Debunking the Myths about Iran’s New President

Really moderate, or just for show? Iranian President Rouhani. Illustrative. FEMA/Marty Bahamonde.

Really moderate, or just for show? Iranian President Rouhani. Illustrative. FEMA/Marty Bahamonde.

There’s a special secret for crooked salesmen who sell the lemon of the car variety, or sneaky street vendors who cheat unsuspecting tourists, and it’s called desire. When the buyer wants something badly enough, they’re not likely to ask the right questions or do the research needed to make a wise decision. The rose-colored glasses are on, even if the plant being sold is nothing but a thorn bush.

For years, the West has wanted and hoped that Iran would moderate and open up. The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new “moderate” president has garnered many headlines and raised still more eyebrows. But the thorns on that plant may not be of the rose variety. Let’s take a closer look.

Myth 1: Rouhani is an outsider

Ever had a friend who was close enough they could critique you to your face? That’s what Rouhani seems to be for Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite Rouhani’s much publicized reaching out to the Iranian opposition movement and his critiques of Iran’s government, his relationship with Iran’s dictator is long-lived. Khamenei is a radical, and so therefore the moderate Rouhani should be his strongest opponent—right? Wrong.

First, Rouhani’s own bio on the think-tank he heads shows he has been the Representative of Supreme Leader Khamenei to the Supreme National Security Council since 1989. In other words, he’s not just on an insider’s committee—he represents Khamenei to the insider council. Wow.

Next, if a news report of a suicide note from Rouhani’s son is to be believed, Iran’s new president has been publicly supportive of Khamenei, at least in the past. Ynet, republishing the suicide note originally reported by al-Sharq al-Awsat, quoted Rouhani’s son as saying, “I am ashamed to live in such environment where I’m forced to lie to my friends each day, telling them that my father isn’t part of all of this… It makes me sick seeing you, my father, kiss the hand of Khamenei.”

Maybe Rouhani isn’t a Khamenei puppet. But he’s not his enemy either.

Myth 2: Rouhani is a genuine reformist

It’s always helpful when the other side makes points for you. “Rouhani is not himself a reformist,” sounds like a phrase you might here from an American conservative. In truth, those words were penned by a handful of academics in a commentary on Al-Jazeera praising the Iranian elections—a commentary republished by Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency. The academics further note that Rouhani’s a cleric. Need we say more?

Rouhani is not himself a reformist. Now an American conservative has said it too.

Myth 3: Rouhani will compromise on the nuclear issue

The one shred of hope attaching itself to Rouhani was his tenure as Iran’s negotiator with the West on the nuclear matter. During his time, Iran actually appeared to halt some of its nuclear work. To this day, it’s considered one of the only success moments for the West in the Iran nuclear crisis.

Was it due to Rouhani? Or was it due to the US-launched Iraq war that came that same year and scared all the Middle East into believing that the US was coming for them next?

At best, it appears it was the latter. Because an article on Rouhani by the Gatestone Institute cites a newspaper article that makes Rouhani sound pretty sneaky.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph in 2006 cited a regime journal quoting Rouhani as telling clerics and academics that they used the negotiations with the West to provide cover for nuclear progress.

“When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Teheran we were still installing some of the equipment at the Isfahan [nuclear] site,” Rouhani was quoted as saying. “There was plenty of work to be done to complete the site and finish the work there. In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan.”

So there’s the last hope. Unless Rouhani has changed for the better in the last seven years, we have a moderate-looking politician who is actually:

  1. A trusted representative of an extremist dictator.
  2. A cleric described by Iranians as no reformist himself.
  3. A sneak who tricked the West in his last opportunity to negotiate with them about the Iranian nuclear program.

Take the rose-colored glasses off. Those thorns aren’t on a flower stem.

What do you think?