Opinion: U.S. should learn from history with Iran

September 28, 2013


— The search, now 30 years old, for Iranian “moderates” goes on. Amid the enthusiasm of the latest sighting, it’s worth remembering that the highlight of the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages debacle was the secret trip to Tehran taken by Robert McFarlane, President Reagan’s former national security adviser. He brought a key-shaped cake symbolizing the new relations he was opening with the “moderates.”

We know how that ended.

Three decades later, the mirage reappears in the form of Hassan Rouhani. Strange résumé for a moderate: 35 years of unswervingly loyal service to the Islamic Republic as a close aide to Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei. Moreover, Rouhani was one of only six presidential candidates, another 678 having been disqualified by the regime as ideologically unsound. That puts him in the 99th percentile for fealty.

Rouhani is Khamenei’s agent but, with a smile and style, he’s now hailed as the face of Iranian moderation. Why? Because Rouhani wants better relations with the West.

Well, what leader would not want relief from Western sanctions that have sunk Iran’s economy, devalued its currency and caused widespread hardship? The test of moderation is not what you want but what you’re willing to give. After all, sanctions were not slapped on Iran for amusement. It was to enforce multiple Security Council resolutions demanding a halt to uranium enrichment.

Yet in his lovey-dovey Washington Post op-ed, his U.N. speech and various interviews, Rouhani gives not an inch on uranium enrichment. Indeed, he has repeatedly denied that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons at all. Or ever has. Such a transparent falsehood — what country swimming in oil would sacrifice its economy just to produce nuclear electricity that advanced countries like Germany are already abandoning? — is hardly the basis for a successful negotiation.

But successful negotiation is not what the mullahs are seeking. They want sanctions relief. And more than anything, they want to buy time.

It takes about 250 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in August that Iran already has 186 kilograms. That leaves the Iranians on the threshold of going nuclear. They are adding 3,000 new high-speed centrifuges. They need just a bit more talking, stalling, smiling and stringing along a gullible West.

Rouhani is the man to do exactly that. As Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005, he boasted in a 2004 speech to the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the (uranium conversion) facility in Isfahan. ... In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.”

Such is their contempt for us that they don’t even hide their strategy: Spin the centrifuges while spinning the West.

And when the president of the world’s sole superpower asks for a photo-op handshake with the president of a regime that, in President Obama’s own words, kills and kidnaps and terrorizes Americans, the killer-kidnapper does not even deign to accept the homage. Rouhani rebuffed him.

Who can blame Rouhani? Offer a few pleasant words in an op-ed hailing a new era of non-zero-sum foreign relations, and watch the media and the administration immediately swoon with visions of detente.

But at least we have to talk, say the enthusiasts. As if we haven’t been talking. For a decade. Strung along in negotiations of every manner — the EU3, the P5+1, then the final, very final, last-chance 2012 negotiations held in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow at which the Iranians refused to even consider the nuclear issue, declaring the dossier closed. Plus two more useless rounds this year.

I’m for negotiations. But only if it’s to do something real, not to run out the clock as Iran goes nuclear. The administration says it wants actions not words. Fine. Demand one simple proof of good faith: Honor the U.N. resolutions. Suspend uranium enrichment and we will talk. 

At least that stops the clock. Anything else amounts to being played.

And about the Khamenei agent who charms but declares enrichment an inalienable right, who smiles but refuses to shake the president’s hand. When asked by NBC News whether the Holocaust was a myth, Rouhani replied: “I’m not a historian. I’m a politician.”

Iranian moderation in action.

And, by the way, do you know who was one of the three Iranian “moderates” the cake-bearing McFarlane dealt with at that fateful arms-for-hostage meeting in Tehran 27 years ago? Hassan Rouhani.

We never learn.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

What did the nation learn from the Iran-Contra scandal using Iran in a USA weapons smuggling operation? I'd say not much. Did it ever stop?

--- http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4120/we_arm_the_world/

--- http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0208-05.htm

Most of the money and people supporting 9/11/01 came out of Saudi Arabia yet the USA government does large weapons sales with this country. According to news Saudi Arabia also sells weapons to others in the region.

What did the nation learn when Iran booted Standard Oil from their country? Maybe oil in other countries belong to those countries? No. Henry Kissenger decided that who controls a large control of the world's oil supply controls many many economies around the world. Which likely brought these foreign policy documents forward.

--- http://www.antiwar.com/orig/stockbauer1.html

--- http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/apr/20/israelandthepalestinians.oil

Oil and weapons are a huge business for a few. War mongering against others is neither pragmatic,diplomatic nor acceptable. Perhaps Peace should the industry we share worldwide knowing war mongering is accomplishing nothing except wrecking our economy and creating large piles of dead bodies ..... some of which are a few thousand USA soldiers.

