime that is determined to use the wealth the West is showering it with to amass even greater power and the invulnerability that a bomb would give it.
But when confronted with this evidence that Iran had no interest in “getting right with the world,” the United States had nothing to say about Jannati’s elevation. State Department spokesman Mark Toner was asked about it and said, “we don’t have any comment” on this not insignificant piece of news.
That was curious, especially when compared to Toner’s willingness to pipe up about recent changes in Israel. As Times of Israel editor David Horovitz aptly pointed out in his column, the juxtaposition of the silence about Jannati and Washington’s comments about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as minister of defense was curious.
Toner said Lieberman’s joining the Cabinet “raises legitimate questions about what direction it may be heading in and what policies it may adopt.” Interestingly, Toner added to that by saying he had “seen reports from Israel” about the coalition and noted that some of the new government’s ministers “oppose a two-state solution.” That may be, but Lieberman is not one of them since he has always backed two states though the lines he would draw would not be the same as some liberals.
The State Department has the right to raise questions about anything it likes, but it is remarkable that the administration feels free to bash a democratically elected government while remaining circumspect about an oligarchic radical theocracy that it has also correctly labeled as the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.
How do we explain this difference?
One might argue that the U.S. is more invested in the affairs of an allied government as opposed to that of a foe like Iran. But the distinction goes further than that. The Obama administration has, in fact, been doing its best to maintain good relations with Iran and to avoid any behavior that might be interpreted as undermining its radical theocrats. On the other hand, it has been actively plotting to change Israel’s government. If it is particularly upset about Lieberman, it is not because they think he will interfere with peace negotiations that Palestinians don’t want or that he will start a war. It’s because Secretary of State Kerry was actively involved in the maneuvering by which it was hoped that the opposition Zionist Union Party would join Netanyahu’s government. The idea, like past efforts to topple or hamstring Netanyahu, was to use U.S. influence to tilt Israel to the left as opposed to the intentions of its voters that gave a majority to the current center-right coalition. The collapse of that gambit was yet another humiliation for Kerry and a triumph for Netanyahu, though whether it will work out well for him in the long run is a matter of opinion.
But what these two stories show us is that despite Obama’s occasional claim to the contrary, U.S. policy in the Middle East is now oriented toward appeasing Iran and isolating Israel. This is no way to treat an enemy or ally. Whoever succeeds Obama needs to realize that Iran isn’t moderating but unless the U.S. is really willing to write off the strategic Middle East, It’s U.S. policy that has to change.