Follies of Denial: Accommodation with Iran

Much analysis on the Iran nuclear agreement has sidelined human rights, particularly women's rights, largely ignored Iranian aggression, and forgotten the history of comparable pacts.

Women have been oppressed since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Their movement, which emerged forcibly in the mid 2000s, is probably the most courageous dissident effort in the region. It challenged sexist discrimination in a society without freedom of speech, assembly and association, and to the shame of the First World and Western feminism, received little international support.

Women reformers were attacked and arrested during peaceful protests such as the One Million Signatures Campaign, which aimed to dismantle discriminatory laws in marriage, divorce, citizenship, court testimony, inheritance and compensation for injury. The campaign also targeted mandatory Islamic dress, stoning for adultery, and lenient sentences for honor killings.

Under so-called reformist President Hassan Rouhani, human rights have not improved. Executions have risen to two per day, political prisoners have almost doubled, reformist publications have been closed down, and jailed journalists beaten. A regime official has reportedly acknowledged that hundreds of teachers are being held in prison.

Homosexuality is still a capital offense, and political parties are banned. Christians are battling a crackdown, and persecution of Bahá'ís continues, with discrimination in education, employment, and the jailing of community leaders.

Dogs are also persecuted, and their owners branded "morally depraved." Considered unclean, a public health hazard and an objectionable aspect of Westernization, dogs could be sent to "prison". Last November, a draft bill called for 74 lashes and fines for owners.

The U.S. Administration has recognized Iran's role as a major state sponsor of international terrorism. Through the Revolutionary Guards' Quds force and proxies such as Hezbollah, Iran is held responsible for many attacks against the United States, including the 1983 suicide bombings of the embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, and the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Riyadh. Iran reportedly supports Al Qaeda and affiliated militias, such as Jabhat al-Nusrah in Syria.

Signing of the accord has not stopped supreme leader Ali Khamenei's bellicose rhetoric against the United States. Recently, he declared Iran's policy was opposite to that of the U.S.

The free world's track record in dealing with authoritarian regimes is not encouraging. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton's remarks on reaching a nuclear agreement with North Korea are ominously similar to President Obama's on Iran. Clinton said the agreement was "good for the United States, good for our allies, and good for the safety of the entire world. It reduces the danger of the threat of nuclear spreading in the region. It's a crucial step toward drawing North Korea into the global community." These fine words were followed by the brinkmanship and nuclear breakout of a totalitarian government bent on retaining power.

Rapprochement with Iran is reminiscent of detente during the Cold War. Envisaged as a means to reduce arms and tension, detente increased the belligerence of the Soviet Union. Soviet dissidents warned against accommodation; today, dissidents caution against appeasement.

President Obama is attempting to distance the U.S. from the region after the debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Islamist extremism that filled the vacuum left by the Arab Spring. He is backing Iran in the hope the regime will moderate with time and Western contact, assist in defeating Islamic State, help stabilize Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and strike a new balance of power with the Sunni Gulf states.

In this crucible of ancient hatreds and violence, Shia Iran, which represents only ten percent of the Muslim world, is looming ascendant. The deal will deliver the Iranian regime a windfall in unfrozen assets, lifted sanctions, global publicity and international stature. Ultimately, Iran could develop nuclear weapons.

Confronting this specter, the U.S. and other Western powers indulge in wishful blinking instead of common sense and cautious appraisal of wily Levantine tactics to obfuscate, wear out, and push their opponents toward a gamble in favor of their own objectives.

A rapprochement with the West is a welcome development but this nuclear accord needs an overhaul by Congress; otherwise the Obama Administration could be backing a shady horse, and a Trojan breed at that.

A version of this article was originally published in The Australian.