In a couple of days, Iran will inaugurate a new president, Hassan Rouhani, which has caused some to speculate that the country is entering a new era. Rouhani has become a favorite "moderate" with much of the Western media, with The New York Times gushing in a recent headline: "President-Elect Stirs Optimism in Iran and West." But such optimism defies history.
Rouhani is not a new figure on the Iranian scene. He has served at the highest levels of the Islamic regime for decades. For 16 years, he served as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, the chief body responsible for foreign policy and national security, and was deputy commander in chief of the regime's defense forces for three years prior to that.
In 2003, he became Iran's chief negotiator in nuclear talks with Britain, France and Germany aimed at curtailing Iran's uranium enrichment program. It was his role in those talks that gave rise to his "moderate" credentials. But the evidence suggests his main role was to try to dupe the West by playing for time.
In a speech to the Supreme Council, parts of which were published in 2005 in an Iranian publication, Rouhani claimed that Iran suspended activities on nuclear enrichment only in those facilities where they had no technical issues.
"While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, " he boasted, "we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan, but we still had a long way to go to complete the project. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan."
A new report by the Institute for Science and International Security suggests that Rouhani's plan worked. According to the study, Iran may achieve the "critical capability" to build a nuclear bomb by mid-2014.
A nuclear-armed Iran would make the world a far more dangerous place than it is today, regardless of who occupies the largely symbolic role of Iranian president. Iran already has announced its plans to install 3,000 advanced centrifuges, which are the essential element in creating enough fissile material to produce a bomb. Rouhani's assumption of power won't change this reality; indeed it may prove a distraction.
The House of Representatives took action this week to try to pressure the Iranians into abandoning their quest for nuclear weapons by imposing tough new sanctions. In a 400-20 vote, the House bill increased penalties against customers who buy Iranian oil and imposed sanctions against Iranian automotive, mining, construction and engineering companies, as well. But the Senate won't even take up the House legislation until the fall -- and there is no guarantee President Obama would sign a bill that takes a tougher stand, certainly not when the drumbeat in the mainstream media is to regard the election of Rouhani as a sign of hope.
Economic sanctions have helped cripple Iran's economy, which has led to increasing opposition to the regime by the Iranian people. But sanctions have done little or nothing to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. And given his role in furthering these ambitions under the guise of negotiating with the West, Rouhani is likely to do nothing to try to curtail Iran's nuclear program.
The West has two options: Bomb nuclear facilities and set back the country's bomb-making capabilities, or get serious about supporting regime change in Iran. The former is risky -- we might succeed in stalling the program, but they eventually will rebuild, and we could end up alienating young Iranians who are now pro-Western. The only real solution to the problem is to work assiduously to bring about regime change in Iran.
Until Iranians are out from under the religious fanatics who rule the country and would like to rule the entire region, the West will not be safe. Iran remains the main supporter of anti-Western terrorism, and armed with a nuclear weapon, who knows what the mullahs will do. The inauguration of Hassan Rouhani is no cause for optimism.