The American government is no longer disgusted by the Iranian government, if ever it really was: in 2009, during the democratic rebellion in Iran, we certainly kept to ourselves, to use Kennan’s words, our views about its domestic political institutions and practices; or rather, we uttered hollow phrases of routine condemnation and moved on. But we are partners now, Washington and Tehran, and not only in the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. The administration hopes for an Iranian contribution also to a diplomatic solution to the Syrian excruciation. (There is no such solution. It is now a war to the death between secular tyranny and religious terrorism—the predictable, and often-predicted, consequence of leaving Syria alone.) There is wariness on both sides, of course; but generally there is a bizarre warmth between the governments, a climate of practicality and cordiality, as if a new page has been turned in a history of ugly relations, as if the ugliness of those relations were based only in illusion and misunderstanding. There is a new government in Tehran, isn’t there?
No, there isn’t. There is only a new president. Hassan Rouhani is an improvement over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, since he is not a lunatic. He does not deny that the Holocaust happened, which for the Islamic Republic counts as a breakthrough in enlightenment. But it is important to remember, during this explosion of good feelings, that Iran is still the Islamic Republic, a theocratic tyranny ruled by a single man, a haughty cleric who subsumes the state beneath religion and his interpretation of it, and maintains his power by means of a fascistic military organization that brutalizes the population and plunders the economy—liberticide and prey, as a poet once wrote about another dictator. This same mullah-king supports the murderer in Damascus and the murderers in Lebanon and Gaza, and remorselessly pursues a foreign policy animated by anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism and intra-Muslim hatred. We may have extended our hand, but the Supreme Leader—the title itself is repugnant to decent modern ears—has not unclenched his fist.