By Hamid Yazdan Panah
A recent article in theNew York Times Magazine provided a candid look at the politics and rhetoric surrounding the Iran deal. The article featured an interview with Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for the Obama administration, and detailed how the Iran deal was sold to the American public. The remarks by Rhodes were not only surprisingly honest, but confirmed the charge made by many that the administration had misled the public with regard to the deal with Iran.
One of the primary selling points of the nuclear deal with Iran was that the election of Hassan Rouhani provided the most opportune time to negotiate with moderate elements in the regime, and open a new era of relations. In reality, the administration actually began negotiating with the regime before the election of Rouhani in 2013, yet as Rhodes noted, they decided to spin things in their favor. “The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration.”
Another common narrative put forth was that the agreement would strengthen the reformist movement in Iran and lead to an improvement in human rights and democratization. As a matter of fact, the human rights situation inIran actually worsened under the so-called “moderate” government or Rouhani, while the administration continued to insist on negotiations.
Interestingly enough, this line was echoed by pundits andpolitical interests in order to support the nuclear deal, despite the fact most of the evidence pointed to the contrary. Rhodes appears to admit that this narrative was part of a concerted effort by the administration to push an idea about reform, even if it was far from reality. “We created an echo chamber,” Rhodes told The Times. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say … We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively. So we knew the tactics that worked.”
Iranian dissidentshave long pointed out that the nuclear deal would not onlyenrich Khamenei, but further entrench the theocratic regime and provide it with the crucial economic and international support it needed to prolong its life. These views were marginalized and often dismissed as out of touch. It now appears that this was an orchestrated and concerted effort to sell an idea. Unfortunately for Iranians it comes with a heavy price: the marginalization of Iran’s dissident movement and the strengthening of the regime as whole.
Rhodes actually admits that he shares the cynicism that many Iranian dissidents have towards the reform movement. Rhodes says many in the administration hope for reform…”[B]ut we are not betting on that.” Neither are we, Mr. Rhodes.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an Iranian-American human rights activist and attorney focused on immigration and asylum in the San Francisco Bay Area.