There are different opinions on how to deal with the Iranian regime over their nuclear proliferation, whether its contention between the Obama administration and regional partners including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, or even between lawmakers on the right and left here in the U.S.
There may never be agreement over the level of uranium enrichment, the number of centrifuges or a timeline Iran should adhere to, but the one thing we can all agree on is mistakenly being left out—the Mullahs’ 36-year egregious human rights record.
The barbaric crimes against women, the youth, journalists, dancers, musicians, Christians, Baha’is and others will go on without a mention under current negotiations with the West, as will the incarceration of three American citizens, Pastor Saeed Abedini, Marine Amir Hekmati and Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, as well as possible information about CIA operative Robert Levinson.
Talks also leave out any preconditions about the Iranian regime’s activities and support of terrorism in the region including backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen, propping the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria, providing financial and other support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza, their presence in Latin America and elsewhere.
In 2013, some were hopeful when ‘moderate’ President Hassan Rouhani, often referred to as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, took office, but instead of a presidency marked by any significant reforms, a dramatic increase in executions has been his signature. Over the last 18 months, more than 1,193 have been killed, as compared to 827 in the 18 months before his term.
Meanwhile in Tehran, the regime is selling a different narrative, portraying nuclear proliferation as a national program and putting the burden of Western-imposed sanctions on its citizens, as it demonizes the U.S. and its partners.
But yet, the people of Iran, skeptical of a regime that has a long track record of dishonesty and underhandedness, are still optimal allies for effecting long-term, significant behavioral change in the regime both at home and abroad.
Opportunity for change in Iran, even regime change, came in June of 2009, when in the aftermath of a contested presidential election, the Iranian people tried to tell their story to the world in the Green Revolution or Twitter Revolution, but the brutal governmental crackdowns outpaced any Western support.
While that moment was lost in what is and will continue to be called President Obama’s biggest foreign policy blunder, disenchantment among millions of young and savvy Iranians is still en vogue.
Whether it’s human rights violations or watching the government pour millions of dollars into military efforts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, while the people of Iran scramble in a sinking economy, Iranians have come to realize their wellbeing is not the Mullah’s priority.
The threat of another grassroots uprising, this time spearheaded by laborers and lower socioeconomic brackets, is still looming for Iran’s leaders.
That is a bigger threat than any coming from the U.S., Israel or the Saudis.
Defenders of the regime will say the actualization of another uprising is years away given the reverberations of the last brutal crackdowns, but there’s no denying that animosity toward the regime and its antics are palpable on the streets of Iran.
And the Iranian regime knows this.
It’s no coincidence that the regime has used sanctions to paralyze its growing middle class, the sector typically opposed to their rule, while those within the regime’s radius have made fortunes exploiting shortages in food and pharmaceutical supplies.
The Iranian people have accustomed themselves to the precarious and changing social, political and religious climate under the mullahs’ rule. Iranians make decisions based on short-term conditions, assuming short-term consequences.
And now, as they battle the harsh reality of economic punishment in an ever-suffocating social and political climate, the Iranian people want two things: They want sanctions lifted, and they want to live freely.
The U.S. can effectively grant both their wishes while solving the issue of Iranian nuclear proliferation.
Instead, American lawmakers, on the left and right, fell into the regime’s trap, giving them the ability to use the nuclear deal as nationalistic propaganda, while missing the opportunity to exploit the existing rift between the government and its people.
And the consequence? As President Obama looks around a split Congress for support on his nuclear deal, he’s missing the opportunity to connect with the biggest ally of all—75 million Iranians.
Lisa Daftari is a journalist and Wikistrat Global Consulting Senior Analyst.