OlDan 4 years, 8 months ago

What does this have to do with the fact that Obama is once again being played like a fiddle?

FarleyM 4 years, 8 months ago

Centrifuges continue to spin. What makes you think he is being played? Under Ahmedinejab, the Green Revolution dissidents wanted to be friendly with the west but was ignored by Obama.

Centrifuges continue to spin.

jack22 4 years, 8 months ago

America lost credibility in the region with the invasion of Iraq and America is not better off without Saddam Hussein. By invading Iraq we strengthen Iran and left political turmoil in the region that may come back to bite us.

IndusRiver 4 years, 8 months ago

The US should open the Bible to 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Amos so it can pull itself back into civilization.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

To understand the history of Iran/US relations, you have to go back a bit further than 30 years.

Back to when we deposed a democratically elected government, and installed the Shah of Iran, a "forced modernizer" friendly to our interests.

Mike Ford 4 years, 8 months ago

I was a fourth grader during the hostage crisis in 1979-1980 and remember being glued to the tv for this and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Most Americans do not realize that in the early 1950's there was an Iranian leader who wanted to keep the Iranian oil assets and production controlled by Iran. Great Britain didn't want this and the US didn't want this so the CIA destabilized this leader and replaced him with Shah Pahlavi who was basically an agreeing figurehead to the West. This sellout led to Ayatollah Khomeini and the issues of the last three decades. Not to mention the US armed Iraq against Iran from 1980 to 1988 and then turned on Saddam Hussein after he fought Iran for the US. The lesson Americans don't grasp is that when a moderate is in power he's viewed as a puppet regardless of the country or time period. If one was to look at the way the US was settled during the 19th century the way the US acquired tribal lands was by coercing sellouts to get what they wanted. The same practice was used by the military professors from Fort Leavenworth whom I listened to at KU six years ago in their advisory work for Iraq and the Middle East. They spoke of finding the friendlies (sellouts) and winning the hearts and minds of the people. When is the US going to figure out that treating people with respect accomplishes more than toppling and manipulation?

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

I'd like to think we might learn that, but I fear that we will not.

Instead, we'll be forced to deal with increasingly unpleasant consequences from our lack of understanding.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 8 months ago

I used to work with about a dozen or so Iranian refugees right after the Iranian revolution in 1979, in California. Coincidentally it seemed, they all worked day shift. When I switched to night shift, suddenly I found myself surrounded with refugees from Vietnam. Unlike the Iranians, one of them did discuss the Vietnamese war at some length with me. His view of it was that they had fought for about 100 years to get the French to leave, then suddenly the USA took over the French attempts to control the country. The Iranians never mentioned the revolution at all, and in retrospect, I wonder if that was because of fear of reprisals.

And, also in the 1970s, I was friends with a lot of Iranian students here at KU. But today, I have unfortunately lost track of all of them.

There was an interesting event that took place at the KU Student Union in the 1980s. The former Prime Minister of Afghanistan traveled hundreds of miles to the University of Kansas to give a talk about how he and his entire family had managed to escape the Russian invasion. It was fascinating. I honestly don't understand how they got out alive.

And guess what. There were exactly and only 2 Americans in attendance, and perhaps 30 to 40 persons from the Middle East. Needless to say, we were treated with the utmost respect since we were the only Americans that cared enough about Afghanistan's problems to attend the talk.

And so, I got to meet the former Prime Minister of Afghanistan, and shake his hand. He thanked me very warmly for attending. But, I'm sure he expected more than 2 Americans to attend his talk.

His last act before he crossed the border out of Afghanistan was touching. He picked up a handful of soil from Afghanistan, and carefully wrapped it up. He planned to save it until he could return home, and in the meantime, he would always have a little bit of Afghanistan with him.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 8 months ago

Astronomers claim that the end of civilization will be the result of a massive meteor strike on the earth in a few to several hundred thousand years. Or failing that, the sun will supernova in several hundred million years.

But at the rate that international relations are souring, and at the rate at which the weapons we have at our disposal are becoming more powerful, it's probably going to happen a lot sooner than that.

The basic problem is that the ethnocentrism of many or most people does not allow them to respect the differing world views and the humanity of their fellow human beings.

And of course, the television watchers among us don't help a bit.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

The 2 things I think that will destroy us, most likely, are the destruction of the natural environment or a nuclear war.

I'd like to believe that we will stop destroying the environment and find a better way to deal with conflicts (which we certainly could do), but I fear that we will not.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 8 months ago

I think that as long as there are those among us who actually believe that all of the answers to the problems that we face today can be found in books that are hundreds or thousands of years old, and also as long as there are those among us who believe that their culture should hold sway over the entire world, there are no realistic solutions in sight.

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