If the Iranians Are So Smart, How Come the Place Is a Wreck?

by Michael Ledeen

I’m sick and tired of hearing about the Iranians’ brilliance, about what fabulous negotiators they are, about what great game players they are (some say, falsely I believe, that the Persians invented chess, even) and so on and so forth.  Frankly, I think Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, and the rest of the mob are dolts.

Why?  Because they’ve taken a country that’s got everything going for it, and wrecked it.  They’ve got abundant resources, an educated population, a real middle class, all manner of commercial skills, and favorable location astride some of the world’s most important land and sea shipping routes.  Yet the country is beset with poverty, a crashing birth rate, runaway drug abuse and prostitution, and widespread protests, even in the oil fields where the Ahwazis live.

You may think that all this misery is the result of Western sanctions, but the crashing misery index was evident before any sanction bit the Iranian people, and the wreckage of the country’s water system doesn’t have anything to do with sanctions.  The sanctions certainly hurt them, but the mullahs didn’t need the West to ruin the country.  They’ve done that all by themselves,  and the place would still be a mess if all the sanctions were lifted tomorrow morning.

Is that smart, or doltish?

The latest round of praise for the mullahs’ alleged brilliance regards the nuclear negotiations, where it is said they are getting their way.  But it’s an odd definition of diplomatic brilliance, since they’re dealing with an American president who so passionately wants détente with Iran that he doesn’t appear to care about the conditions.  Any self-respecting American government official would have walked out when Zarif shrieked at Kerry, but our secretary of state sits and takes the punishment.  I’d be more inclined to call this “intimidation.”  And it’s more the result of our fecklessness than their elegant brilliance.

Moreover, what are we to make of the various “fact sheets” about the “understanding” with the Iranians, and Khamenei’s apparent gainsaying of at least some of its elements?  Khamenei has three basic requirements: an immediate and complete end to sanctions, the continuation of the nuclear program, and acquiescence to his imperial projects, from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Yemen, Nigeria and Latin America.  Unable to get explicit approval for any of these, he simply reasserts his position.  Yes, it buys time, but that’s the result of the American refusal to take “no” for an answer, not the product of brilliant maneuvering.

Khamenei et. al. are very worried about the hostility of their own people, as well they ought to be.  The clearest evidence of their fear is the massive repression under way.  If they thought they had sufficient popular support, they wouldn’t have to resort to systematic terror.

Their attempt to portray the latest “understanding” is based on a big lie, namely that the sanctions are about to end.  But the Iranian people don’t seem to be fooled.  They’re telling jokes along the lines of “oh good, now the Iraqis and Syrians will get some good drinks.”

The Khamenei regime is despised by most Iranians, and the regime has certainly earned it.  The next time somebody tells you how clever the Iranians are, tell them the ayatollahs have yet to produce a world-class game player.  In fact, the last avid Iranian bridge player was probably the shah, and I don’t see anyone in a turban challenging Gary Kasparov to a high-stakes chess match.


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