One of the arguments advanced by the supporters of the nuclear deal with Iran is that the deal will have positive effects on Iran’s politics; that Iran’s rulers will become more moderate and democratic in 10 or 15 year as a result; therefore, one should not be too concerned about Iran’s nuclear capabilities then.

The argument asserts that the deal reduces threats to the fundamentalist rulers, which in turn will result in a reduction of repression.  The removal of sanctions and the reduction of repression will allow the middle class to grow and thus strengthen pro-democracy forces and human rights activists.  These forces will compel the fundamentalist rulers to moderate their behavior in domestic and foreign realms. 

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The above argument ignores the history, logic, and nature of the Shia fundamentalist oligarchy that rules Iran.  The Iran-Iraq war provides an excellent precedent to analyze the nuclear conflict.  The same arguments were made in 1988 that with the end of the war, the regime would reduce repression, allow democratization, and integrate into the international community as a responsible actor.  In actual reality, however, the reverse became true.  During the war, the regime had held large numbers of political prisoners.  In late August 1988, a few weeks after the end of the war, the regime mass executed about 4,000 political prisoners who were supporters of the PMOI, many of whom had been arrested as teenagers whose sole crime was distributing leaflets of the group, and the revolutionary courts had given them prison sentences.  And in September the regime mass executed about 1,000 Marxist political prisoners, who had been merely jailed and tortured before the end of the war.  The prisoners were asked whether they regarded the Koran as the word of God.  Those who refused to answer or replied in the negative were executed as apostates.  Then in February 1989, Khomeini issued his death fatwa against Salman Rushdie for apostasy. The Rushdie controversy arose in early 1988, and Khomeini had remained silent throughout the war while there were numerous protests in the Islamic world causing many deaths.  Khomeini’s attack on Rushdie occurred not during the war but after the war ended.  Even more significant, whereas the regime tolerated many moderate political figures during the war, the regime launched a massive campaign of assassinations and repression of these respected figures in what became known as the “Chain Murders.”  For example, Dr. Kazem Sami, a well-respected liberal Islamist, who had served as Minister of Health in the Provisional government was murdered on November 23, 1988.  One of the leaders of the Iran National Front, Dr. Shamsaldin Amir-Alaee -- who had served in Mossadegh’s cabinet in the 1951-53 period as Minister of Interior -- was murdered in 1994.  The National Front’s top leader, Dr. Ali Ardalan, was so severely tortured that he suffered two heart attacks under torture.  The National Front has been Iran’s main pro-democracy party comprising middle-of-the road liberal democrats advocating non-violent transition to democracy.   

The reason that the regime increased repression after the war was that it feared that the people who had endured hardships during the war would demand freedom.  If the regime reduced repression, then the pro-democracy forces would have utilized the opening to demand democracy.  Therefore, the logic of survival demanded that the regime increase repression.

The fundamentalist regime is an extremist violent tyrannical system.  It has remained in power because it has successfully brutalized and terrorized the people into submission.  The ruling fundamentalist oligarchy contains various factions; some hardline, some reformist, and others expedient.  No faction and no leader of the oligarchy advocates the replacement of the current dictatorship with a democratic system.  They all support the terribly anti-democratic constitution.  All the factions have supported Khomeini’s brutal policies and all the factions have participated in the repression and brutalization of the Iranian people. 

The nuclear deal will greatly enhance the survivability of the fundamentalist regime by pouring billions and billions of dollars directly into the hands of Ayatollah Khamenei.  The pro-democracy Iranians will be among the primary victims of the nuclear deal.

Criticizing Chamberlain’s policy of rapprochement toward Hitler, President Franklin Roosevelt said that no matter how much one pets a tiger, the tiger will not behave like a house cat.  If history, logic, and the nature of the fundamentalist regime are any guide, Obama’s policy of rapprochement to change the behavior of Iran’s rulers has as much likelihood of success as that of Chamberlain in Munich.  It was not “Constructive Engagement” that ended the Apartheid regime in South Africa.  Rather, it was UN Security Council sanctions and international pressures that helped end that reprehensible regime.  Similar policies should be pursued toward the reprehensible regime ruling Iran.

Kazemzadeh is associate professor of Political Science at Sam Houston State University.