Iran, Playing Games

In what the Gatestone institute’s policy council calls “Iran’s mirage,” a few members of the government of Iran have been moving on several fronts to craft an illusion of moderation in the wake of the Iran deal.  These are mostly clustered around Iran’s elected president, Hassan Rouhani, whose power is quite limited by Iran’s constitution.  Both the parliament and the insulated clerical government constrain him, but he can portray himself as a powerful force for moderation and even transformation so long as no one looks too closely.

One way in which the government is portraying itself as more moderate is by criticizing Islamic extremism.  Clearly, if one criticizes “extremism” one must be moderate by comparison.  So Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told the press this week that “Our region is today facing a serious and severe danger, which is the danger of unrestrained extremism and sectarianism as a result of the wrong policies of a number of regional players.”  The inclusion of sectarianism is especially bold and ironic, given Iran’s position at the forefront of encouraging the development of armed bands of men linked to ideological Shi’a extremism.

Another game that Iran is playing right now is criticizing its Sunni neighbors for their harsh judicial policies.  Iran made a big show about Saudi Arabia’s execution of several Iranian citizens on drug charges this last week.  Yet nearly the only country in the world that compares badly with Saudi Arabia on judicial human rights abuses is Iran itself.  A country where poets can receive 99 lashes for shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex has absolutely no room to complain about abuses of the law.  Drug charges are a particular favorite of Iran’s wicked judiciary in foisting off the executions of its political opponents, as well.

Likewise, Iran’s appointment of its first female ambassador since before the revolution in 1979 is a bit of political theater.  The woman, Marzieh Afkham, is a loyalist both politically and ideologically.  Her appointment as head of the Malaysian embassy from Iran is a sinecure to a solidly Islamic country that should create no waves that she will have to manage in any serious way.  The Iranian administration is not displaying any courage through her appointment.  Nevertheless, the appointment is being used by Iranian state media to portray the administration, and Foreign Minister Zarif in particular, as “brave” and liberal.

All of this has its real force in Iran’s diplomatic game, where it hopes to salvage its efforts in Yemen and direct the Syrian war in such a way as to affirm its control of the Levant.  Regional allies of the United States are not fooled by Iran’s playful behavior in these areas.  Our own State Department appears to be, or to wish to be.

The State Department does not currently believe that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps should be designated as a foreign terrorist organization despite the military organization’s efforts to procure nuclear materials and conduct terrorist operations across the globe, according to a State Department official who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

Obama administration officials last week were hesitant to address the issue during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. When asked to clarify its position on the corps, a State Department official told the Free Beacon that now is not the time to formally designate the military group as a terrorist organization.

The United States goes along with this mummery at its peril.  It only takes a moment to discover how ridiculous this play is, and any State Department employees focused on the question have to know that they are taking an absurd position.  In the end, we will have to pay back whatever credibility we borrow and spend by pretending that Iran is a humane and legitimate state.  The cost of such loans may be very high.