New US administration’s Iran policy may be construed as self-deception

Today, with the regime fast turning into an exceptionally corrupt North Korean-style military autocracy, the nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs have assumed greater ideological urgency

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (photo credit: REUTERS)
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Unless US President-elect Joe Biden’s team has some hitherto unspoken reason in returning to the Iran nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – accepting the argument that this would forestall the Islamic Republic’s nuclear military ambition or alleviate economic hardship of the Iranian people may be construed as a catastrophic case of self-deception.
 After 30 years of opaque nuclear activity, it is naïve to believe the Iranian leaders endure the heavy economic and political costs of uranium enrichment only to produce fuel for domestic nuclear power plants unlikely to be built in the foreseeable future or sell the output to foreign customers gullible enough to rely on a politically motivated supplier that has no qualms about resorting to human hostage taking as a foreign policy tool.
The idea of producing the “Islamic bomb” was conceived during late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency in the early 1990s as part of the rather fanciful ambition of turning Iran into the “metropolitan center of the Muslim world.” Today, with the regime fast turning into an exceptionally corrupt North Korean-style military autocracy, the nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs have assumed greater ideological urgency as well as offering rich pots of money and power for the members of the ruling oligarchy to dip in. The JCPOA, even if faithfully adhered to, can at best slow down the regime’s overt nuclear program until the deal expires in five years. The speed with which the Iranians managed to resume nuclear enrichment in admittedly a restrained response to the return of sanctions showed how ineffectual the deal is in preventing the emergence of an aggressive nuclear power and inevitably triggering an uncontrollable arms race in a sensitive region of the world. With such prospects, the European JCPOA defenders’ claim that the deal may delay Iran’s atomic bomb program by a few months is hardly reassuring.
The now-threadbare argument that appeasing the Iranian regime would strengthen the hands of its “moderate faction” is even more tenuous. The idea of “rival factionalism” was the brainchild of former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who famously directed his clerical followers to present to the Iranian people an illusion of political choice, which, as he put it, would allow the oligarchy to keep power “in your own hands” behind a pseudo-democratic facade. To his credit, for almost four decades the ploy proved successful in drawing many Iranians to the voting booths, often for protest voting the regime exploited as the indication of popular support. Nonetheless, factional unanimity over the brutal suppression of protests of recent years finally exploded the myth as shown by public desertion of polling stations in the latest parliamentary elections.
The Islamic Republic as a political system revolves around the central notion of the “custodianship of the leader,” which requires unwavering submission of all institutions and functionaries of the state, whether appointed or “elected,” as well as the citizens to his “divine” will. Today, this constitutional and religious obligation is more than enforced by ruthless arms of state coercion. In addition, Islamic Republic constitution formally places the right to decide “principal policies” of the state in the leader’s authority and specifies that foreign, military and security areas are under his personal control. Regardless of factional affiliation, the president and his government and those in the parliament and judiciary are in no position to override, even influence the views of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the closed circle around him.
And finally, to justify the return to JCPOA on grounds of easing economic pressure on the ordinary Iranians indicates regrettable unfamiliarity with life in Iran. When the previous round of sanctions ended in 2016, the average Iranian saw practically no relief from 40 years of worsening hardship. While the sanctions were in effect, authorities accused “the enemy” of inflicting poverty and deprivation on ordinary Iranians by blocking $100 billion of “their money” in foreign banks. When sanctions were lifted, they claimed that the money had already been spent and later even denied that it had ever existed. Meanwhile, with grotesquely luxurious holiday villas mushrooming sometimes in natural reserves and expressions of gratitude for by the regime’s foreign proxies for Islamic Republic’s generosity, most ordinary Iranians welcomed the reimposition of US sanctions in 2018 with the old saying that “if the pot does not boil for me, let it not boil at all!”

The writer is an Iranian political analyst and former journalist currently living in the UK.