(December 13, 2017 / JNS)
When the Iranians, then one of the most advanced and mightiest empires on earth, were conquered in 636 CE by what they deemed one of the most primitive peoples on earth – the Muslim Arabs – they felt deeply shamed. Ancient Persian descriptions reportedly refer to Arabs as “rodent eaters and lizard eaters.”
At that time, Iranians, also known as Persians, who had ruled over countless ethnic and religious nationalities for more than 1,110 years, may have felt superior to the nomads inhabiting the border areas of their vast empire.
It was these desert nomads, however, the Muslim Arabs, who, within 100 years after the death of their prophet, Muhammad, in 632 CE, transformed the Middle East into today’s Arab World – except for Iran.
Although possibly devastated by the rapid spread of Arab culture and influence, the Iranians soon developed effective measures to bend this arc of Arab influence towards Iranian culture. The Iranians apparently indicated to the Arabs that it was all right to be ruled by them, but, as they, the Iranians, had more than a millennium of experience in ruling a vast empire, kept offering to show them how do it properly.
Persian culture eventually defeated the culture that the victorious nomadic Arab Muslims had brought with them from Arabia. Although the rulers were Arab Muslims, pre-Islamic Persians would have had no trouble recognizing the cultural similarities between both empires.
But the indigenous Arabs may not have been willing recipients of this gift; the Iranians began smothering the Arab desert culture by deception – essentially superimposing Persian culture on the Abbasid Empire. Even the name of the capital of the great Abbasid Empire, Baghdad, is Persian (meaning, “God gave”).
Eventually, the Persians seem to have perfected the “art of deception” (in Persian: ketman or taqiyah). Taqiyah means dissimulation; ketman means paying lip service to someone in a position of authority while disagreeing with what they are saying. Both methods consist of telling someone who might harm you what you think they want to hear, as telling the truth might be dangerous. The Persians also perfected ta’arof – the use of extremely polite gestures to demonstrate to others that you are superior to them. As one pursues dominance and control, the enemy becomes overpowered. One rarely even grasps that he or she is being humiliated – and ultimately defeated – until it is too late. This concept is totally alien to Western culture.
Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, is likely wielding this strategy against President Obama and the other European leaders, with whom Iran is “negotiating” over its nuclear program. Iranian rulers have employed ketman and ta’arof to lull their modern day opponents – the P5+1 – into a false sense of complacency. They have been using deception, obfuscation, and extreme outward politeness to outmaneuver their opponents. This is especially clear from the way Rouhani constantly talks about the chances of success for the negotiations, while at the same time setting demands which the West cannot tolerate. If things go as the Iranians plan, Iran will have the time it needs to acquire nuclear capability. In turn, America and its P5 +1 allies will be humiliated.
In the meantime, the Iranians have extracted substantial, irreversible concessions from the West in exchange for illusory, reversible limits on its nuclear program. Western concessions have therefore only bolstered the determination of the Iranians to maintain their nuclear program until they can run out the clock on negotiations and achieve their goal of acquiring nuclear capability.
Westerners seem to have a massive capacity to ignore bad news – as if dispensing with information that is either harmful or inconvenient will simply make problems go away. The Europeans and Americans seem to know perfectly well what Iran’s strategy is, but appear to have chosen to ignore how the Iranians are succeeding at pursuing their goals.
With patience and a deep sense of history, the Iranians apparently miss nothing. They, along with everyone else, can recall that the U.S. failed to prevent India, Pakistan, and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. They may well have decided that they can acquire nuclear capability as well. Other countries in the Middle East seem to be deciding that, too.
The Iranians also appear to understand the nature of their opponents. They, along with everyone else, have observed President Obama, who has emphatically repeated that Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon on his watch. Indeed, the president has said, “all options are on the table” regarding Iran, including the “military component.”
But any threat of military force is credible only if the opposing party believes it is. President Obama has never displayed any credible action to back up his alleged threats.
He showed little support for the people of Syria when their government attacked them with chemical weapons, or for the people of Ukraine when Russia invaded. The latter was a clear violation of the Budapest Treaty, in which the Ukrainians gave up their nuclear program in exchange for guarantees of international of protection. They might now regret ever signing it.
The president did nothing either to protect, help, or retaliate against an attack on a U.S. Ambassador and four Americans in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12. The only person to spend time in jail for it was a filmmaker, scapegoated by the administration.
Indeed, the President has displayed behavior that has actually undermined his threats, not bolstered them. In 2012, President Obama was caught by a live microphone telling Russia’s then-President, Dmitri Medvedev, that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate missile defense after the 2012 U.S. presidential election. The Iranians must have wondered on what other issues the president might be “flexible.”
