Iran’s President Rouhani Could Be Mikhail Gorbachev

This video may not strike you as very serious. But seriousness is the whole point. We use Iran to justify a lot of bad behavior. Just a week or so back, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that we’re going to indefinitely hold territory in Syria because we don’t like the fact that Iran has influence in a country it has had influence in for decades. We use the “seriousness” of the Iranian threat to ourselves and Israel to justify stuff. This doesn’t mean we’re actually serious about the Iranian threat.

Because if we were serious about countering Iran, we’d be using every possible opening. We’d have the ability to both deal with them diplomatically, and oppose them militarily in proxy wars, just like the Cold Warriors of Yore. But we don’t. Because nothing about US foreign policy is serious. Other than its consequences for the world. This video is a thought experiment, asking how we’d tread Iran’s president Rouhani if we were truly serious about countering threats from Iran.

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Video Transcript after the jump…

So if you’re from Fox News, or MSNBC or the New York Times, you think you know exactly what the Iranian Regime is, and exactly how it should be dealt with. They’re all exactly the same, they’re fascists, they’re kleptocrats, and the only way to deal with them is to be tough, tough, tough.

That’s not really my attitude, but even if it were, even if I did think Iran constituted a real threat to the United States, this approach wouldn’t make any sense. So let’s assume that Iran is a terrible terrible threat to us, and we want to do whatever is possible to help Iran transition to a new system. What’s the appropriate response to Hassan Rouhani, the elected president?

I call Rouhani the moderate president a lot because that’s what he is. He ran on a platform of reform, and broke with decades of tradition to engage with the United States diplomatically, negotiating and entering into the JCPOA, more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. After this, after all of Trump’s insults, and after two years where the US hasn’t exactly lived up to the spirit of the deal, Rouhani was re-elected in a landslide this past May. He has promised more economic openness and international engagement. That’s what the people who elected him want too.

Trump celebrated this re-election by driving it out of the news completely,throwing an orb party with Iran’s greatest enemy, the Saudi Royal Family. Trump and his officials used the trip as an opportunity to threaten Iran… From Saudi Arabia!

Now I know the standard line here. Rouhani is just the last gasp of a dying regime. He’s designed to pull the wool over all of our eyes and fool us, so the Iranian regime can hold onto power for a few more decades. Rouhani is just as bad as the rest of them, but he’s trying a different tack to get the world’s money and help his sick system to survive. This story… actually… could be completely accurate. That could be exactly what’s going on.

But the appropriate follow on question here is, do you know who Mikhail Gorbachev was? I’m not talking about 1989 Time Magazine’s “Man of the Decade” Gorby! I’m talking about the Mikhail Gorbachev that assumed control of the Soviet Union in 1985. The nasty interpretation of Rouhani I laid out above describes what Gorbachev was exactly. We remember him now as that friendly guy who made deals with Reagan and oversaw the collapse of free world’s greatest enemy. That is not what Gorbachev was planning.

Rouhani may be very dedicated to clerical rule. Gorbachev thought he was going to improve Communism, and the Soviet Union, not destroy them. Rouhani negotiated the nuclear deal while his regime was shoring up its client in Syria against CIA attacks. Gorbachev negotiated arms deals with Reagan as he desperately tried to shore up the Soviet Union’s client in Afghanistan against CIA attacks. Gorbachev was famous for his policy of “Glasnost” or openness. He hoped to fix problems by talking about them, instead he killed Communism.

There’s a lot of debate over what exactly caused those protests in Iran a month ago, but one of the contenders is a bit of Glasnost that Rouhani himself engaged in, publicizing and complaining about the amount of money eaten up by religious foundations in Iran’s budget.

There will always be hardliners, both in the Iran and the US. But we don’t have to listen to them. What would the result have been if Reagan and Bush hadn’t engaged with Gorbachev? The Soviet Union probably would have collapsed anyway, but it could have collapsed in an much more dangerous way. Rather than a whimper, the Soviet Union could have ended with a bang. Possibly a civilization ending one.

If we were at all serious about helping Iran find a better system, we’d be engaging with the country on every front. We’d oppose their influence abroad, but we’d also be responsive to elements of the regime when it reached out. The truth is, we’re not at all serious about helping the Iranian people. It’s all theater. Washington, DC needs a threat to justify its own behavior, and that is what the Iranian boogie man provides. Iran’s President Rouhani really could be a Mikhail Gorbachev. But the US government just isn’t interested.

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