There has likely not ever been an administration that has politicized intelligence to the degree that Obama’s has, systematically ignoring any information that would undercut the White House and State Department narrative first on Russia, then on Syria, and now on Iran. As anyone who has ever dealt with intelligence knows, 90 percent if not more is what appears in the open sources every single day. And so, in that spirit, here is an interview with Mohammad Javad Larijani that the Iranian news agency Tasnim just published in Persian. Now, like Rouhani (and, for that matter, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini), Larijani spent time in the West. In Larijani’s case, it was to study mathematics at Berkeley. He has had quite a career, mostly in the judiciary, and today, he is among Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s most trusted advisors. So what did Larijani say earlier today with regard to the “historic” agreement that Obama and Kerry have embraced? “…Our facilities will not only remain underground, but will go deeper in the ground,” he said, expressing indignation at Vice President Joseph Biden’s assurances at a recent speech to the Washington Institute that all options remain on the table should Iran cheat on its commitments. He then condemned any slowdown of research and development at the once-covert nuclear enrichment center that Iran built under a mountain at Fordo, and called on Iran to build five new underground facilities.
As talks continue (and sanctions collapse apace), it is important to step back and consider a few broader patterns with regard to Iranian behavior.
First, what the Iranian government is doing is engaging in an elaborate game of good cop, bad cop. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif might whisper sweet nothings into Secretary of State John Kerry’s ear, and like a naïve schoolgirl on the night of the senior prom, President Barack Obama might believe that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s statement that if Obama gives up everything, Rouhani will love him for eternity, but there is ample evidence that Iran simply intends to screw the United States. Sincere partners do not play these games.
Second, it is Diplomacy 101 to only strike deals with those who can enact them. Bill Clinton’s Arab-Israeli negotiating team learned this the hard way in 2000, when they called the president to Camp David after Palestinian and Israeli negotiators agreed to a deal. When Palestinian chairman Yasir Arafat arrived, however, he not only flatly refused to agree to what his negotiators had committed him to, but he also refused to make a counteroffer. It was a lesson some of George W. Bush’s diplomats learned the hard way. When the United States negotiated with Zarif back in 2003, Iranian authorities did not abide by the deal that Zarif had struck. There are two possibilities: Either Zarif lied to Ambassador Ryan Crocker and then-National Security Council official Zalmay Khalilzad, or Zarif was sincere but he did not have the influence and ability to guarantee that all of Iran’s myriad power centers would abide by his agreement. And confusing the target with ever shifting power centers—the Iranian equivalent of Three Card Monte—is Iranian strategy 101, whether it comes to revising commercial contracts, undercutting diplomacy, or even negotiating a cultural exchange.
This brings us to the issue of who in Iran has committed themselves to resolving Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations. For a moment, let’s assume that Rouhani and Zarif are sincere (although there is ample evidence that they are not). Has the Supreme Leader really endorsed a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear deal as proponents of the talks have suggested? Take the issue of “heroic flexibility.” That doesn’t mean, as proponents of the deal have suggested, that Khamenei has thrown his weight behind the talks. His own advisors have explained that what Khamenei blessed was a change in tactics, not a change in policy. In other words, so long as Iran gets its nuclear capability, the Supreme Leader doesn’t care if it comes through subterfuge or if he holds his nose and has representatives talk to the Americans. How sad it is that Obama and Kerry have such faith in the Supreme Leader, when he refuses to meet American officials, and yet doesn’t hesitate to find time for Gambians, Belarusians, and Eritreans. What the White House and the news media have not realized, however, is that the term “Heroic Flexibility” also has religious connotations. It’s sad to see the State Department and the media—both bastions of multiculturalism—so myopic on issues of culture. Now, none of this even begins to touch the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that has said no to any deal from the very beginning.
So what to make of Larijani’s interview? His proximity to the Supreme Leader should concern anyone who does not have political blinders on. Whether because of personal ambition (in the case of some diplomats or Kerry’s destructive quest for a Nobel Peace Prize), ideological sympathy, or just naiveté, too many do. Simply put, it’s strange to see the White House and the State Department convince themselves that Khamenei is onboard with a substantive nuclear deal that will end Iran’s military nuclear program and illicit nuclear activities when so many statements that come from his office and his proxies suggest the opposite.