The very hypothesis that factions inside the regime ruling Iran actually have a weight is very destructive not only for U.S. national security, but the world over. On this issue the U.S. and Europe should question the effectiveness of their policy vis-à-vis Iran, as the international community has witnessed the destructive consequences of appeasement with the mullahs in Tehran. Ever since 1976 all U.S. administrations have attempted to extend a hand to “reformists” in the face of “hardliners.” None have been to the benefit of the U.S. or the international community, and unfortunately the Iranian people have paid the ultimate price.
All U.S. presidents who extended a hand to the mullahs in Iran witnessed yet another chance failed. What is not understood is that Iran itself has no intention to shift any fundamental aspects of their foundations. Iran has on numerous occasions taken hostages when deemed necessary, only to release them to gain the most in return. Tehran continued full-speed ahead to seek nuclear weapons under the farce of a “peaceful” nuclear program, only until the international community became serious about crippling sanctions. Even Hassan Rouhani, the current president who led the Iran nuclear negotiating team back in 2003, acknowledged Tehran’s main objective was to force Washington to downgrade its stance.
Despite the claims made by policymakers across the board there seldom are reformers in Iran, if any actually. However, strange is the emphasis of diplomats and analysts of the opposite in this regard, and they take one step forward by even claiming the existence of reformers in Iran means there are those inside the regime apparatus who accept fundamental human rights and standard diplomacy norms. The skyrocketing number of executions in Iran under Hassan Rouhani, and in fact his “reformist” predecessor Mohammad Khatami, should act as a serious wakeup call for all such experts. Amnesty International recently issued a damning report over the continuing and escalating number of juvenile executions in Iran under the “reformist” Rouhani. While executions across the globe should come to an end, the pace Iran is executing – over 2,000 under the 2½-year tenure of Rouhani alone – proves the preposterous nature of any claims possible reforms from within the ruling structure in Iran.
While senior figures in America, such as Nicholas Burns, advocate increasing dialogue and engagement with Iran and describe Rouhani as a “reformist president”, even the Iranian president’s own text and electoral campaign motto flatly contradict that. We also hear that receiving Western education is a credible and sound criteria to consider a ruling figure in a dictatorial state as a reformist. Rouhani studied in the United Kingdom, while many reports blasted his claims of receiving a PhD. However, in response to such an argument, it is worth noting that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who has killed more than 300,000 of his own people and forced half of his country’s 26 million population into displacement, is a Western-educated doctor. Another irony is the fact that the “reformist” Rouhani and the entire regime in Iran are staunch supporters of the Assad killing machine in Syria.
These “reformists” are not at all eager to adopt the values cherished in the West. In fact, America and Europe should be very alert about such deceptive practices. Many in the West mistakenly advocate this belief that moderating the regime in Iran is an objective sought by Rouhani. What is lost in the complex image of politics in Iran is that all figures are servants of a single system. Rouhani is seeking a legacy of relieving financial pressure that was literally crippling the regime in Tehran.
All this said and done, one cannot deny that there are factions in Iran. However, a deeper and wiser look shows us that the mere existence of factions in Iran is no proof of debates as seen in the West. No one dares to question the character or ideology of regime in Tehran, knowing this would only render a disastrous fate. While there is a robust political debate in the West, one should not be delusional about such a possibility in Iran. Reform within Iran has proven impossible for 37 years, and there is no prospect of any alteration in the near or distant future.
Heshmat Alavi is a political activist and supporter for regime change in Iran. He writes on Iran and the Middle East.
He tweets at @HeshmatAlavi