Reuel Marc Gerecht

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The Death of Iran’s President Does Not Bode Well

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has not always seen eye to eye with his country’s presidents. Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani nudged the Islamic Republic too close to the West for the supreme leader’s liking. Mohammad Khatami rattled the conservative elite with subversive talk of how faith and freedom could coexist. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was too insubordinate and too populist, while Hassan Rouhani’s flirtation with the Americans and his disappointing arms-control agreement drove him out of the inner circle.

President Ebrahim Raisi, on the other hand, was Mr. Khamenei’s ideal partner. A lackluster manager with dispiriting rhetoric and a vicious streak, he was steadfastly loyal to Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

Keeping U.S. Power Behind Israel Will Keep Iran at Bay

Until Iran’s barrage of missiles and drones against Israel, the two countries had avoided open military intrusions into each other’s territory. Tehran most often acted through proxies, and Jerusalem via bombing runs and unacknowledged assassinations in the region.

Iran’s unprecedented attack this weekend, which failed to kill a single Israeli, has perhaps now opened the clerical regime to a major reprisal. The White House clearly does not want Jerusalem to undertake such a response, fearing escalation that could bring the United States into a regional war.

But the chances are good that Israel will strike back to deter future direct attacks.…  Seguir leyendo »

Why Iran Doesn’t Want a War

The war in Gaza has now gone where many feared it would, expanding into conflict in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Red Sea. With America’s repeated strikes against the Houthis in Yemen this month, fears of a larger regional conflagration are steadily growing.

Present in each of those arenas is Iran — and the question of whether Tehran and its powerful military will enter a wider war.

For years, Iran has provided funding, arms or training to Hamas and Hezbollah, which are fighting Israel, and to the Houthis, who have been attacking ships in the Red Sea. Iran has also launched its own strikes in recent days in retaliation for a deadly bombing earlier this month, claiming to target Israeli spy headquarters in Iraq and the Islamic State in Syria.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Palestinian woman casts her vote at a polling station in Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip on Jan. 21, 2006. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Reflecting on the Gaza war and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict more broadly, former president Barack Obama offered this regret: “I look at this, and I think back, ‘What could I have done during my presidency to move this forward, as hard as I tried?’ ... But there’s a part of me that’s still saying, ‘Well, was there something else I could have done?’” Like all presidents since Bill Clinton, Obama ran into the dreamscape of the two-state solution. Now, he is implying what Clinton learned to be untrue: that if Washington had just pushed Israel more, something markedly better could have been achieved for the Palestinians.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, February 2023. Iran's President Website / West Asia News Agency / Reuters.

Upon assuming power in 1979, Iran’s revolutionaries prided themselves on rejecting the global order. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country’s first supreme leader, declared that his state would be “neither East nor West”. Khomeini viewed the United States as “the Great Satan”—the preeminent, spiritually corrupting imperial power that supported Westernizing despots in the Muslim world. But in his eyes, godless communism and the Soviet Union were just as baleful. “My dear friends, you should know that the danger from communist powers is not less than America”, he said in 1980.

By rejecting partners, the Islamic Republic showed it would not be an ordinary country that sought to maximize its advantages by forging alliances.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s clerics have groomed and promoted their ruthless enforcer

This month, Iran held the most boring — and most consequential — presidential election in its history. Boring because the election was rigged virtually from the start. What made it consequential is not because the winner, Ebrahim Raisi, is a gruesome and unapologetic killer who has spent his entire career inside the regime’s coercive institutions. Nor is it because Raisi is the first Iranian president to fit that description. Both former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rouhani, the current president, were instrumental in building and using the Iranian police state. Unlike Raisi, who has had little involvement in foreign affairs, these two supposedly “pragmatic” clerics advanced operations abroad that killed Americans, Israelis and Jews around the world.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranians march beneath Iranian national flag design bunting during celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran on Monday. (Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg News)

Many Americans remain wary, if not hostile, to the idea of democracy promotion in the Middle East. The Iraq War, which wasn’t launched to bring people power to Mesopotamia, is seen by most critics as the great catastrophe of Americans who wanted to export representative government. The failure of the “Arab Spring” to produce anything but bloodshed and continuing autocracy beyond Tunisia, where the region-wide revolt started in 2010 and democracy has held, has further reinforced the view that the United States really shouldn’t back a rootless, convulsive cause. The American right sees Muslims as a bad Enlightenment bet; the left is more critical of Middle Eastern tyrannies (except in Iran and the Palestinian territories) but is extremely averse to “nation-building” in Islamic lands.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protest at Tehran University on Saturday. Credit Associated Press

We are now six days into the Iran protests, and the questions that seized Washington during the 2009 pro-democracy movement have now once again come to the fore. Should the United States try to help Iran’s protesters? Can we help them?

Barack Obama’s answers to those questions were clear: No, not really. His position, the one now echoed by many Western liberals, is based on a deeply misguided premise that the current regime can be reformed or moderated. It can’t — and that premise should be abandoned if we want to do right by Iran.

When you read comments about Iran it’s helpful to mentally substitute the names of other disreputable regimes.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in Tehran in 2010. He died on Jan. 8 at age 82. (Atta Kenareatta Kenare/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Shortly before his death, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president and clerical major domo, mused on the Holocaust. “For instance, it is said that six million Jews died. Later accounts reveal that although people died, many Jews were in hiding during those days; ‘the dead’ are actually still living.” The larger point of the interview was to remind Iranian officials not to quibble publicly with the fraudulent Western narrative of the Holocaust, for it only empowers Israel. Such was Rafsanjani’s method and guile: He frequently brandished a moderate image that concealed the reality of his militancy.

Most of the cleric’s obituaries in the Western press lament the death of a “pragmatist” who in reality was the most consequential architect of the theocracy’s machinery of repression and regional ambitions.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Islamic Republic of Iran held another Holocaust cartoon festival this month, inviting the usual despicable cast of characters. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif assured the New Yorker that although the event would proceed, Iran would ensure that the “people who have preached racial hatred and violence will not be invited.” Evidently, Zarif believes there are Holocaust deniers who do not harbor “racial hatred.”

As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani once remarked to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the Holocaust — the question of whether it happened and the dimensions of the slaughter — is really “a matter for historians and researchers to illuminate.”…  Seguir leyendo »

We don’t know all that has transpired in the talks on Iran’s nuclear program being conducted in Switzerland, but we do know that the White House has shied away from a potentially paralyzing issue: the “possible military dimensions” — the PMDs — of the regime’s program. As Olli Heinonen, a former No. 2 at the International Atomic Energy Agency, has warned, outsiders really can have no idea where and how fast the mullahs could build a nuclear weapon unless they know what Iranian engineers have done in the past. Without “go anywhere, anytime” access for IAEA inspectors and a thorough accounting of Tehran’s weaponization research, we will be blind to the clerics’ nuclear capabilities.…  Seguir leyendo »

Why hasn’t Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, agreed to the offer the West put on the table in Vienna last month in negotiations over the country’s nuclear activities? If he were simply motivated by economics, he certainly should have.

Iran’s fully accessible hard-currency reserves are low, perhaps below $20 billion. Even within the limitations of the Joint Plan of Action concluded in November, Tehran has received around $4.2 billion in cash relief from unfrozen hard-currency accounts. Another $2.8 billion is forthcoming with the plan’s four-month extension. Billions more have been gained indirectly since the United States and Europe ceased escalating sanctions; one can see the effects through the halving of Iran’s inflation rate, the stabilization of its exchange rate and an increase in gross national product.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is lying when he says the Islamic Republic has never had any intention of building an atomic weapon. Defecting Iranian nuclear engineers told U.S. officials in the late 1980s that the mullahs’ program, then hidden, was designed exclusively for such arms. Everything Western intelligence services have tracked since then matches those early revelations.

U.S. participation in the upcoming negotiations doesn’t appear to be premised on an expectation of Iranian veracity. If it were, President Obama wouldn’t send his secretary of state until Tehran had come clean about its past deceits. The exemplary behavior of South Africa’s often-mendacious apartheid government when it decided to go non-nuclear — total transparency about the militarization of its atomic program — isn’t expected from Iran.…  Seguir leyendo »

How will the Egyptian army’s coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood government affect Islamism, intellectually and politically the most consequential movement in the Middle East since the 1960s? Do the brethren see their fall as a rejection of their religious beliefs? Should they?

