Apologists for Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani continue to devise elaborate arguments that he is in fact a “pragmatist” who is bringing reforms to his country and holding the “hardliners” in check. Sohrab Ahmari explains that he is nothing of the kind:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has now been in office for more than four years. Yet he hasn’t fulfilled any of the major domestic-reform pledges that got him elected in 2013 and re-elected earlier this year. Those pledges won him the decisive backing of urban, secular-minded, middle-class Iranians—and plaudits in the West. . . . Rouhani’s ballot-box triumph, [in short], was enough to give the regime a smiling, reasonable visage, and to reduce rising discontent, but not enough to effect any meaningful change. . . . .
The Rouhani-as-reluctant-hardliner theory, [proffered by those of his defenders who argue that he compromises now to secure reform later], is belied by the man’s long record in the Islamic Republic. Try as they might, Rouhani’s apologists can’t elide the fact that he served as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005, years during which Iran conducted a campaign of assassinations and “chain murders” targeting dissidents at home and abroad. Nor can revisionism undo Rouhani’s leading role in the crackdown against the 1999 student uprising, when he called on the regime’s security forces to “crush mercilessly and monumentally any move by these opportunist elements wherever it may occur.” Nor, finally, can the apologists ignore Rouhani’s years-long refusal to speak out for the detained leaders of the Green Movement, [which campaigned for broad political reforms in 2009].
What does all this mean for the West? It means that the U.S. and its allies must finally come to terms with the Islamic Republic as it really is, rather than as they would wish it to be. Nearly four decades since its founding, the regime is much more ideologically cohesive and united than the appearance of factional wrangling among its elites would suggest. There are no liberal-minded, pro-Western friends on the inside. Too bad that in Washington, and more so in Brussels, reformist hope springs eternal.