Michael Doran warns Obama against making Reagan‘s mistakes on Iran:
Like Reagan, the president seems to assume that conciliatory gestures will strengthen the moderates in the Iranian regime. But the exact opposite could also be true. Hard-liners like Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force and a close confidant of the supreme leader, have ample material to argue that these concessions from the United States are a sign of decline, part and parcel of an American retreat from the Middle East. If the supreme leader listens to such arguments, then Rouhani’s charm offensive will become no more than a tact designed to collect even more concessions — whether in the nuclear realm or in the arena of regional security.
The Reagan comparison doesn’t work very well for a few reasons, but the most important reason for that might be that the “concessions” Obama has supposedly made aren’t concessions. That is, the U.S. has not given anything to Iran. It is not a “gift” to Iran to refrain from interfering in its internal political disputes, nor is it a “gift” to demand that Iran limit its enrichment. To demand the cessation of all enrichment is to demand something Iran will never accept, and that would sabotage negotiations before they even began. Trying to include Iran as part of an effort to find a political settlement in Syria isn’t really related to the nuclear issue, and it seems obvious that including Assad’s main international benefactor and ally would be necessary if there is to be any chance of reaching a settlement. Listing this as a “concession” is telling, since it suggests that Doran regards any normal diplomatic process with Iran as a giveaway to the other party. That helps explain why he thinks that Obama has made concessions to Iran when there have not yet been any concessions.
It is remotely possible that Iranian hard-liners could perceive these things as concessions to Iran, but it is in the nature of hard-liners everywhere to assume the worst about the intentions of foreign governments and to perceive slights and attacks when there are none. Hard-liners typically assume that their country is the one making most or all of the sacrifices and the other party is reaping the rewards at their expense, which is why they are so suspicious of diplomatic engagement. Hard-liners usually assume that their side is being outmaneuvered, and they take for granted that their diplomats are the ones that are being taken for a ride. We can’t know for sure, but if Iranian hard-liners are reacting to U.S.-Iranian diplomacy as hard-liners predictably do then they are sure that it is Rouhani who is being played for a fool and the U.S. that is taking advantage of Iranian “weakness.” Instead of trying to guess which faction inside the Iranian government benefits from negotiations, it would be wiser to focus on what Iran is realistically willing to offer and what the U.S. can offer in exchange. If Iran meets the U.S. halfway, the U.S. should be willing to do the same.