Not surprisingly, Barack Obama’s attempt to snuggle up to the Iranians via YouTube has been shot down by Tehran with blinding speed. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, unimpressed with Obama’s direct appeal to the Iranian people and the supposed “moderate” elements of the régime, has made it quite clear that his government is not particularly eager to work toward improved relations with the West. With a crowd chanting “Death to America” in the background, Khamenei dismissed the Obama overture as nothing more than a poorly disguised attempt at getting Iran to abandon the principles and the political tone it set for itself with the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And, to be sure, Khamenei made it plain that the Iranian theocracy has no intention of doing anything of the sort. Consider some of the demands Iran has identified as prerequisites for any future negotiations with the United States:
- a complete overhaul of U.S. foreign policy;
- the release of all frozen Iranian assets;
- an end to America’s “unconditional support” for Israel;
- the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Iran;
- a U.S. apology for having organized the ousting of Iran's democratically elected government in 1953, and for other U.S. “involvements” in Iran;
- an end to America’s allegations that Iran is seeking nuclear arms;
- the cessation of “hostile propaganda” and accusatory remarks directed against Iranian leaders.
In exchange, what does Tehran offer in furtherance of better bilateral relations? Nothing. Indeed, the Iranians want all of the aforementioned changes implemented before they will even sit down to negotiate! Not only has Obama’s ill-timed overture failed to persuade the Iranian leadership to even contemplate a thaw in relations with the U.S., but it has actually strengthened the hand of the theocratic despots ruling Iran.
Khamenei’s quick, dismissive slap at Obama’s overture sent a blunt, unambiguous message: As Iran’s national elections this June draw ever-closer, the voices of all opposition candidates who may have been inclined to view Obama’s message favorably will be silenced. When one considers the fact that any Iranians who oppose their nation’s ruling theocracy are invariably labeled as American or Israeli surrogates, and that there has been no abatement of the anti-America and anti-Israel rallies that are held each week in Iran, it is difficult to see how Obama’s outreach to Iranian “moderates” could ever have succeeded in the first place. Hardliners in the Iranian government reflexively depict any conciliatory gestures toward Washington as acts of betrayal against the Iranian revolution, thereby strengthening the position of any Mullahs running on those same entrenched revolutionary principles.
Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Mullahs’ candidate who is facing increasing challenges at home because of an economy crippled by Western sanctions and declining oil revenues, will go out of his way to keep voters distracted by the populist anti-Americanism of the Mullahs. His position as a candidate for re-election has been further enhanced by his portrayal of the Obama overture as a weakness. He can now claim that it was his tough stance toward the West that prompted Obama to reach out; that he successfully stared down the Great Satan and made him blink first¾proof to the voting masses that the policies of the Iranian régime are the correct ones!
And yet the Obama administration has even more plans for begging Iran to be our friend. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, for example, has announced that “many more” initiatives are expected. Officials have also raised the possibility of regular diplomatic contacts between U.S. and Iranian diplomats around the world—presumably whether the Iranians are interested or not. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, having just returned from her mission of cozying up to the Syrian dictator in Damascus, is excited about having an opportunity to meet with Iranian envoys at an upcoming U.N.-led conference on Afghanistan at The Hague.
If the Obama administration really wants better relations with Iran, it should consider negotiating more from a position of strength. It should recognize that, at this point, Iran’s established theocracy still holds all the cards, though it has been weakened by years of sanctions and isolation. Better relations will not come until this régime is out of power. Now is the time to continue the successful strategy of the former Bush administration and keep Iran isolated internationally, keep the sanctions in place, and keep exposing Iran’s aspirations for acquiring nuclear weapons. Now is the time to work towards removing the choke-hold the current régime has on the necks of the Iranian people. It is not the time to surrender.