his speech on Tuesday before the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu tried to get the Americans to stop their collective
swooning at the sight of an Iranian president who smiled in their
"Ladies and gentlemen," the
premier warned, "I wish I could believe [President Hassan] Rouhani, but I
don't because facts are stubborn things. And the facts are that Iran's
savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani's soothing rhetoric."
He might have saved his breath. The Americans weren't interested.
days after Netanyahu's speech, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
issued a rejoinder to Netanyahu. "I have never believed that foreign
policy is a zero-sum game," Hagel said.
Well, maybe he hasn't. But the Iranians have.
And they still do view diplomacy - like all their dealings with their sworn enemies - as a zero-sum game.
As a curtain raiser for Rouhani's visit, veteran New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins wrote a long profile of Iran's real strongman for The New Yorker.
Qassem Suleimani is the head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. It is
the most powerful organ of the Iranian regime, and Suleimani is Iranian
dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's closest confidante and adviser.
Rouhani doesn't hold a candle to Suleimani.
profile is detailed, but deeply deceptive. The clear sense he wishes to
impart on his readers is that Suleimani is a storied war veteran and a
pragmatist. He is an Iranian patriot who cares about his soldiers. He's
been willing to cut deals with the Americans in the past when he
believed it served Iran's interests. And given Suleimani's record, it is
reasonable to assume that Rouhani - who is far more moderate than he -
is in a position to make a deal and will make one.
problem with Filkin's portrayal of Suleimani as a pragmatist, and a
commander who cares about the lives of his soldiers - and so, presumably
cares about the lives of Iranians - is that it is belied by the stories
Filkins reported in the article.
describes at length how Suleimani came of age as a Revolutionary Guard
division commander during the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, and how
that war made him the complicated, but ultimately reasonable, (indeed
parts of the profile are downright endearing), pragmatist he is today.
the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Suleimani commands the
Syrian military and the foreign forces from Iran, Hezbollah and Iraq
that have been deployed to Syria to keep Bashar Assad in power.
quotes an Iraqi politician who claimed that in a conversation with
Suleimani last year, the Iranian called the Syrian military "worthless."
He then went on to say, "Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I could conquer the whole country."
notes that it was the Basij that crushed the anti-Islamist Green
Revolution in Iran in 2009. But for a man whose formative experience was
serving as a Revolutionary Guards commander in the Iran-Iraq War,
Suleimani's view of the Basij as a war-fighting unit owes to what it did
in its glory days, in that war, not on the streets of Tehran in 2009.
Matthias Kuntzel reported in 2006, the Revolutionary Guards formed the
Basij during the Iran-Iraq War to serve as cannon fodder. Basij units
were made up of boys as young as 12.
given light doses of military training and heavy doses of indoctrination
in which they were brainwashed to reject life and martyr themselves for
As these children were being
recruited from Iran's poorest villages, Ayatollah Khomeini purchased a
half million small plastic keys from Taiwan.
were given to the boys before they were sent to battle and told that
they were the keys to paradise. The children were then sent into
minefields to die and deployed as human waves in frontal assaults
against superior Iraqi forces.
By the end of the war some 100,000 of these young boys became the child sacrifices of the regime.
we assess Suleimani's longing for a Basij brigade in Syria in its
proper historical and strategic context - that is, in the context of how
he and his fellow Revolutionary Guards commanders deployed such
brigades in the 1980s, we realize that far from being a pragmatist,
Suleimani is a psychopath.
Filkins did not
invent his romanticized version of what makes Suleimani tick. It is a
view that has been cultivated for years by senior US officials.
US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker spoke at length with Filkins about
his indirect dealings with Suleimani through Iranian negotiators who
answered to him, and through Iraqi politicians whom he controlled.
attests that secretary of state Colin Powell dispatched him to Geneva
in the weeks before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to negotiate
with the Iranians. Those discussions, which he claims involved the US
and Iran trading information about the whereabouts of al- Qaida
operatives in Afghanistan and Iran, could have led to an historic
rapprochement, Crocker claims. But, he bemoans, hope for such an
alliance were dashed in January 2002, when George W. Bush labeled Iran
as a member of the "Axis of Evil," in his State of the Union address.
in a rage, Suleimani pulled the plug on cooperation with the Americans.