Rather than project strong U.S. leadership with key American allies, President Obama’s intentions seem to be a willingness to back down in front of any opponent for supposed political gain, even though the costs of addressing these accumulating threats later are growing every day.
Obama’s policies toward Egypt, Libya, and Syria have further undermined America’s influence in the Middle East, as well as the confidence of any country to count on America to protect it. In every upheaval, instead of making strong cases for either American intervention or non-intervention, President Obama described his overall foreign policy approach as “hitting singles,” a cautious, diplomacy-first approach.
The Iranians do not seem to be deterred by a president who appears unwilling to use the levers of hard power to deter his enemies. More likely, the Iranians will bring in someone who will give up a few singles – although, so far, they have not even had to do that – in favor of long-term home runs.
In supporting the candidacy of Hassan Rouhani – a so-called “moderate,” whose self-described negotiating strategy was to create “gaps in the Western front” – Tehran has made its intention to accelerate its lunge toward nuclear capability unmistakably clear.
While some cultures stab their enemies in the back, the Iranians stab their enemies in the stomach. With a straight face, the Iranians have looked the West in the eye and effectively said: Hey, you don’t mind if we enrich while you talk, do you?
To reassure the West after the failure of each round of talks, Rouhani has “expressed optimism” that an agreement will be reached in the future. Such statements, among others, are the Iranian way of pacifying its enemy, while the Ayatollahs quietly continue enriching uranium and building intercontinental ballistic missiles – even faster.
The gap between Western and Iranian demands is evidently unbridgeable. Iran cannot accept what the West generally, and Israel especially, are prepared to allow: at a minimum, removing 15,000 centrifuges, shutting down its uranium enriching underground military bunker at Fordo, downgrading the reactor at its plutonium-production facility at Arak, and agreeing to a 20-year inspection regime. Iran would also have to export its entire stockpile of enriched uranium, which can produce approximately six bombs.
A “good” deal for the West would consist of compelling Iran to comply fully with IAEA demands and six mandatory UN Security Council Resolutions, which demand that Iran suspend all enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water activity. Parchin – a site which the IAEA believes contains “strong indicators” of having been used for explosives tests related to “possible nuclear weapon development” – would be put under international scrutiny.
Many Iranians, however, have made clear they intend to expand their nuclear program – not restrict it. Ali Akbar Salehi, for instance, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, said he wants to install 30,000 additional centrifuges to enrich enough uranium to fuel Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station. On May 25, 2014, Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan, Iran’s defense minister, rejected the demands of U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who demanded that Iran’s missile program should come under negotiation in the talks. Dehqan described Iran’s missile capability as “defensive and not negotiable.”
Meanwhile, the centrifuges keep spinning.
Should this activity continue, Iran’s Sunni neighbors fear that they will have to kowtow to the Shiites – a major goal of Shiite Iran. Humiliating the Sunnis has been a Shiite goal since their prophet Muhammad died in 632 CE. 
Ketman and ta’arof have effectively enabled Iran to defeat its enemies, the Sunni Arabs, yet again – as well as the West. The Iranians have, in the words of one observer, sold us the same rug twice. But it is we in the West who are eagerly allowing them to do so. 
 In Persian “Mush-Khor” and” Marmulak-Khor”
 For a description of how the Persians explained the methods of kingship to the Arabs, see Nizam al-Mulk. His book is called Siyasat nameh, i.e. “Book of Government”or “Rules for Kings.”
 Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid Empire from its founding in 750 until the Mongols sacked the city in 1258.
 For more on this concept, see Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, The Source of Iranian Negotiating Behavior, Example #4, Ketman/Taqiyah: Masking One’s True Thoughts – Dissimulation
 For example, if three people are walking toward a door, one of them might rush ahead to open the door, meanwhile causing the other two to have a collision that will humiliate them.
 New York Times, Obama Says Iran Strike Is an Option, but Warns Israel
 Office of the Press Secretary, Remarks by President Obama and President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines in Joint Press Conference
 Times of Israel, Iran’s plan: Isolate US in P5+1 talks to gain advantage
 Press TV, Final nuclear agreement benefits all: Rouhani
 Institute for Science and International Security, Defining Iranian Nuclear Programs in a Comprehensive Solution under the Joint Plan of Action
 International Atomic Energy Agency, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards: Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran
 Press TV, Iran must build 30,000 more centrifuges to feed Bushehr: AEOI
 Fars News Agency, DM: Iran’s Missile Program Not for Negotiations
 Khomeini himself alluded to this when he first stepped onto the tarmac, when he returned to rule Iran in February 1979. He stated that he had come to rectify a wrong that had taken place 1400 years ago.
 For more information on how Iranians negotiate, see: The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior.