So how are the Iranians assessing the nuclear deal? Clearly, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is pleased: He has been grinning from ear-to-ear. President Hassan Rouhani is as well. Before accepting President Obama’s offer to talk, Iran’s economy was in the red, declining at least 5.4 percent over the previous year, but ever since talks began — with billions of dollars infused into the economy as an incentive — it has been back in the black. Now, with more than $100 billion due to enter the economy, he can fund almost any project he desires; not only in Iran, but also in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

The Islamic Republic may be faction-ridden, but it is not free. The regime tolerates only a tiny fraction of the spectrum of political discourse, and that segment of permissible speech constantly shrinks (that is the real reason why, for example, a son of a former president and former presidential candidates now find themselves in prison or under house arrest). Within the range of permissible debate, factions control newspapers and so their attitudes can be divined by their headlines, articles, and editorials.

  • The editorial in Jomhuri-ye Eslami, a newspaper closely associated with the Intelligence Ministry: “We are Winning!”
  • Perhaps the most important is Kayhan, whose editor Hossein Shariatmadari is an appointee of the Supreme Leader. It reprinted an editorial from February 2014 entitled, “Do not Prepare a Prescription for Disaster,” which declared, “Those who recommend halting the nuclear program regardless of their true intentions and motivations are proposing to abandon scientific and technological development and prescribing the country’s backwardness!”
  • The English-language, hardline Tehran Times headlines with the speech of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promising continued enmity toward the United States. “Leader: Campaign against arrogance not stoppable,” it reads. (The ‘Global Arrogance” is one of Khamenei’s chief pet names for the United States).
  • Iranian television also carried Khamenei’s anti-American diatribe. Because it is Khamenei that defines what is permissible, he is making clear to all reformists, let alone all the youth who have completely given up on the system, that there will be no rapprochement, and that conflict with the United States will continue only with $100 billion more in Iran’s coffers.
  • And, as for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has conspicuously refused to endorse any negotiations with the United States, their web portal “Sepah News” had this to say: “America has committed numerous crimes against the nation of Iran due to its agents.”

Imagine the situation was reversed: Iran desperately sought a deal, serially violated its red lines in order to get a signature on paper, and then the President of the United States used the Oval Office to denounce and ridicule Iran. That wouldn’t go over well. That would be a sign of profound insincerity. Follow that up with an anti-Iran editorial in the New York Times, and columns replete with senior officials’ leaks declaring undying enmity to Tehran by writers like Fareed Zakaria and Jeffrey Goldberg, both of whom tend to transmit loyally administration talking points, and Iranian officials would be right to doubt the efficacy and sincerity of any agreement. That would simply be dispassionate analysis on their part. Back to reality: The man in charge of Iran and who bases his legitimacy in his role as the deputy of the messiah on earth promises continued enmity after receiving almost everything he demanded from the United States. The ambition of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may blind them to this reality, but it behooves candidates from both parties as well as the Congress not only to recognize the reality of the situation but to consider how to address the strategic deficit that will result.

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