With the nuclear deal done, it was no surprise that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, everybody’s favorite uncle, has been smiling beneficently. What is astonishing is that Sir Christopher Meyer, British ambassador to the United States from 1997 until his retirement in 2003, has been smiling back. In fact, writing in the Telegraph, Meyer—playing Rick Blaine to Iran’s Captain Renault—thinks it could be the start of a beautiful friendship between the two countries. Astonishingly, Meyer urges the UK government to embrace Iran as nothing less than “our strategic ally in the region for the 21st century.”
Astonishing for four reasons.
First, Meyer is proposing that our response to the scourge of global terrorism should be to form a strategic alliance with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. The regime in Tehran has armed its fascistic Lebanese proxy Hezbollah with more than 100,000 rockets aimed at Israel. It has a history of funding any group—Sunni or Shia—that it deems potentially useful to either its regional ambitions or its war on the West.
Second, despite Rouhani’s few friendly tweets on Jewish holidays, there is nothing to suggest the regime has changed its spots. Some 1,200 people have been executed during Rouhani’s tenure. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has noted that Rouhani’s pledges to “extend protection to all religious groups and to amend legislation that discriminates against minority groups ... have not … been translated into results.” This is not out of character for a man who sits at the heart of the deep security state in Iran and who was involved in the violent suppression of student demonstrators in 1999.
Third, Iran not only does not recognize Britain’s ally, Israel; the regime regularly proclaims its zealous commitment to Israel’s destruction. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has labeled the Jewish state a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut,” and said that, “God willing, its destruction will be imminent.” While negotiations were ongoing, Iran’s Basij militia commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Naghdi, declared that “erasing Israel off the map” is “non-negotiable,” and a Khamenei representative in the Revolutionary Guards, Mojtaba Zolnour, stated that the Iranian government has “divine permission to destroy Israel.” Calls to destroy Israel also continued throughout the P5+1 efforts to reach a deal with Iran. Khamenei tweeted nine ways to achieve this goal. To be blunt, Sir Christopher Meyer is proposing that we form strategic alliance for the 21st century with a would-be genocidist.
Maybe the moderate Rouhani is doing his best in the face of entrenched extremism? Sadly, no. Rouhani was reluctant to acknowledge the historical reality of the Holocaust, and, under pressure, when he finally did so, he fell back on feigned ignorance: “I am not a historian, and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it.”
Fourth, Iran’s leaders seek regional hegemony through the determined use of proxy forces and terror (and the canny pursuit of a nuclear weapon, of course). And they are succeeding. The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is now calling the shots in Damascus, Baghdad, and Beirut. Yes, we share with Iran an interest in stopping the Islamic State, but even here there is no real partnership. Iran seeks an Iraq dominated by the Shiites and Tehran—not the inclusive vision of the US and Europe. In Syria, Iran defends the Assad regime, which is still dropping barrel bombs of chlorine on its own people.
Iran is leading one side in a regional sectarian war that is departing further each day from the norms of human behavior. To base our foreign policy in the region on a strategic alliance with one of the contending sectarian parties in that war would be a disaster. It would end any relationship with the Sunni powers, who see Iran as their major enemy. In Iraq, Meyer’s approach would drive the Sunni tribes needed to defeat the Islamic State in the Sunni heartlands into the Islamic State’s arms—it was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia sectarianism, remember, that helped pushed the Sunni tribes toward the Islamic State in the first place—ending all lingering hope of a political agreement between Sunni, Shiite and Kurd in that poor benighted country.
So, here is the question: Why is a British diplomat of such vast experience advancing such a ludicrous policy?
I think there is something old going on, but also something new.
The old appeasing spirit of the British establishment is abroad again. Iran is now the strongest horse in the region—and the nuclear deal, when it releases $100–150 billion into the regime’s coffers in short order, will only make it stronger.
But there is something new, too. Every paradigm for understanding and engaging the Middle East—and for dragging it into modernity—has collapsed. The Sykes-Picot straight-lines settlement, imposed by imperial Europe after World War I, is going. The neo-imperialism of postwar American Kissingerian realism—with its military strongmen and passive “street”—is disappearing too. George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda died aborning, and those post–Arab Spring hopes in the Muslim Brotherhood’s brand of Islamism were crushed in Cairo. We have been left with a vicious sectarian war between brands of Sunni political Islam and Shiite political Islam. Meyer’s astonishing plea to ally with Iran is an intellectual and political collapse into the arms of the stronger horse. He can see no alternative.
Of course, Meyer’s is a terrible error. But it is a symptomatic error. It has deep causes and it should challenge us as much as repel us.