This maxim should govern our dealings with Iran (and even more so North Korea, although Pyongyang deserves only one “try”). We tend to invest new dictators with the best of intentions for the flimsiest of reasons.
Early portrayals of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader since December 2011, suggested he might be more amenable to U.S. diplomacy because he was an intense basketball fan. Instead, he has turned out to be every bit as nasty a piece of work as his father and grandfather.
Reaching further back, Yuri Andropov’s 1982 ascension to the Soviet leadership was hailed as a positive development for the West because of his supposed fondness for Scotch, mysteries and jazz. His role in the bloody suppressions of the 1956 Hungarian revolt and 1968 Prague Spring turned out to be more accurate indications of his character.
Hitler, of course, was said to be fond of dogs and children. Most other human beings? Not so much.
With the June election of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran, the scrutiny is underway again for evidence of his good character and desire for better relations with the West and the United States in particular. President Barack Obama welcomed the Iranian to office by offering to engage in direct talks over that nation’s nuclear program.
But every Iranian politician has in the back of his mind the fate of Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, a former foreign minister and top aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, and a frequent TV presence during Iranian Hostage days. He favored better relations with the West and a more secular government, reducing the role of the clerics — and was executed for such heretical beliefs in 1982.
The Western press has described Rouhani as a “moderate cleric,” meaning he is not as crazy as his predecessor or particularly homicidal. However, Rouhani dodged an easy chance at an informal face-to-face meeting with Obama when both were in New York for a United Nations meeting, suggesting that strings are being pulled back in Tehran.
The Associated Press wrote, “Since taking office, Rouhani has launched a charm offensive with the West, calling for a new start in relations with the U.S. and declaring that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.”
To quote another old saying, “We’ll believe it when we see it.”