The argument for negotiating with Tehranâ€™s mullahs rests upon several flawed presumptions:
1. Iranâ€™s regime is stable and the Iranâ€™s rulers have sufficient power to suppress opposition.
2. The West is willing to offer to Iran something that Iran wants.
3. Iranâ€™s ayatollahs are willing to compromise their ideological aspirations.
4. Tehranâ€™s commitment and pledge can be trusted.
A policy based on these notions leads to disastrous consequences. Nevertheless, there is a potpourri of convoluted arguments by interest groups that promote negotiating With Iran. They may refer to it as engagement, dialogue, talk, meeting, exchange or what ever their deceptive lexicon comes up with. Examination of these four conjectures is simple and straightforward.
1. Iranâ€™s regime is stable and the Iranâ€™s rulers have sufficient power to suppress opposition
To begin with, the notion that in 21st century a theocratic regime with barbaric rulers out of stone ages can be stable is absurd. Stability of a government requires adaptability, pragmatism and popular support. Tehranâ€™s rulers lack all three. They have survived so far by carrying out widespread suppression of the opposition groups which has led to hundreds of thousands of executions and imprisonments – instigating and carrying out a foreign war to shift the focus of the peopleâ€™s dissent – creating a notorious militia of one million strong for policing the population – assassination of dissidents inside Iran and abroad – and crashing movements of women, students, workers, teachers, and other groups. The proponents of negotiation are betting that Iranâ€™s mullahs are capable of continuing this state of terror. Borrowing a famous quote, I suggest these enthusiasts should control their irrational exuberance. The truth of the matter is that the current regime has never been stable. If mullahs themselves had confidence in their stability, they would have not needed this rein of terror. A sagging economy, youth unemployment, poverty, lack of political, social and religious freedom, despised government, and corrupted officials, have the potential to topple the ruling regime any day. Every one of these indications have been on constant ascend. The ruling mullahs may survive the turbulence of the events a few more years â€“ maybe more â€“ maybe less. This is far from being stable.
2. The West is willing to offer to Iran something that Iran wants
Atop the mullahsâ€™ wish list has always been security assurance from the West. Specifically, this has meant impeding opposition to Iranâ€™s regime. United States and Europe have responded affirmatively by placing Iranâ€™s main opposition groups Mojahedin-e-Khalgh (MEK) and National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in the terrorist list for the past ten years. This categorization has tied the hands of the enemies of ayatollahs and has eased Tehranâ€™s worries. Nevertheless Tehranâ€™s behavior has not changed. They desire an unhindered path to regional dominance. They have never been shy about publicly declaring their strategies goals. While West has facilitated their path somewhat, it is not conceivable that the civilized world would tolerate an Islamic fundamentalist super power under mullahs. Debilitating the opposition to mullahs will only lead to Tehran asking for the same about the next opposition group. What else can possibly Tehran ask for from the west? World peace?
3. Iranâ€™s ayatollahs are willing to compromise their ideological aspirations
In a previous article1 I have discussed in detail that the Islamic Fundamentalism is an all encompassing ideology that aspires to return to the golden era of genesis of Islam. Tehranâ€™s fundamentalists seek to establish a powerbase in the Middle East. Tehranâ€™s infiltrations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not ad hoc and random acts. These are well planed, cohesive and systematic actions by shrewd rulers who are motivated by ideology. The prize is monumental. The beginning of an Islamic empire- re-emerging after 1400 years- in control of the life, thought and possession of hundreds of millions – in control of sizable portions of world oil supplies â€“ and equipped with nuclear weaponry. Three decades ago Ayatollah Khomeini set in place a roadmap that has been followed by Tehran after Khomeini, including under Presidents Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Khatami and finally Ahmadinejad as a cohesive and sustained strategy. Tehranâ€™s rulers believe their strategy has been triumphant and it has given them a super power status in the region. It is childishly naÃ¯ve to hope that at this point in their presumably victorious path mullahs would consider abandoning their ideological aspirations.
4. Tehranâ€™s commitment and pledge can be trusted
Jack Straw, former British foreign secretary and a friendly face to ayatollahs, once said that in negotiating with Tehran, they would sell you a table, only for you to realize after the deal that it is missing legs. Islamic fundamentalist rulers in Iran have again and again demonstrated their Machiavellian style in the international politics. Lying, deception and demagoguery, are all legitimate tools that can be cleverly utilized by these shrewd rulers. Isnâ€™t Iranâ€™s nuclear developments an excellent example of their deception? After their two decade clandestine nuclear project was revealed by the opposition group MEK, they have attempted a variety of tactical negotiations and agreements just to buy time. Even more hilarious than that is mullahs call for international cooperation to fight terrorism in the world!
Any negotiation without these four prerequisites is a futile endeavor. It is time that the interest groups who promote engagement with the Hitlers of our time to end their shortsightedness.
Prof. Kazem Kazerounian teaches at the University of Connecticut.