We pay for Trump’s gift to the hard-liners of Iran & America

Summary: Trump’s efforts to scuttle our arms control agreement with Iran is a gift to the far-right of both American and Iran. It is a blow to the interests of both Iran and America. Here an expert gives us the bad news, a part of the story that the news media forgets to mention. This is a follow-up to yesterday’s Stratfor: Trump’s art of wrecking the nuclear deal with Iran.

Iraq war becomes the Iran war

 

Iran: Trump’s Gift to the Hard-liners

By Trita Parsi.

New York Review of Books, 10 Oct. 2017.

 

If Donald Trump decertifies the nuclear deal this week, the political fallout within Iran will be no different from earlier instances of Washington’s punishing of Iran’s moderates. Voices against the deal in Iran will strengthen, and those who favor a more confrontational policy toward Washington will once again have the wind in their sails. This help to Iran’s hard-liners could not come at a more opportune time.

… Iranian hard-liners {feared} that the nuclear negotiations would become a stepping stone toward a broader US-Iran rapprochement that could enable the US to regain a foothold in the Iranian economy. Eventually, they feared, the US presence inside Iran would shift the domestic balance of power against the conservatives and in favor of the more moderate factions.

The US, and perhaps the West in general, may not appreciate how far Iran shifted ground in the course of negotiating the nuclear deal, and how much that agreement bolstered the moderates in Tehran. …

Sidewalk painting saying “Honesty and friendship of America.”
Near the former US embassy, Tehran, 2015.

Sidewalk painting: "Honesty and friendship of America"
Eric Lafforgue/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

The Ayatollah’s distrust of the Americans was not based on an irrational ideological obsession, but on experience. Outreach by the Iranians to the US had more often than not ended in misadventure or worse. In 1995, the then president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, offered the first post-revolution oil deal to the American oil company Conoco Inc. He judged that a political rapprochement between Washington and Tehran would be more successful if it was built on common economic interests. But President Bill Clinton responded by adopting two executive orders that effectively killed the Conoco deal and eliminated all US trade with Iran.

Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy
Available at Amazon.

Only weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, moderate forces in Iran serving the reformist President Mohammad Khatami offered the US their help in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Iranians had been arming and funding the anti-Taliban coalition in Afghanistan for more than a decade. If Tehran could show its strategic utility to Washington, the Iranian government reasoned, then the George W. Bush administration would reciprocate and make possible a thaw in relations. According to Ambassador Jim Dobbins, President Bush’s personal envoy to Afghanistan, Iran played a critical part in both defeating the Taliban and securing the post-Taliban peace.

But only weeks after the apex of US-Iran collaboration in Afghanistan — the 2001 Bonn conference, where a new leader was chosen for the Afghan Interim Authority — Bush identified Iran as part of the “axis of evil” that included Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Kim Jong-il’s North Korea. Tehran was shocked. Once again, its collaboration with the US had been punished, rather than rewarded, by Washington.

In March 2003, the Iranians submitted to Washington a comprehensive negotiation proposal through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran. (The Swiss government had been tasked by the US with serving as a channel of communication between Washington and Tehran in the absence of direct diplomatic relations.) Among other things, the Iranians offered to open their nuclear program up to full transparency, stabilize Iraq and ensure its government would not be sectarian (a goal the Iranians had helped achieve in Afghanistan), and collaborate against terrorist organizations — above all, al-Qaeda. In return, the Iranians wanted a strategic dialogue with Washington, the lifting of sanctions and a recognition of “Iran’s legitimate security interests.”

But the Bush administration never responded. Instead, it reprimanded the Swiss ambassador for having delivered the proposal in the first place. Within the administration, any debate on the matter was shut down by then Vice President Dick Cheney, who simply asserted, “We don’t talk to evil.” Tehran was befuddled. If Washington was uninterested in changes to Iranian policies that it had itself identified as problematic, then the US’s real problem with Iran was not the country’s policies but its power, the Iranians concluded. And while countries can give up or amend policies, they cannot give up power.

A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran
Available at Amazon.

Every time Iran’s outreach was rejected, voices for moderation and collaboration within Iran’s elite were weakened and silenced, while conservative factions favoring a more confrontational approach rose in influence. The rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his combative policies in 2005 was directly related to the US’s rejection of the 2003 proposal. If Washington refused dialogue with Tehran when Iran adopted a collaborative approach, the Iranians reasoned, then the clerical regime had no choice but to make that American policy as costly as possible by undermining US interests in the region. The result was that the moderates within Iran’s foreign policy elite were deeply marginalized for eight years.

