Why Iran Cannot Deliver What Obama Hopes: Buying The Carpet That Tehran Is Willing To Sell
08 May 2015
By Amir Taheri
In two weeks' time President Barack Obama is scheduled to host a summit at
Camp David with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member
states. The event comes at a time when the Middle East is experiencing
multi-layered turmoil as has not been seen for more than a century.
The turmoil, or as some might suggest, chaos, has numerous causes including
the implosion of military despotic regimes, which had long passed their
sell-by-date. There is also the fact that, for the first time in at least two
centuries, a strong dose of sectarianism has been injected into an already
deadly cocktail of political and ideological rivalries.
However, the principal reason for the current chaos may well be the
dismantling of the traditional balance of power that had assured the region a
measure of strategic stability since the 1920s.
Initially, that balance was guaranteed by Great Britain and, to a lesser
extent, France. From the 1950s onward the United States and the USSR assured
the status quo in the context of the Cold War. With the disintegration of the
USSR that task fell to the US alone with the European Union, still a work in
progress, making a small contribution.
It was partly to bolster that balance of power that the GCC came into being,
initially as a political alliance but with economic and defense prospects
never excluded. To further strengthen the new balance of power, in 2005
Washington arranged for seven Mideast nations to forge special links with the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) while launching the peace process
focused on the Israel-Palestine issue. By 2008 the new balance of power in
the region appeared solid enough to serve its purpose for several more
However, for reasons that one can only speculate about, with a series of
amazing errors of judgement President Obama decided to dismantle that
balance. His premature retreat from Iraq, his wrecking of the
Israel-Palestine peace process, his siding with the Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt without being prepared to help them when they hit a bump in the road,
and his flip-flop posturing on Syria are too well known to be mentioned here.
Having, perhaps, realized the potentially disastrous consequences of his
policies, Obama decided to reach out to the Khomeinist regime in Tehran in
the hope of transforming it from foe to friend, promising it the status of
''regional power'' and even accepting its ''threshold'' status on the nuclear
The problem is that Obama's pursuit of an alliance between his administration
and the Khomeinist regime is based on pure illusion. Having operated as an
anti-status quo power for more than three decades, the Khomeinist regime
cannot suddenly recast itself as guarantor of a stability that it regards as
deadly to its revolutionary ambitions.
To become the ''regional leader'' that Obama desires, the Khomeinist regime
must either make the rest of the region like itself or change itself in a way
that makes it fit in with the rest of the region. Like a jigsaw, a regional
balance of power consists of many different parts that are more or less
alike, if only because they fit into a single larger pattern. Right now in
the Middle East, the Khomeinist regime does not fit into any pattern that
might reflect the realities of the other twenty or so countries that form the
so-called Greater Middle East.
It is unlikely that the Khomeinist regime would be able to make the rest of
the region like itself. Spending money and using propaganda and terror may
help it recruit certain elements in Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq and Yemen,
among other places. However, it has no chance of securing enough popular
support on which to build a new regional system. The ideology of ''walayat
al-faqih'' is ultimately less attractive in marketing terms than that of
''dictatorship of proletariat'' was in its heyday.
Maybe Obama's hope is that the Rafsanjani faction will win the power struggle
in Tehran, get rid of Khamenei, and transform the Islamic Republic into a big
piece of the puzzle that fits into a new regional balance of power.
Hope, however, is not a sufficient basis for a strategy.
In any case, those familiar with Iranian politics would know that the
Rafsanjani faction represents a minority within the Khomeinist establishment
and has little chance of surviving in a direct clash with the faction led by
Khamenei. Worse still, an Iran gripped by economic crisis, social
disaffection and a bitter power struggle within the regime, is in no position
to provide for others the stability that it itself lacks.
Obama thinks that by allowing Tehran to maintain its bomb-making capacity, he
will help the Rafsanjani faction of which President Rouhani is a member. In
fact, the opposite may happen: once the Islamic Republic feels secure from
further pressure by the US and is allies it would have every reason to resume
its project to ''export revolution'' with even greater vigor.
We don't yet know at what level the forthcoming Camp David summit will take
place or what kind of agenda might be on the table. One thing is clear, since
the summit comes weeks after the start of final talks on a nuclear deal with
Iran, it is unlikely that Obama wants to know the view of his allies on the
positions to adopt in the Vienna negotiations. The US leader may be looking
for nothing more than a photo-op to claim that he has consulted allies before
buying the carpet that Tehran is willing to sell.
The most that one could hope for is a series of moves aimed at damage
limitation. Obama is too full of himself to ever accept that he might have
made a mistake on any issue, let alone the situation in the Middle East.
Perhaps, the only thing to do is to temporize with him, remembering that
while the remaining months of his presidency are fraught with dangers, the
prospect of the next US administration reversing Obama's mistakes cannot be
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated
in Tehran, London and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily
Kayhan in Iran (1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the
Sunday Times. In 1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the
International Press Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a
contributor to the International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall
Street Journal, the New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the
French magazine Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus.
Between 1989 and 2005, he was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt.
Taheri has published 11 books, some of which have been translated into 20
languages. He has been a columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's
latest book "The Persian Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and