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05/23/2013

Thoughts on Iran

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former Iranian targets officer in the CIA’s clandestine service, had some of the following in an extensive analysis of Iran in the May 20 issue of The Weekly Standard.

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“(Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei’s and Kim Jong-un’s resolute defiance of the West has put (President Barack) Obama into a pickle that could, conceivably, oblige the president to strike. It will become increasingly difficult to ignore the enormous centrifuge buildup and the progress at Arak. Although the president likes to highlight an Iranian decision to weaponize as the immovable red line, knowledgeable senior administration officials say privately that American intelligence can only reliably monitor – thanks to the IAEA inspection system – uranium enrichment and plutonium processing. Human sources and intercepts, Washington’s only means of monitoring Iranian ‘intentions,’ have been depressingly inadequate. The CIA, need we recall, missed the nuclear weaponization of every non-allied state – the USSR, Communist China, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and North Korea – and probably didn’t guess well with Israel. On Iran, the National Intelligence Estimates, especially the much-disputed 2007 assessment which claimed that nuclear weaponization had stopped after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, show, in their sliding scale of equivocation and assertion, the gaping holes in Washington’s information on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear establishment. Any active-duty or former senior official who suggests that American intelligence can successfully monitor Iranian intentions – for example, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, or former ambassador Thomas Pickering, who has made Iran engagement a personal hobby – is fibbing, to himself and to others....

“So the struggle among those who want to acquiesce to an Iranian bomb and withdraw from the Middle East, those who want to acquiesce but try to contain Tehran, and those who want to preempt will soon begin in earnest. Although Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards may make it difficult to minimize the menace of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic, we can expect to see many attempts to downplay the clerical regime’s fusion of faith and ideology. As with Iraq in 1990 and 2003, the closer we come to war, the more energetic will be the efforts to blur in shades of gray the history and nature of the foe. The rich complexity and contradictions of Iranian society will aid those who just want to let Khamenei and his guards have their weapon.”

---

“In the past, before the Islamic Republic’s less radical set around former president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) got stuffed, American corporate money could encourage a sympathetic disposition towards Tehran. A prestigious American think tank could organize a major study that supported expanding U.S.-Iranian commerce, and innocently have a principal organizer and drafter of the study make calls from her Exxon office. Former ambassador Pickering, however, rarely acknowledges his Boeing link in op-eds and articles, even though the company was, until recently, a big fan of lifting sanctions so as to sell airplanes and parts to an eager Persian clientele. Take away Boeing, and Ambassador Pickering would surely have had the same views toward the Islamic Republic. But the unacknowledged overlap is disconcerting.”

---

“The dark side has always been politically preeminent in the Islamic Republic, even after the war against Saddam Hussein had largely burned jihadism out of the common faithful. Even in the early 1990s, when Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the ‘pragmatic’ major-domo of the politicized clergy, was opening Iran to European investment and trying to find ways to attract American capital and technology, Rafsanjani and Khamenei, working amicably in tandem, were blowing up Jews in Argentina and Americans at Khobar Towers and murdering Iranian dissidents across Europe. In 1997, when the always-smiling Mohammad Khatami won nearly 70 percent of the popular vote for president, most Western academics and journalists who covered Iran saw Thermidor coming. They believed their Iranian interlocutors, highly Westernized reformers, proud but dispirited revolutionaries all, who were hopeful that the Islamic Republic would have a soft evolution to popular sovereignty. They badly misjudged Khamenei, who loathed Khatami’s ‘dialogue among civilizations’; they didn’t know at all the Revolutionary Guards who’d risen to manhood in the war and remained, even after the slaughter, committed to Khomeini’s dreams. The fraternity of combat and their own miraculous survival made these warriors an elite, with a hardened sense of divine destiny and entitlement....

“The omnipresent hypocrisies of the revolutionary elite don’t really touch their faith since religion in the Islamic Republic has become ‘secularized.’ There is the political creed, which is primary, and then there is personal faith, which is between you and the Almighty. The same secularizing process is now happening to the empowered Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Westerners, with their Christian roots, have an extraordinarily hard time digesting the obviously irreligious political maneuvering and corruption of sincere, deadly serious Islamists. Westerners see contradictions and smell pragmatism; radical Muslims see right through the contradictions to the categorical imperative: hatred of the United States, Jews, and Israel (the order may vary, but all three are always there). Whether Rafsanjani’s, Khamenei’s, and senior guard commanders’ children are partying hard in London tells you little about their parents’ conception of Islam or tolerance for Western culture (and little about the children’s commitment to their parents’ creed). It tells you nothing about why the revolutionary elite has so consistently used terrorism as both statecraft and soulcraft. VIP hypocrisies are a digression from the fundamental observation made by the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens: Mullahs who can’t make up their minds whether it’s lawful to bash a woman’s head in for having sex outside wedlock ought not to have access to a nuclear weapon.”

Note: I am long on record that despite Rafsanjani’s terrorist past, he is the one we should have been talking to.

Hot Spots will return in a few weeks.