As Crocker put it, "We were just that close. One word in one speech
Crocker told of his attempt
to make it up to the wounded Suleimani in the aftermath of the US-led
overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 2003. Crocker was in
Baghdad at the time setting up the Iraqi Governing Council. He used
Iraqi intermediaries to clear all the Shi'ite candidates with Suleimani.
In other words, the US government gave the commander of Iran's
Revolutionary Guards control over the Iraqi government immediately after
the US military toppled Saddam's regime.
from convincing Suleimani to pursue a rapproachment with the US,
Crocker's actions convinced him that the US was weak. And so, shortly
after he oversaw the formation of the governing council, Suleimani
instigated the insurgency whose aim was to eject the US from Iraq and to
transform it into an Iranian satrapy.
despite Suleimani's obvious bad faith, and use of diplomacy to entrap
the US into positions that harmed its interests and endangered its
personnel, Crocker and other senior US officials continued to believe
that he was the man to cut a deal with.
main take-away lesson from the Filkins profile of Suleimani is that US
officials - and journalists - like to romanticize the world's most
psychopathic, evil men. Doing so helps them to justify and defend their
desire to appease, rather than confront, let alone defeat, them.
and his colleagues are more than willing to play along with the
Americans, to the extent that doing so advances their aims of defeating
There were two main reasons that Bush
did not want to confront Iran despite its central role in organizing,
directing and financing the insurgency in Iraq. First, Bush decided
shortly after the US invasion of Iraq that the US would not expand the
war to Iran or Syria. Even as both countries' central role in fomenting
the insurgency became inarguable, Bush maintained his commitment to
fighting what quickly devolved into a proxy war with Iran, on the
battlefield of Iran's choosing.
reason that Bush failed to confront Iran, and that his advisers
maintained faith with the delusion that it was worth cutting a deal with
the likes of Suleimani, was that they preferred the sense of
accomplishment a deal brought them to the nasty business of actually
admitting the threat Iran posed to American interests - and to American
lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush's aversion to fighting Iran, and preference for romanticizing its
leaders rather than acknowledging their barbarism, upon entering office
Barack Obama embraced a strategy whose sole goal is engagement. For the
past five years, the US policy toward Iran is to negotiate. Neither the
terms of negotiation nor the content of potential agreements is
Obama wants to negotiate for the sake of negotiating. And he has taken the UN and the EU with him on this course.
possible that Obama believes that these negotiations will transform
Iran into a quasi-US ally like the Islamist regime in Turkey. That
regime remains a member of NATO despite the fact that it threatens its
neighbors with war, it represses its own citizens, and it refuses to
support major US initiatives while undermining NATO operations.
will never call Turkey out for its behavior or make Prime Minister
Recep Erdogan pay a price for his bad faith. The myth of the US-Turkish
alliance is more important to Obama than the substance of Turkey's
relationship with the United States.
with Iran would be horrible for America and its allies. Whatever else it
says it will do, the effect of any US-Iranian agreement would be to
commit the US to do nothing to defend its interests or its allies in the
While this would be dangerous for
the US, it is apparently precisely the end Obama seeks. His address to
the UN General Assembly can reasonably be read as a declaration that the
US is abandoning its position as world leader.
US is tired of being nitpicked by its allies and its enemies for
everything it does, he said. And therefore, he announced, Washington is
now limiting its actions in the Middle East to pressuring its one
remaining ally, Israel, to give up its ability to protect itself from
foreign invasion and Palestinian terrorism by surrendering Judea and
Samaria, without which it is defenseless.
his predecessors in the Bush administration, Obama doesn't care that
Iran is evil and that its leaders are fanatical psychopaths. He has
romanticized them based on nothing.
presented by the media as a new policy of outreach toward Tehran,
Obama's current commitment to negotiating with Rouhani is consistent
with his policy toward Iran since entering office. Nothing has changed.
Obama's perspective, US policy is not threatened by Iranian bad faith.
It is threatened only by those who refuse to embrace his fantasy world
where all deals are good and all negotiations are therefore good.
this means is that the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power does
not faze Obama. The only threat he has identified is the one coming from
Jerusalem. Israel the party pooper is Obama's greatest foe, because it
insists on basing its strategic assessments and goals on the nature of
things even though this means facing down evil.