The death of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has triggered frenzied speculation in the West as to how the balance of power between reformists and hardliners has now changed in Tehran.
Rafsanjani was characterized as a “liberal,” a backer of Hassan Rouhani the cleric at present occupying the presidency who is seen as the instigator of the nuclear deal and the end of crippling sanctions.
Rafsanjani served two four-year terms, leaving office in 1997. Under his rule, Iran’s nuclear weapons program was pushed forward. There were mass executions of dissidents and a crackdown on opposition politicians. Yet Western analysts continued to insist that Rafsanjani, who had sat beside the leader of the 1979 revolution Ruhollah Khomeini and who backed the 1980 seizure of US diplomats in Iran, was someone with whom the West could do business.
The insistence on the liberal and reformist qualities of Rafsanjani was of course nonsense. It was borne out of a pathetic optimism that somewhere in an edifice that is implacably opposed to all the values of the Western world, there is still a key individual with whom one can talk reasonably.
Such thinking stems from simplistic values espoused by media and politicians. Put bluntly, in every conflict, in every standoff, every international confrontation, there have to be good guys and bad guys. The Iranian regime may be unremitting in its hatred of the outside world and in its determination to meddle in the affairs of its neighbors, but within its ranks, there simply must be some good guys.
Similar thinking came with the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Hitler might have been a bumptious little rabble-rouser, but Hermann Goering was a gentleman, fighter ace from the Great War who was too busy enjoying the luxurious trappings of power to wish to see his lifestyle jeopardized by a new world war. He would never permit such a thing to happen. But of course it turned out that Goering had zero influence on the Nazi leader and those who placed such faith in his ability to get Hitler “to see reason” were unmasked as fools.
From the point of view of the outside world, there were no good Nazi leaders just as today there are no good Iranian leaders. Like the Nazis, the Iranian regime is bent on a deadly course of action that it occasionally seeks to disguise with fine words.
Israeli governments are little different. Since 1948 successive Israeli leaders have pursued the goal of an Eretz – Greater Israel. Fundamental to this ambition has been the ousting of the Palestinians from the rest of their land. This is being achieved gradually through violence, in response to violent protest from the people whose land is being filched. The international community is forever trying to find a “Two State Solution” and Israeli governments insist that they yearn for such a deal. Yet whether they are rated by the outside world as “hawks” or “doves,” Israeli politicians pursue the self-same aggressive and acquisitive policies.
In Nazi Germany, in Iran and in Israel, the outside world searches desperately for “the good guys” who do not share the prejudices of the regimes that gave them power and wealth. The reality is that such individuals, even if they did in fact exist, have no power to change anything.