Brian Trumbore


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Hot Spots

05/23/2013

Thoughts on Iran

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former Iranian targets officer in the CIA’s clandestine service, had some of the following in an extensive analysis of Iran in the May 20 issue of The Weekly Standard.

---

“(Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei’s and Kim Jong-un’s resolute defiance of the West has put (President Barack) Obama into a pickle that could, conceivably, oblige the president to strike. It will become increasingly difficult to ignore the enormous centrifuge buildup and the progress at Arak. Although the president likes to highlight an Iranian decision to weaponize as the immovable red line, knowledgeable senior administration officials say privately that American intelligence can only reliably monitor – thanks to the IAEA inspection system – uranium enrichment and plutonium processing. Human sources and intercepts, Washington’s only means of monitoring Iranian ‘intentions,’ have been depressingly inadequate. The CIA, need we recall, missed the nuclear weaponization of every non-allied state – the USSR, Communist China, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and North Korea – and probably didn’t guess well with Israel. On Iran, the National Intelligence Estimates, especially the much-disputed 2007 assessment which claimed that nuclear weaponization had stopped after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, show, in their sliding scale of equivocation and assertion, the gaping holes in Washington’s information on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear establishment. Any active-duty or former senior official who suggests that American intelligence can successfully monitor Iranian intentions – for example, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, or former ambassador Thomas Pickering, who has made Iran engagement a personal hobby – is fibbing, to himself and to others....

“So the struggle among those who want to acquiesce to an Iranian bomb and withdraw from the Middle East, those who want to acquiesce but try to contain Tehran, and those who want to preempt will soon begin in earnest. Although Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards may make it difficult to minimize the menace of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic, we can expect to see many attempts to downplay the clerical regime’s fusion of faith and ideology. As with Iraq in 1990 and 2003, the closer we come to war, the more energetic will be the efforts to blur in shades of gray the history and nature of the foe. The rich complexity and contradictions of Iranian society will aid those who just want to let Khamenei and his guards have their weapon.”

---

“In the past, before the Islamic Republic’s less radical set around former president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) got stuffed, American corporate money could encourage a sympathetic disposition towards Tehran. A prestigious American think tank could organize a major study that supported expanding U.S.-Iranian commerce, and innocently have a principal organizer and drafter of the study make calls from her Exxon office. Former ambassador Pickering, however, rarely acknowledges his Boeing link in op-eds and articles, even though the company was, until recently, a big fan of lifting sanctions so as to sell airplanes and parts to an eager Persian clientele. Take away Boeing, and Ambassador Pickering would surely have had the same views toward the Islamic Republic. But the unacknowledged overlap is disconcerting.”

---

“The dark side has always been politically preeminent in the Islamic Republic, even after the war against Saddam Hussein had largely burned jihadism out of the common faithful. Even in the early 1990s, when Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the ‘pragmatic’ major-domo of the politicized clergy, was opening Iran to European investment and trying to find ways to attract American capital and technology, Rafsanjani and Khamenei, working amicably in tandem, were blowing up Jews in Argentina and Americans at Khobar Towers and murdering Iranian dissidents across Europe. In 1997, when the always-smiling Mohammad Khatami won nearly 70 percent of the popular vote for president, most Western academics and journalists who covered Iran saw Thermidor coming. They believed their Iranian interlocutors, highly Westernized reformers, proud but dispirited revolutionaries all, who were hopeful that the Islamic Republic would have a soft evolution to popular sovereignty. They badly misjudged Khamenei, who loathed Khatami’s ‘dialogue among civilizations’; they didn’t know at all the Revolutionary Guards who’d risen to manhood in the war and remained, even after the slaughter, committed to Khomeini’s dreams. The fraternity of combat and their own miraculous survival made these warriors an elite, with a hardened sense of divine destiny and entitlement....

“The omnipresent hypocrisies of the revolutionary elite don’t really touch their faith since religion in the Islamic Republic has become ‘secularized.’ There is the political creed, which is primary, and then there is personal faith, which is between you and the Almighty. The same secularizing process is now happening to the empowered Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Westerners, with their Christian roots, have an extraordinarily hard time digesting the obviously irreligious political maneuvering and corruption of sincere, deadly serious Islamists. Westerners see contradictions and smell pragmatism; radical Muslims see right through the contradictions to the categorical imperative: hatred of the United States, Jews, and Israel (the order may vary, but all three are always there). Whether Rafsanjani’s, Khamenei’s, and senior guard commanders’ children are partying hard in London tells you little about their parents’ conception of Islam or tolerance for Western culture (and little about the children’s commitment to their parents’ creed). It tells you nothing about why the revolutionary elite has so consistently used terrorism as both statecraft and soulcraft. VIP hypocrisies are a digression from the fundamental observation made by the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens: Mullahs who can’t make up their minds whether it’s lawful to bash a woman’s head in for having sex outside wedlock ought not to have access to a nuclear weapon.”

Note: I am long on record that despite Rafsanjani’s terrorist past, he is the one we should have been talking to.

Hot Spots will return in a few weeks.

Brian Trumbore