America’s Endless Search for a ‘Moderate’ Iranian President

rouAmerican administrations have been obsessed with dividing the Middle East into “moderates” and “hard-liners.” It has never served the U.S. policymakers well, particularly as it is applied to Iran’s Islamic Republic. American administrations are not alone in viewing Iran through such a prism. Other Western governments and particularly the major Western media did so as well.

Yet time and again, the so called “moderate” Iranian presidents proved to be smooth-tongued fellows outwardly, while inside Iran they permitted murders, assassinations, and imprisonment of regime opponents. At the same time, they have sanctioned international terrorism.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected president of Iran in 1989. In his “inaugural” address he promised the Iranian people “renewal” following the bloody 8-year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the death of the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian economy, then as now, was close to ruin and Rafsanjani’s soothing words spurred a great deal of enthusiasm in America and the West.

Rafsanjani assured the German government in July 1992 (Germany’s was Iran’s major European trading partner) that the assassination of Iranian dissidents “belonged to a bygone era.” Two months later, just such an assassination occurred at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin, where the three highest ranking members of Iran’s Democratic Party of Kurdistan, along with other opposition leaders, were gunned down.

The Spanish philosopher George Santayana admonished that history tends to repeat itself. President Rouhani’s election in June 2013, just like the election in June, 1997 of President Mohammad Khatami, was influenced by the impact of Western sanctions on Iran. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, approved a candidate that could “soften” the West to end the sanctions against Iran. And like Rouhani, Khatami was hailed as a “moderate” who also smiled pleasantly to Western cameras. Khatami’s gimmick was the “dialogue of civilizations,” which greatly impressed the liberal Clinton administration. The Clinton administration was eager for dialogue with Khatami’s Iran. Some sanctions were lifted, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright extended an official apology to Iran for the 1953 CIA-engineered coup that deposed Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.

While Western policymakers were gushing over Khatami, brutal assaults on dissidents and opposition leaders took place in Iran. A dozen leading writers and political leaders were murdered between 1997 and 1999, but that did not end the love affair between the U.S. administration and the “moderate” President Khatami. Similar to Rouhani avoiding Obama in the UN corridors in 2013, Khatami avoided crossing paths with Clinton at the UNGA summit in 2000. Also, in 2002, during Khatami’s presidency, dissidents belonging to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) exposed Iran’s secret uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and the heavy water facility in Arak.

According to a CIA memo, Khatami “probably joins other Iranian leaders who maintain that support to Hezbollah is an essential aspect of Tehran’s effort to promote itself as leader of the Muslim world and champion of the oppressed.”

President Barack Obama, who disavowed George W. Bush’s designation of Iran as part of the “Axis of Evil,” tried hard to find accommodation with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2009, soon after his inauguration, he offered direct talks but was spurned and ridiculed by the Supreme Leader and his minions, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now, however, in 2013, Iran’s economy is on the brink of disaster. Iranian oil exports dropped from 2.4 million barrels a day (bpd) to about 800,000, costing the regime $70 billion, and robbing it of its main revenue source. 40% of young Iranians are unemployed and the real figure is probably higher. Inflation, too, is at 40%, but most likely higher.

Given the economic realities in Iran, it is no wonder that the regime has sponsored a so-called “moderate” such as Rouhani, to launch a “charm offensive” aimed at the West. He is tasked with breaking the Western sanction regime. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his UN General Assembly speech, revealed the true nature and aims of the Iranian regime and warned the international community to beware of Iran’s ploy.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on October 1, 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared, “Now since [the Iranian Revolution of 1979), presidents of Iran have come and gone. Some presidents were considered moderates, others, hard-liners. But they have all served that same unforgiving creed, that same unforgiving regime, that creed that is espoused and enforced by the real power in Iran, the dictator known as the supreme leader, first Ayatollah Khomeini, and now Ayatollah Khamenei.”

Netanyahu made the case to the international community and in the White House, to President Obama, not to be persuaded by the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “charm offensive.” At his UN speech Netanyahu added, “President Rouhani, like the presidents who came before him, is a loyal servant of the regime. He was one of six candidates the regime permitted to run for office. See, nearly 700 other candidates were rejected. So what made him acceptable? Well, Rouhani headed Iran’s Supreme national Security Council from 1989 through 2003. During that time Iran’s henchmen gunned down opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant. They murdered 85 people at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires [1994]. They killed 19 American soldiers by blowing up the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia [1996].”

Calling Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Netanyahu asked rhetorically whether anyone can believe that Rouhani, the national security adviser of Iran, knew nothing of these attacks. Rouhani was, moreover, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. As such, he masterminded the strategy that enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind “a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric.”

In fact, during his recent election campaign for the presidency, Rouhani reminded Iranians, and in particular the “Ahmadinejad faction” of the ruling class, that during his term as National Security adviser, he raised Iran’s nuclear centrifuges from 300 to 1,500. According to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (September 6, 2013 report) “Iran continues to enrich uranium and increase the number of centrifuges installed, including around 18,000 of the IR-1 type centrifuge and 1,000 of the more efficient IR-2m type.”

In the final analysis, there is no substantive difference between former presidents of Iran Ahmadinejad and Rouhani. There are only stylistic changes. Both Ahamdinejad and Rouhani have sought to maintain and bolster the Islamic revolutionary regime, which has sponsored worldwide terrorism and abused human rights inside Iran. The economic hardship experienced by ordinary Iranians is putting pressure on the regime to bring relief to the nation, without much compromise on the nuclear program. Iran’s main goal is regime survival. The primary policy of the regime is to become the hegemon in the Middle East region and beyond. The nuclear option would provide it with the means to do so.

American policymakers must stop equating Western realities with that of Iran. The U.S. administrations and the media have wrongly used such terms as “liberal” or “moderate” and contrasted it with “conservative” or “hard-liner.” These are deceptive characterizations is applied to the Middle East in general and to Iran in particular. Rouhani is no less of a “hard-liner” than Ahmadinejad when it comes to the regime’s survival and its nuclear program. He is poised to advance Iran’s policy goals as previous presidents have done. Rather than look at the Iranian power-play as between “hard-liners” and “moderates,” Westerners should understand the inner workings of Iran’s political elites as mafia-like families warring over economic and political interests.

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  • JohnnyBoy

    We can try to work out mutual accommodations with Iran,
    but there are two problems with trying to settle our differences. One is that
    our elected politicians have a long history of appeasing foreign leaders in a
    way that damages our interests. The other is that our differences arise
    from culture of Iran, not the particular people who are currently leading Iran.
    These things can not be settled through high level negotiations.

    And so it would be better for all of us if the only goal was accommodation, because that may well be possible. Anything beyond that would be wishful thinking on our part.

  • JacksonPearson

    Hussein Obama knows all about Muslims. /Sarc

  • Eh San

    Iranians don’t want a regime change, they want a reform inside. US
    should help them achieve their goal, it’s best for both sides.

    • defcon 4

      Freedom and islam are about as good a fit as nazism and freedom were.

      • Eh San

        Islam and human rights are compatible as other religions are.

        • Hass

          “Islam and human rights are compatible as other religions are.”

          Really? Are you that stupid? That’s an Oxymoron.

          Okay. Prove it. Show me one example where Muslimes have championed human rights (even though they’re nonexistent in every Muslim State)?.

        • Drakken

          So who are we going to believe? You muslim? Or our lying infidel eyes? Every bloody day islam shows us infidels what bloody savages you are.

          • defcon 4

            And I’ll bet we’re only reading a fraction of the atrocities committed by muslimes. I’ll bet it’s the tip of a gigantic iceberg of persecution and murder.
            I’ve heard stories personally from Iraqi Christians and Eritrean Christians about Christians being murdered w/impunity by muslimes (in the streets, in broad daylight no less), because for some reason the all muslime law enforcement community in these states didn’t seem interested in investigating such crimes.

