National Council of Resistance of Iran’s Ali Safavi criticized the United States’ foreign policy with Iran in an editorial for the NY Daily News last week. “The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” Safavi said. “Welcome to U.S. foreign policy towards Iran.”
Safavi criticized Western countries – the United States in particular – for their enthusiasm in accommodating Tehran’s reformists while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the clerical brutality of Tehran’s regime. Safavi pointed to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s execution record as a sign that Iran’s reformists haven’t embraced the political narrative that Western countries want to entrust to them.
President Rouhani has been named a moderate reformist by many in the West and, on the surface, has been painted as a politician able to make economic movement between the West and Iran. Dig below the surface, however, and Rouhani’s presidential record becomes bleaker. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, reported recently that Iran’s execution rate is the highest it’s been since 1989, with as many as 4 per day between April 2015 and June 2015. Reporters Without Borders estimate that at least 20 professional journalists and an unknown amount of non-professional journalists are being detained in Iran directly due to their reporting, despite Rouhani promising a change in favor of free speech and media freedoms. Women’s rights remain poor in Iran, even though Rouhani has insisted that he would like to improve them.
Even one of Rouhani’s most significant accomplishments – economic reform – becomes weak when put under scrutiny. The New York Times uncovered in a report that all of the celebrated economic contracts Rouhani secured in his European tour were made solely to state- or semi state-backed Iranian industries. This left little economic benefit for Iran’s weary yet large private sector – a sector that could desperately use foreign investment.
Safavi argued in his editorial that Western trust of reformists like Rouhani are well-intended but ultimately misguided. Iran’s reformist politicians are carefully vetted and hand-picked by unelected members of the Guardian Council and approved by hardline Supreme Leader Ali Khameni. This, in turn, curates moderates and reformists that don’t represent reform or moderation. Safavi believes that legitimizing Iran through the Nuclear Deal, the United States has inadvertently emboldened the Iranian regime to continue to use violence to counter dissent.
Safavi concluded that the Iranian government is incapable of reaching true reform, and that the the time and effort the United States spends on reaching out to the Tehran would be much better spent speaking to Iranian civilians and dissidents.
“Speaking out on the situation of human rights in Iran and reaching out to Iranian dissidents and the organized opposition would go a long way in demonstrating to the millions yearning for freedom that the U.S. is on their side.” Safavi wrote, adding “Until we do, the West will continue to serve as witting accomplices to horrific human rights violations — and as enablers of an illegitimate, anti-democratic regime.”