Today, more than two years after the nuclear agreement was signed, the conservatives in Tehran can live with the deal and even contemplate security collaboration with Washington in the region. But their fear is that they simply cannot survive the political consequences of American penetration of the Iranian economy. …

Even in the absence of American involvement in the Iranian economy, the nuclear deal has clearly shifted the domestic balance of power in the direction of the moderates. President Hassan Rouhani and his coalition have won three major elections since the deal: the parliament fell into the hands of his coalition; the Assembly of Experts elections saw some of the most hard-line clergy lose their seats; and Rouhani won a crushing victory in the presidential election earlier this year. In addition, reformists swept the board in most of Iran’s major city council elections, leaving their conservative rivals with no seats at all.

This series of political defeats had spread panic in the conservative ranks. But now Trump is coming to their aid. Rather than Rouhani and the moderates’ benefiting politically from the nuclear deal, Trump’s decertification, together with American moves to escalate tensions with Iran in the region, will vindicate Ayatollah Khamenei’s narrative of American untrustworthiness — especially among groups in Iran that have long resisted the Supreme Leader’s antipathy for the US.

Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States
Available at Amazon.

When Iran is solidly adhering to the nuclear accord, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified eight times since January 2016, yet Trump still wants to kill the deal, then the problem doesn’t lie in Tehran. It lies in Washington.

By having so naively entrusted Iran’s future to the untrustworthy Americans, Iranian conservatives will argue, President Rouhani and his moderates have put the country at risk. The more aggressive Trump’s posture in the Middle East becomes, the stronger the hard-liners’ argument against Rouhani’s administration will be.

Besides this, Rouhani’s plans to reinvigorate the Iranian economy will certainly suffer from the collapse of the nuclear deal. If America’s European partners cave to US pressure and either reimpose European Union sanctions on Iran or advise their companies to withdraw from the Iranian market, the economic hit to Iran will be significant. Even if the EU continues trading with Iran, the uncertainty around the durability of the nuclear agreement will be enough to scare off many foreign investors. In that case, Rouhani’s economic program, on which the political future of Iran’s moderates hinges, will be severely hampered.

This will put Iran’s conservatives in a good position to win back the parliament in the 2020 elections, in what is, arguably, a do-or-die moment for the conservatives. It will also strengthen their hand ahead of the ultimate factional showdown: the selection of the next Supreme Leader when Ayatollah Khamenei, who is nearing eighty and suffers from prostate cancer, passes away.

This is not just about what the Iranian conservatives will win if Trump kills the nuclear deal, but what America will lose. The blow to Iran’s moderate forces will be far more consequential than Bush’s “axis of evil” declaration and the rejection of the 2003 grand bargain proposal. It will take years, perhaps decades, before anyone in the Iranian political elite will dare to suggest any accommodation with Washington. Just as important, it will be a tragedy for an entire generation of young Iranians who strongly favor the deal because they want to be on better terms with the US and who have blamed Tehran more than Washington for the US-Iran enmity. For President Trump to renege on the nuclear agreement will push them to accept the hard-liners’ anti-American narrative and silence the voices of those in Iran who want to meet America halfway.

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Trita Parsi

About the author.

Trita Parsi (Persian: تریتا پارسی‎‎) is the founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council. He regularly authors articles in print, and appears on TV to commentate on foreign policy.

He has written three books: Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (2007), A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (2012), and Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy (2017).

For More Information

Important: Understand the context of Trumps decision — For 50 years Republicans have fought against treaties that brought peace.

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Iran, about Iran’s conflict with Americaabout nuclear weapons, and especially these…

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  4. Stratfor describes the Middle East – after the Iran deal.
  5. Stratfor: Trump’s art of wrecking the nuclear deal with Iran.

10 thoughts on “We pay for Trump’s gift to the hard-liners of Iran & America

  1. I wonder if our hardliners and their hardliners ever shake hands and share thanks for their mutual interests.

    I also notice you don’t hear too much about the parliamentary elections in, say, Saudi Arabia.

    1. True, but some are more partial than others. I don’t think it is controversial to say that, with whatever we read, it makes sense to evaluate the possible motives of the author, in addition to the independent validity of the specific information he provides and arguments he makes. If we are able to make a complete assessment of the latter, this of course carries much more weight, but the former can provide many clues.

      Anyway, the assertion in Trita’s article that gives me the most pause is the idea that if we had cooperated with the Iranians, Iraq could have gone much more smoothly. I am sure there are two sides to that story, but what Trita says seems to fit pretty well with the other facts. If he’s basically right on this one, that’s huge.

