Cliff May

There’s nothing wrong with wishful thinking — unless it gets confused with serious thinking. Policy makers and legislators have a professional responsibility to resist that temptation.

Yes, I have something in mind: a letter sent last week by 131 House members urging President Obama to “pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran’s recent presidential election.” What “potential opportunity” is that? Hassan Rouhani, the new president-elect, they say, “campaigned on the promise to ‘pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace’ and has since promised ‘constructive interaction with the outside world.’”

Should we not expect American politicians (of all people!) to demonstrate a little skepticism when it comes to “promises” made by an Iranian politician? And how much research is required to figure out that Rouhani has said nothing even to suggest that he opposes Iran’s support for terrorism abroad (including its past attempts to blow up airplanes and restaurants in the U.S), gross violations of human rights domestically, threats of genocide against Israelis, and, of course, illegal nuclear-weapons program?

There is a lot we don’t know about Rouhani, but this much ought to be obvious: He is a political clergyman and a loyal acolyte of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader and self-proclaimed “shadow of God upon Earth.” Were that not so, Khamenei would not permit Rouhani to become Iran’s president. Remember: There were 686 registered candidates for the last election. Only eight were allowed to run. Loyalty to the Supreme Leader and adherence to his ideology/theology were required. Khamenei also made clear to the lucky finalists that under no circumstances are they to “make concessions to the enemies.”

There are ways in which Rouhani is different from your run-of-the-mill Iranian jihadist apparatchik: He speaks our language. He studied in Scotland. He certainly has insights into the peculiar psychology of the Westerner, which may explain why, when he served as Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator a decade ago, he consistently ate the lunch of those on the other side of the table.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.