          • Eh San

            I don’t know why you insist on insulting, we could debate. If you want to have a fair judgement about muslems you cannot just trust what you see in the media. Sure there are Muslim terrorists (who mostly kill themselves), but you have a variety of sources and opinions of Muslim scholars to study.
            I’m sorry for the site to leave the abusive comments. This is my last post.

          • defcon 4

            Waaaa. I’d cry for you and your poor offended muslime sensibilities, but it would be hypocrisy in light of all the people being victimised by islam0fascists all over the world right now.

  • Walter Sieruk

    This new “moderate” presdent of Iran is a fake. In the way of “reform” which he claim he will work for will be at best it will just him setting up window dressing. As the the disingenous claim of Rouhani that he had “good intentions” in his dealings with the West is a hoax. This new president of Iran does know how to dissimulate in his subtle schemes for the West. Rouhani is engaging in the Islamic practice of the doctrine of Taqqiya [deception].Which is the Islamic doctrine that lying is a good thing if it’s done for the cause of Islam. To explain this in another way, according to the report from the Middle East Media Research Preject[MEMRI] from the director of its Iran desk, Ayelet Savyon, who stated “Just because Iran has a new president that hasn’t changed their goals…Their agenda hasn’t changed, the only thing that has changed is the image that they are trying to present to the world.”

    • Guest

      Taqiyya is not something you’ve been told. It is a life-saving act of concealing your belief. Taqiyya was developed to protect muslims who were usually in minority and under pressure. In the Shi’a view, taqiyya is lawful in situations where there is overwhelming danger of loss of life or property.
      This was a defensive tactic not an excuse to make bombs to attack other countries.

      • Hass

        Thank you for confirming what everyone here knows.

        Ha! A stupid Muslime uses Taqiyya to explain Taqiyya.

      • Drakken

        Mark my words, you muslims will be on the defensive shortly, much to your horror because you have pushed us infidels too far. Guess what, in God(not allah) you trust, all muslims are suspect period.

    • Eh San

      Taqiyya is not something you’ve been told. Taqiyya was developed to protect muslims who were usually in minority and under pressure. In the Shi’a view, taqiyya is lawful in situations where there is overwhelming danger of loss of life or property.
      This was a defensive tactic not a way to make bombs to attack other countries.

      • defcon 4

        Yeah, no one kuffar has noticed the pathological lying so common to muslimes everywhere. Just like they haven’t noticed the ongoing slaughter, persecution, rape and forcible conversion of kuffars everywhere in the muslime world today.

  • Gee

    I remember during the “Iran/Contra Affair” the definition of a moderate Iranian was one that was out of ammunition

    • defcon 4

      What did you think of Ollie North?

      • Drakken

        I worked for the Lt. Co in the 80’s, liked him then and I still like him now.

  • defcon 4

    I love how the lieberal enemedia tries to paint “bad” muslimes as “conservative”. Yeah, the mad mullahs of Iranistan are just like Pat Robertson and Newt Gingrich aren’t they?

  • antioli

    Rouhani, also seems like another angry old white guy. His speech was very angry. He doesn’t believe the Holocaust took place. He must think Eisenhower was a liar.

  • Hass

    FFS when is the West going to realise, there’s NO moderate?. Islam is Islam. Especially a country ruled with an iron fist by Ruthless Mullahs. I mean, they’ve been dealing with Muslimes for decades and you’d think by now the’d know what they’re up against.

    • defcon 4

      I believe most US politicians are corrupted by islam0fascist petrodollars. ABSCAM had no problems uncovering US senators willing to take bribes from faux Saudi sheikhs. Unfortunately ABSCAM was stopped despite its success.

  • Mladen_Andrijasevic