      I’m less convinced by the idea that this latest snub will somehow do unique and permanent damage to Iranian perceptions of the US or prospects for future dialogue. Iranian youngsters have always liked us for cultural and emotional reasons, Iranian politicians have always distrusted us for very obvious and practical reasons, and they’ve at times been willing to deal with us for pragmatic reasons. Trump is a shock to everybody, but I don’t think he reveals anything about America that everyone didn’t already know. Nor is his perfidy, to the extent that his latest actions can be characterized that way, unique. If another chance for dialogue with the US were to present itself, I’m pretty sure the Iranians will take it, with the same caution as always. Not because they trust us, but because it will be in their interest.

    2. Matt,

      I think the “partial” aspect in your mind comes from your misreading of the text. Your two assertions are both false.

      (1) “the assertion in Trita’s article that gives me the most pause is the idea that if we had cooperated with the Iranians, Iraq could have gone much more smoothly.”

      He makes no such “assertion.” She states the fact that “Among other things, the Iranians offered to stabilize Iraq and ensure its government would not be sectarian (a goal the Iranians had helped achieve in Afghanistan), and collaborate against terrorist organizations—above all, al-Qaeda.” She does not “assert” what the outcome would have been.

      (2) “I’m less convinced by the idea that this latest snub will somehow do unique and permanent damage to Iranian perceptions of the US or prospects for future dialogue.”

      He says the opposite of that. He says that the effect of this is as the latest in a long series of “snubs” — with cumulative effect.

      He says nothing of “unique” and says the opposite of permanent: “It will take years, perhaps decades”, “it will be a tragedy for an entire generation”.

    3. The author is president of the National Iranian American Council. He is literally paid to present the Iranian point of view, broadly construed, to Americans. I think the only way to be more partial than that is to be the official spokesperson for a governmental organization.

      As for (1), in your own quote Trita says the Iranians offered to stabilize Iraq. If Iraq had been stable, that would be been a huge improvement over what actually happened. Same with ensuring a non-sectarian government. Both stability and non-sectarianism are outcomes, and it certainly sounds to me as if Trita is asserting an Iranian ability and willingness to affect them.

      As for (2), “years, perhaps decades” is not the opposite of permanent, for some purposes, it is the same thing. But whether we are talking about “permanent” or “particularly long-lasting” damage, again, I’m skeptical, as the underlying incentives for the Iranians to at least seek cooperation don’t seem to have changed very much.

    4. Matt,

      (1) “He is literally paid to present the Iranian point of view, broadly construed, to Americans.”

      I have zero patience with defenses of false statements that consist of pointing to the other guy’s affiliation. Point to factual errors, don’t just make ad hominems.

      (2) “it certainly sounds to me as if Trita is asserting an Iranian ability and willingness to affect them.”

      The text says nothing even remotely like that. He says that they made the offer — which is fact. He say nothing zip nada about what might have happened if we accepted it. You are showing a great deal more bias than he does.

      (3) ““years, perhaps decades” is not the opposite of permanent, for some purposes, it is the same thing.”

      Wow, that’s bizarre. Consult a dictionary.

    5. Larry,

      (1) I have made no false statements that I am aware of, and merely pointing out the affiliation of the author, and its implications for the slant he is probably inclined to put on whatever he writes, is not ad hominem. Nowhere have I said “such and such argument is wrong because the author is Iranian”. I have effectively said, “this is an interesting article, written from an Iranian perspective. Probably a well-informed commentator with a different perspective would slant things differently.” I have absolutely no idea why you seem to think this is even slightly controversial, let alone condemnable.

      (2) “the Iranians offered to stabilize Iraq and ensure its government would not be sectarian.” To me, this asserts an Iranian ability and willingness to affect actual outcomes. I do not see how it could be construed differently, based on the plain language of this statement, even taking into account the context. Regardless, I am not sure what it is that you feel is so important about the precise characterization of this particular statement.

      (3) No need for a dictionary. Allow me to provide an illustrative example: If the event in question is the arrival of emergency food to a blockaded city in a state of general starvation, a delay of 1 year is exactly the same thing, practically, as a permanent delay.

      In any case, my original appreciation for your posting of an informative article on an important topic still stands.

    6. Mattt,

      “To me, this asserts an Iranian ability and willingness to affect actual outcomes.”

      It does not. Repeating your assertion don’t make it so. He said what he said. Making up implications is fiction. This is simple English.

      “If the event in question is the arrival of emergency food to a blockaded city in a state of general starvation, a delay of 1 year is exactly the same thing, practically, as a permanent delay.”

      The accurate description is “prevent {or stop} starvation from the blockade.” You are justifying your mistaken definition by making up another new word meaning. “Delay” refers to something of a finite time period. As the dictionary says, “postponing, hindering, or causing something to occur more slowly.” A “permanent delay” is a contradiction. Even an “indefinite delay” assumes that the event will occur — but we don’t know when.

      “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

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