Historically, it’s impossible to imagine Islamic militancy without the Brotherhood. Founded in 1928 against British imperialism and a rapidly Westernizing Egypt, the Brotherhood became the flagship for Sunni fundamentalism. Secretive but populist, contemptuous of state-paid clergy, intellectually syncretistic (socialism, fascism and European anti-Semitism blended into their “authentic” faith), the brethren became widely popular in Egypt as the army’s experimentation with radical Arabism and crony capitalism failed.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have bequeathed to the lucky few with clearances a 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s enhanced interrogation program. Although such length suggests detailed intellectual promiscuity (the bipartisan 9/11 Commission Report — a masterpiece that covered decades — was a mere 567 pages, with notes), the senators who insist that a declassified version be released are surely right.

Americans should assess whether Langley engaged in torture in its war against al-Qaeda. The country’s honor is at stake, not just the competence of its primary intelligence service. Neither the CIA nor national security is likely to be harmed if the behemoth were released with the necessary camouflage for operatives, tradecraft and foreign intelligence services.…  Seguir leyendo »

Wednesday’s meeting on Iran’s nuclear program will be a competition of fears. Who is sufficiently terrified of an atom bomb in Iranian hands to credibly threaten military action? Who fears the immediate economic consequences of Persian petroleum coming off the market more than the longer-term menace of a nuclear-armed state that supports terrorism? Who dreads above all else an Israeli preemptive strike?

The West’s sanctions — the reason the Iranians are showing up in Iraq — have been an alternative to war. Those who want these talks to go on will be enormously tempted to make concessions to Tehran. Stand too firm and Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, might walk.…  Seguir leyendo »

The release last week of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran’s progressing nuclear program has to make one wonder whether more than 30 years of sanctions have helped to thwart — or even stall — the country’s nuclear designs. There is no evidence to suggest that economic coercion has ever made Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, rethink the risks-versus-rewards calculus for developing atomic weapons. And the truly crippling sanctions that might have more of an effect would never be accepted by Western politicians, who are fearful of higher oil costs and of being seen as too harsh on the Iranian people.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the Western study of medieval Islamic history, the institution of iqta — land grants from the sovereign to his soldiers — once loomed large, because scholars searched for reasons behind the Muslim failure to develop feudalism, and with it the contractual relationships that eventually led to constitutional government. But looking for parallels between the West and Islam — especially the classical Islamic heartland from North Africa to Iran — has always been politically a sad endeavor, since the region seemed so resistant to the ideas and institutions that made representative government possible.

President George W. Bush’s decision to build democracy in Iraq seemed so lame to many people because it appeared, at best, to be another example of American idealism run amok — the forceful implantation of a complex Western idea into infertile authoritarian soil.…  Seguir leyendo »

In 1985 — when no case officer could even dream of widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in Tehran like those that occurred a year ago this week — I first arrived on the Iran desk in the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Operations. One of my colleagues was an older man who had entered the agency in its early days, when liberal internationalists and hawkish socialists ran most of America’s covert-action programs.

Intellectually irrepressible, softhearted (for an operative) and firmly on the political left, my colleague did not recognize national boundaries when it came to promoting human rights. He could talk for hours about why the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, the author of “The Open Society and Its Enemies”, was the answer to Iran’s religious tyranny.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Thursday, the birthday of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we will see whether the democratic opposition movement has been driven underground by the increasingly brutal harassment from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian society has become like molten rock under high pressure: more eruptions are inevitable. And if the dissidents can take to the streets, they will.

In any case, the fraudulent June 12 presidential elections and the subsequent internal tumult ought to make us wonder what would happen if Iran actually went democratic. President Obama and his advisers — still devoted to engagement and the hope that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program can be peacefully derailed (despite Tehran’s stepping up of its enrichment program this week), and probably skeptical that Ayatollah Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards Corps could lose power — have likely spent little time envisioning a region where the Islamic Republic as we have known it no longer exists.…  Seguir leyendo »