The Cold War is long gone, says the American president, and the Ukrainian affair is not a “Cold War chessboard.” Syria and Ukraine, he adds, are about “expression of hopes” rather than acts of regional powers. And the same goes for Iran: “If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.”
But this parallel between past and present deserves closer inspection, especially given the president’s reluctance to intervene in any battle, be it Ukraine, Syria or Iran. Apparently, there is a difference between a battle of ideas and one of “international law.”
America and its allies in Europe never forgot their united opposition to the Soviet Union, and to its world view, so inherently incompatible with their own. They recognized, correctly, that the Soviets had a clear ideology juxtaposed with global ambitions, in which a free world had no place. They also recognized that, left unchallenged, those ambitions would weaken the free world, and perhaps completely destroy it.
In contrast, this consensus is absent when it comes to the Islamic regime in Iran.
Iran has ambitions for global domination in the vein of the Soviets’ vision, but America and the West fail to recognize this desire. And just as the free world had no place in the Soviets’ communist utopia, it is similarly rejected under the repressive Islamic republic.
As Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed in a famous speech (enshrined in an Iranian 7th grade textbook, among other places): “It is our duty to continue with all [our] power our revolt against the Arrogant Ones [a term mostly used now in reference to the United States] and the oppressors, and not cease until all Islam’s commandments and the spread of the redeeming message of ‘there is no god except Allah’ are realized in the whole world.”
Khomeini goes on to explain the extent of that duty: “This struggle will continue in this manner until the complete victory over the world of unbelief and arrogance, the eradication of any oppression, the appearance of the Master of the Age [the Shi’ite Hidden Imam], and the realization of the world government of Islam.”
During the Soviet Era, the free world understood that short of an all-out war, which would be devastating to both sides, everything else must be tried to weaken the Soviets and roll back their gains around the globe. It understood that no Soviet advancement anywhere around the globe should go unchallenged.
Around the globe, different US administrations, along with American allies, challenged every one of the Soviet advancements. These were not always successful attempts – to say the least – but they reflected resolution.
During the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy went to the brink of nuclear war.
Compare that attitude and resolve with the free world’s attitudes toward the Islamic regime’s attempts to expand its sphere of influence in the Middle East and beyond. Largely unchallenged, the Islamic regime has successfully built spheres of influence in Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, and now in South America and Africa. Supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah, the mullahs have successfully extended their reach mostly unchallenged.
Take Iraq, where every attempt was made by US diplomats in charge to cooperate with the Islamic regime, in a futile attempt to cement an alliance. The result? An added foothold in the Middle East for Iran while America lost face and ground. After hundreds of billions of dollars spent – and thousands of American lives – it is not America but the mullahs who have the last word in Iraq.
In the case of the Soviet Union, America never failed to recognize the inherent weaknesses of the Soviet regime and aggressively sought ways to exploit them in order to weaken their system. America promoted its values and never hesitated to loudly proclaim the weaknesses, inefficiencies, evils and hypocrisies of the leaders of the Soviet system. To the chagrin of Mikhail Gorbachev, during the 1988 Moscow Summit, Reagan made sure to meet with the pro-democracy Soviet dissidents. A decade later, the Wall began to crumble.
Compare this to President Barack Obama’s approach, exemplified by his choice to remain silent while Iranian dissidents from the Green Movement went to the streets. Rather than supporting the pro-democracy movement, the president defaulted to negotiation with the mullahs.
Engagement has indeed led to lifting the sanctions but otherwise, to very little change. Over 500 Iranians were executed since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took power, with no end in sight. Just last week, the Iranian foreign minister hosted Ziyad al-Nakhalah, secretary general of the PIJ terrorist group, an individual designated by the State Department as “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” The president continues to remain silent.
President Obama is right to point out that America negotiated with the Soviets, a far more powerful adversary than the terrorist regime of the Islamic republic. But he is wrong to suggest that the negotiation approaches are comparable or that they will result in enhancing Western interests.
The need for negotiation in order to avoid a costly war might be comprehensible, but doing it in the absence of a cohesive and clear policy to defeat a regime that aspires to your own destruction is not.
Dr. Nir Boms is a co-founder of CyberDissidensts.org.
Shayan Arya is an expert on Iran and a member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran (Liberal Democrat).