On the whole, Washington cynicism may be preferable to Washington's special brand of bemused naivete. Consider Jackson Diehl's remarkable column in this morning's Washington Post in which he seems astonished to discover that the Iranian opposition is made up of Iranians, not all of whom share the west's analysis of what Iran should do next. Fancy that!
Ataollah Mohajerani, who has been a spokesman in Europe for presidential candidate-turned-dissident Mehdi Karroubi, came to Washington to address the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The mostly pro-Israel crowd was primed to cheer what they expected would be a harsh condemnation of Ahmadinejad and his bellicose rhetoric, and a promise of change by the green coalition.
What they heard, instead, was a speech that started with a rehashing of U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup in Tehran and went on to echo much of Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about the United States and the nuclear program. Mohajerani, who served as culture minister in the liberal Iranian government of Mohammed Khatemi in the 1990s, distanced himself from the current president's denial of the Holocaust and remarked at one point that Iran "should not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians."
But he went on to assert, as per the current regime, that the countries seeking to freeze Iran's nuclear program themselves possess nuclear weapons, as does Israel; that Israel had contracted to supply nuclear weapons to Iran's former shah; and that Ahmadinejad's threats to destroy Israel were no different than what Hillary Clinton had said about Iran during her presidential campaign. Asked whether Israel had a right to exist, he refused to respond.
As for Western support for Iranian democracy and human rights, "the green movement has no expectations whatsoever," Mohajerani declared with a sarcastic smile. "When we say we have no expectations, then our expectations will be met." On the contrary, he warned against "taking advantage" of Ahmadinejad's weak regime to strike a deal "that would not be in Iran's interest." The suggestion was that the opposition would consider any concessions to the West by Ahmadinejad illegitimate -- a position that was borne out by statements last week by green-movement leaders attacking the uranium swap plan...
That's probably true. But the fact remains that, were Karroubi and fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi somehow to supplant Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the main changes in Iranian policy might be of style. "We don't disagree with whatever Ahmadinejad says," Mohajerani told me in an interview after his speech. "The point of disagreement is mainly the election," in which there was blatant government-sponsored fraud.
Now you can take this in a number of different ways: some hawks will say that it just shows that we need to bomb Iran as soon as possible because the nature of the Iranian regime is irrelevant. Other hawks, however, remain in the bombing-will-bring-regime-change camp. This latter proposition has always seemed implausible, but, hey, it too is the product of Washington's own brand of naivete.
It's not exactly been a secret that the Iranian opposition hasn't sought to oppose the regime's most popular policies. Such as acquiring a nuclear weapon. There are excellent reasons why Iran would want the bomb. Indeed, their position is entirely rational.
The argument for the opposition is not that they don't want the bomb, it's that they might be less likely to use it. Now, you may think that the current mob are unlikely to use it too. But still, the point is that a better regime in Iran offers all sorts of possiblities for change, not just in terms of opportunity for the ordinary Iranian but also, perhap, in the longer term for the west too. Presuming that a new Iranian leader is going to be some kind of Yankee stool pigeon is absurd. And yet that seems to be the view at the Washington Post. The type of regime matters greatly, but it's not going to give up what it considers Iran's national interest.
Iran will, almost certainly, get a nuke at some point in the future and we're not likely to be best pals with Tehran any time soon. That makes the nature of the regime that has the bomb more, not less, important. But we shouldn't kid ourselves that this means everything will change immediately. Nor should we forget that bombing Iran to bring regime change will a) probably not work anyway and b) even if it did would encourage the new regime to get the bomb so they might prevent the same thing happening to them.
[Hat-tip: Spencer Ackerman]