Friday, September 20, 2013

Don't fall for Rouhani's crude deception

[Originally posted at NOW]

It’s incredible how little it takes for otherwise rational people to give dictatorships the benefit of the doubt, and to rapidly un-learn facts they’ve spent years acquiring. To judge by the credulity of some reactions to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent charm offensive, culminating in his op-ed in today’s Washington Post, the cleric is only one step away from flying to Tel Aviv and singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” in a gay bar.

If you thought Putin’s musings in the NYT last week were gut-twistingly hypocritical, you’ve seen nothing yet. Perhaps encouraged by how easy his comrade made it look, Rouhani allows himself to pontificate on Syria as though he were the president of, say, East Timor, rather than the primary state sponsor of the regime that has annihilated the country and its people.

He laments the “challenges” of “terrorism, extremism, [and] foreign military interference” that plague the world, and their association with “hard power and the use of brute force.” He tells us that, “Sadly, unilateralism often continues to overshadow constructive approaches” to global crises. “Militant extremists continue to wreak havoc,” he regrets, including in Syria, “a jewel of civilization, [which] has become the scene of heartbreaking violence, including chemical weapons attacks, which we strongly condemn.” He goes on to ask everyone to “join hands to constructively work toward national dialogue” in order that the “peoples of the region can decide their own fates.”

Before anyone pulls out their acoustic guitar for a fireside Kumbaya chorus, let’s remind ourselves about some of that “hard power” and “brute force” on the ground in Syria today.

As a brilliant Wall Street Journal report documented just four days ago, citing senior Iranian military sources including Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) members, Iran has taken its direct (and rather “unilateral”) intervention in Syria to unprecedented levels in recent weeks, rigorously training co-religionists from all over the Arab world in Tehran before sending them to fight what it tells them is an “epic battle for Shiite Islam” alongside its own nationals on Syrian soil itself. The very same Guards leaders who engineered the 2009 steamrolling of the ‘Green Movement’ have now been handed the Syrian file, and are controlling not just the Lebanese Hezbollah and various Iraqi militias, but a significant portion of the Syrian army itself – an IRGC commander was recently filmed in Aleppo stating that he’d been in charge of certain regime units for over a year and a half now. This is of course in addition to Tehran’s central role in building the 100,000-strong paramilitary “National Defense Force,” modeled on its own Basij, and the $4.6bn it has offered Assad in credit this year alone.

Speaking of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Khomeinists have only bolstered their presence in Syria since driving the opposition out of Qusayr and Homs. “Today, Hezbollah independently runs Qusayr,” says the WSJ. “The Lebanese militia has established an operations base in the town’s northern section that is off-limits to most Syrian civilians.” (The Party of God, needless to add, remains quite happy with the language of force inside Lebanon itself; repeatedly threatening war if the cabinet formation doesn’t meet its expectations, and gunning down Hashem Salman, a 28-year-old student, during a peaceful demonstration outside Beirut’s Iranian embassy in June.)

As for the crocodile tears over last month’s chemical weapons attacks, Rouhani (like Putin) only condemns them because he says the rebels were responsible for them (which recent Human Rights Watch analysis, based on the UN’s findings, shows is quite impossible).

In other words, whatever rhetorical yarns Rouhani spins at the UN General Assembly next week (to which he is cannily bringing along Iran’s only Jewish MP), Tehran’s actual policy will continue to follow the ethos embodied in the words of the IRGC’s Quds Force leader, Qasem Soleimani: “Syria is the front line of resistance. We will support Syria to the end.”

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