By David Gerstman
It is nearly a year since Iran's President Hassan Rouhani spoke before the United Nations General Assembly.
Later this week he is scheduled to speak again before the General Assembly, but the enthusiasm expressed last year is nowhere to be seen.
In the run up to his speech there was much excitement among the chattering classes. Take, for example, a couple of paragraphs from an editorial in The New York Times from September 22, 2013, a year ago today:
The next few weeks will be critical for capitalizing on a new sense of promise created by a recent flurry of remarkable gestures: Iran’s leadership has sent Rosh Hashana greetings to Jews worldwide via Twitter, released political prisoners, exchanged letters through the Swiss with President Obama, praised “flexibility” in negotiations and transferred responsibility for nuclear negotiations from conservatives in the military to the Foreign Ministry. Mr. Obama eased restraints on humanitarian and good-will activities, including athletic exchanges between the two countries. ...
Mr. Rouhani has a sophisticated, Western-savvy team. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, received degrees from American universities and spent most of his adult life in the United States. Together they have raised expectations in a world eager to see Iran play a more constructive role, and the charm offensive is in full swing. Policy experts, journalists and business people are jockeying to attend a number of invitation-only breakfasts, dinners and meetings scheduled by Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif while they are in New York. There’s a lot riding on their visit this week.
But the "remarkable gestures" that The New York Times cited were remarkable hollow.
Sure, Rouhani wished Jews of the world a happy new year last year, but he also expressed his support of Hamas to defeat "the Zionist regime," and apparently re-established ties with Hamas.
Yes Rouhani praised "flexibility" in nuclear negotiations but only demanded flexibility from the West. Now the International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran hasn't come clean about the scope of its nuclear program. (Not that Iran's record gave any hope that it would play by the rules.)
The released political prisoners were a sham; often harassed or re-arrested when they were no longer in the public eye. Irwin Cotler recently outlined how human rights have actually gotten worse under Rouhani.
It would be nice if, having bet on change, the editors of The New York Times would acknowledge that they judged Iran incorrectly.
The most generous interpretation is that Rouhani was simply window dressing; a kinder, gentler face on the real leader of the regime Ayatollah Khamenei. The more likely explanation is that Rouhani is every bit as extreme as the regime (he boasted of expanding Iran's enrichment capability when everyone claimed that he compromised in 2003) but is slightly more pragmatic in his willingness to deal with the West.
Instead of acknowledging that no real change has taken place in Iran, most of those who made the mistake are relatively silent. They know that the evidence proves them wrong, but they would prefer to ignore the evidence than to own up to their cheer-leading of one of the most disastrous foreign policy debacles of our time.