By Kenneth Maginnis
It can be no surprise how political debate on the West’s policy toward Iran has intensified in the wake of the recent New York Times Magazine article revealing the deliberate deceptions carried out by the Obama administration to justify its nuclear negotiations and its broader policy of appeasement. White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes helped President Obama convince not only American policymakers, but policymakers and citizens throughout much of the world, that the Iranian regime had achieved moderation under President Hassan Rouhani, and that it was well on its way to reform.
Yet anyone with even a modicum of understanding of Iranian politics and the regime’s ideology would have recognized the deceit, and a number of my own colleagues remained admirably resistant to the White House narrative. But perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the current United Kingdom Foreign Office functions without any obvious coherent policy or strategy, others embraced it with little question. While that may have been out of a naive sense of loyalty to one’s own administration, others appear to do so simply through an eagerness that European businesses could claim the benefits of re-engagement with Iran’s oil and export economy.
Whatever the case may be, they’ve helped to bring about a situation in which Iran has effectively been paid off for paltry concessions on its nuclear program, leaving it virtually free of consequences as it carries out systematic human rights abuses at home, continues to threaten its neighbors and Western democracies, and destructively intrudes into conflicts like those still tearing apart Syria and Yemen.
One must hope that those who supported the Obama administration’s narrative will do everything in their power to reverse those effects now that they know how the White House narrative was based on convenient falsehoods. Surely, it is not too much to hope that they will recognize the all-too-evident lack of prospects for improvement in Iran’s behavior, and will take appropriate measures to exert diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to effect those concessions that it will never offer up on its own.
But perhaps what is more important than reversing the immediate effects of our recent mistakes is simply making sure that we learn from them. It is conceivable that some Western policymakers accepted the nuclear deal and its implied trend toward appeasement because they took it for granted that the most powerful figures in the U.S. government would understand what was going on in the Middle East, that they would not deliberately seek to mislead NATO allies about something so important.
The New York Times Magazine bluntly implies that the harmful impact of recent Iran policy was largely the result of lies. But it is entirely possible that somewhere along the line, highly placed figures in the administration genuinely believed that Iran was capable of internal reform, and that Mr. Rouhani could be the one to bring it about.