Claims that Iran deal will strengthen Iranian hardliners undermined by their fierce opposition to the deal
Opponents claim Iranian negotiators caved on key issues and were outmaneuvered by more clever and sinister American diplomats. Conservatives in Iran may be right. Iran’s opening to the outside world may weaken the ruling regime, as eventually Mao Zedong’s opening to the West did in the 1970s in China, and Gorbachev’s opening to the West did in the 1980s in the U.S.S.R. But these historical analogies also suggest that Iranian hardliners may be wrong. China’s overtures to the West undermined communist ideology and practices, but have proved essential in keeping the Chinese Communist Party in power so far. Gorbachev’s bold steps toward international integration eventually allowed both market and democratic institutions to take hold in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Yet the current counterrevolutionary backlash inside Russia suggests that the struggle for democracy, markets, and integration there will be long and tumultuous. There is no guarantee that Iran’s will be any less so.
No one knows what scenario will unfold in Iran. But the debate inside the country should inform America’s own debate. If the deal, as some American critics claim, sells out Iranian democrats and strengthens theocrats, why do so many Iranian reformists, democracy activists, and even dissidents support it? If it represents a financial windfall for Iranian conservatives and their terrorist allies abroad, why are Iran’s most conservative politicians so passionately against it?
Maybe Iran’s democrats are naive. And maybe the conservatives are playing a clever game of deception. Yet given America’s less-than-sterling track record of supporting Iran’s reformers, perhaps this time it’s worth listening to and betting on those in the country whom the United States claims to champion.