Setting Policy Toward a Fictional Iran

The Hill

By Ali Safavi

There is no denying that the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS) is escalating. Meanwhile, relations with Iran are deteriorating once again. With less than two months until the extended deadline for nuclear negotiations, the Iranian position has become more hardened and unreasonable. Regime officials, including the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have been unrestrained in their rhetorical jabs at the West, even going so far as to irrationally accuse the U.S. and Arab states of creating the Islamic State.

In fact, such an accusation only intends to distract from the regime's own culpability for the rise of the Islamic State. It was the Iranian regime that supported Nouri al-Maliki as he monopolized power in Iraq, driving Sunni militants to revolt, along with moderates and other marginalized minorities. And, it was Tehran that bolstered the murderous Assad regime in Syria to fight the moderate opposition, thereby empowering the extremist IS to fill the vacuum.

Despite Tehran's destructive role and bellicose rhetoric, the idea of working with Iran against IS only appeals to the gullible and the naïve. It is a misguided approach for two essential reasons: It is counterproductive, and morally indefensible.
While it's easy to believe that the US could put aside its differences with historical enemies in order to confront a more imminent threat, the same cannot be said of the Iranian regime. Indeed, time and again, the mullahs have proven that their extremist ideology precludes any serious cooperation with the West.

Even on the nuclear issue, despite some optimism in the West, Tehran has cheated and deceived its way through the negotiations, evident in the recent relocation of SPND, the nerve center of its research and development and weaponization program.

The regime has given safe haven to Al Qaeda affiliates, with both sides commanding their fighters to put away their Sunni-Shiite differences. The leader of the Khorasan group in Syria was reported to have been harbored by Tehran as well. Iran was also a base for militant operations against American forces in Iraq and the main source of arms, training, and even Revolutionary Guard fighters for the home-grown Iraqi insurgency. Tehran has spent years of training and creating many proxy entities, e.g., the Badr Brigade of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, later sent into Iraq following the fall of Baghdad in 2003.

However different the rhetoric of the current president may be, the nature of the regime has not changed. It is still the same extremist Shiite theocracy that took American diplomats hostage in 1979, defining itself as a unifying force for Islamic extremists and a source of aggression towards Western interests and democratic principles.

That identity makes Iran as much a moral opponent as a strategic one. And despite the Sunni-Shiite divide, Iran regime is just like the Islamic State in this way.

The hideous tactics of IS have dominated the headlines in recent months, but they are not new. In 1982, Khomeini, the founder of the Iranian clerical regime, said that he wanted the Islamic world to be ruled by "caliphs, who will amputate hands, will flog and will stone to death." In Iran's "caliphate," people still have their hands cut off, women are publicly executed or stoned, and "apostates" face the death penalty, as stipulated in the Iranian regime's constitution. That is the same brand of ideology that IS still dreams to implement on a vast scale.

To defeat IS but enable Iran and leave it closer to a nuclear weapon would be to win the battle but lose the war. Such a loss would be an abdication of America's moral responsibility to stem the flow of extremism and to defend human rights around the globe.

As the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi pointed out recently, making a concession to Iran on the nuclear issue in the hope of gaining Tehran's cooperation in battling the IS, is tantamount to jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Washington should empower with the Iranian people and their organized democratic opposition, not their henchmen.

The regime is no more a friend to the West and no less a flagrant abuser of human rights than it was three decades ago. In fact, the number of executions has dramatically increased under Rouhani, to at least 1000 so far. If the United States sets policy based on the belief in a fictional Iran, the real Iran under the ruling theocracy will only grow into a greater threat to the world peace.
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Safavi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is seeking the establishment of a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran.