Why are so many "experts" amazed that there is no deal with Iran? It's certainly not because Western negotiators weren't willing to meet the mullahs halfway; they were eager to compromise, even to drop longstanding demands, in an effort to reach agreement.
The surprise shows that we don't grasp the nature of the Iranian regime, which is why the pundits and the diplomats are so often forced to scramble for explanations when things don't go according to scheme.
Our basic error, from which all the others flow, is that we think our offer of a strategic alliance — President Obama's "outstretched hand" — is attractive to Iran. It isn't. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn't want a deal with us; he wants to destroy us. When he calls us the "Great Satan" or when he leads chants of "Death to America!," he means it.
Khamenei wants to go down in Islamic history as the man who defeated America, not the imam who signed a deal with the devil. He's willing to accept our surrender, but he won't forge a partnership with Obama.
Nor does he care much about the well-being of the Iranian people, any more than Saddam Hussein cared about the Iraqis. Just look at the rising tempo of arrests, torture and executions in the unhappy land of Persia. Iranian leaders don't much care if their citizens don't have enough food or gasoline, and the regime still has plenty of cash on hand — Khamenei personally manages tens of billions of dollars — to fund the things they care most about, from the nukes to the expeditionary operations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen; support and training for Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad; weapons for the Revolutionary Guards' foreign legion (a.k.a. the Quds Force), and help for al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the like.
They certainly don't like the sanctions. The domestic economy is a shambles (the banks are broke, imports of food staples are stalled because foreign sellers can't get paid and prices are high and rising — chickens are up 30 percent in the last six weeks alone, just before New Year's celebrations at the end of this month). They'd like an end to the sanctions, totally and immediately, but that wasn't the primary reason for their participation in the peace talks, as is so often claimed.
Why did they agree to negotiate? Because Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif convinced Khamenei that the Americans were desperate for a deal, that there was no danger of an American military option and that Iran could get all manner of favors from the Americans without conceding anything important.
So far, that looks like good analysis. They haven't shut down any part of their nuclear program, and we're paying them off every month with blocked funds. Why should Khamenei make formal concessions when he's getting what he wants anyway? Why should he make a deal with the devil he wants dead?
The Khamenei approach isn't unique to Iran. It's the same gambit used previously by North Korea and currently employed by Cuba: pretend to agree, demand more and more concessions from the Americans, pocket the gains, and go right on with their programs of tyrannical oppression, support for terrorists and the development of new weapons.
If you want to avoid future shock and surprise, just think of the negotiations as a component in the Iranian war against us, not — as so many experts argue to their subsequent embarrassment — as a step on the path to detente.
If our leaders want to avoid future embarrassment, they should recognize that we have real enemies who don't want to seize our outstretched hand. They want to chop it off.
Ledeen, the author of more than 30 books, is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He was special adviser to former Secretary of State Alexander Haig and a consultant to the national security adviser during the Reagan administration.