April 20, 2016 | The Weekly Standard

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

As has been obvious since his time as the Islamic Republic’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif is capable of creating a distortion field around him that often renders Americans somewhat giddy. The Iranian foreign minister's amiableness and wit have earned him many admirers in the West, including within the Obama administration. But details have always been Zarif's undoing, and his most recent Washington Post op-ed is another example of his skillful indirection camouflaging his mendacity.

Let us look at the foreign minister's op-ed:

(i) The Islamic Republic's nuclear program has not been “peaceful.” The United States and its European allies have a very long dossier, which has included information provided by highly knowledgeable defectors, cataloguing the clerical regime's nuclear-weapons ambitions since the late 1980s. It is entirely possible that Foreign Minister Zarif is not aware of all of these atomic endeavors since he has been a member neither of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's nor former clerical major-domo Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's inner circles. These two clerics are the real fathers of Iran's nuclear-weapons drive. Honorable mention also goes to Hassan Rouhani, Iran's current president, who was Rafsanjani's aide-de-camp throughout the 1980s and 1990s. A more interesting op-ed, which surely Zarif could have written allegorically, would have explained why Rouhani would now abandon the project that has been the centerpiece of Iran's military planning for nearly three decades.

And as the foreign minister might be aware, Iran's ballistic-missile program makes absolutely no sense if it is tipped with conventional warheads. Nations that have striven to develop long-range missiles inevitably have married that effort to the development of atomic warheads. Since Rafsanjani, Rouhani, Khamenei, and the MIT-educated Ali Akbar Salehi, the current head of the Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, a former foreign minister, and once the probable chief architect of Iran's illicit dual-use import network, are all rather chatty, it's likely that Zarif has overheard a conversation about the warhead versatility of Iran's missile program. In the op-ed, Zarif alludes to Iran's legitimate defense needs. He could, perhaps, explain why a missile program that extends way beyond the Persian Gulf is a function of the clerical regime's continuing post-Saddam Hussein trauma.

(ii) Zarif is indubitably right that the Gulf Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, spend too much money on weaponry. However, Gulf Arab insecurity is a function of three factors: Fear of America's retreat from the Middle East under Barack Obama, fear of Iran's nuclear program, and fear of the clerical regime's aggressive regional behavior, especially in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. And Iran's military and paramilitary activities have increased since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was agreed to in July 2015. Since Sunni Islamic extremism in Syria has been bred by Bashar al-Assad's barbarism, Zarif could have explained why Iran has been the primary enabler of Assad's horror show. This is a theme every Iranian knows in his heart: military dictatorship (the shah) breeds religious militancy (Ayatollah Khomeini). Zarif also could have explained why Iran has consistently opposed a political settlement between Iraq's Shiite and Sunni communities, inevitably throwing its considerable weight and menace behind the most recalcitrant Shiite parties. Would that not come under the category of “damaging adventurism,” a charge Zarif throws at the Saudis?

And (iii), Zarif is also right about the dangers of Islamic extremism, except that he forgot to mention that Saudi Arabia's hugely destructive practice of spreading Wahhabism, the foundation of modern Sunni jihadism, is matched on the Shiite side by the Islamic Republic's aim to radicalize the Shia wherever Zarif's bosses gain influence. The clerical regime has tried to replicate the Lebanese Hezbollah elsewhere in the Arab world, especially in Iraq and Syria. The foreign minister may not spend much time reading the publications and websites of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (although Zarif has tried to maintain a friendly relationship with the Qassim Suleimani, the head of the Qods Force, the expeditionary-cum-terrorist outfit within the IRGC, his snobbery towards the lower revolutionary classes sometimes shows), but he would do well to do so. He might discover how often the guards' lexicon overlaps significantly with the language of hard-core Sunni radicals.

And concerning Iran's military expenditures, wouldn't it be a good idea to allow the Iranians free elections so that they can decide how they want to spend their own money? They might decide, surely with the foreign minister's irenic blessings, to spend much more on “universal health care and education” and far less on the nuclear program, Russian fighter-bombers and surface-to-air missiles, and North Korean “special projects”—the military and scientific exchanges that Rafsanjani and Rouhani kicked into high gear in the 1990s and that have remained a constant ever since. Free elections might also end what Zarif in his U.N. autobiography sees as an inextricable part of the Islamic Republic's and his mission civilisatrice: the revolution.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.